How to Paint Silk Using Acrylic Paint: Portrait in Silk




Introduction: How to Paint Silk Using Acrylic Paint: Portrait in Silk

Hello, my name is Delores. I am hoping to inspire you to give Acrylic painting a try, for fun and hopefully profit but mostly fun.

Keep in mind that art needs inspiration, creativity, peace so the work can give this back to you. I suggest you do not get a blank piece of paper or canvas and look at it. I find it never gives me inspiration only a dread. What I do is look at photos, other peoples work, (do not copy others work unless it is for yourself not for resale), some of my own passed work, this will sometime awaken my muse. You need to find what works for you. Be patient, it will come to you.

I have to admit that I have never tried to teach a class of any kind so I hope you will bear with me and forgive me my mistakes. I have however, been a hobby artist most of my life. Lets just say I am old enough to join AARP without a problem so I have been at this a while.

Before we began I want to discuss the proper way to use and store your supplies.

Brushes: Never place your brushes with the bristles down in a cup or otherwise they will become misshapen. When you wash a brush use warm soapy water and reshape the bristles and lay brush flat to dry. Good brushes are not cheap so take good care of them. I suggest getting several types. Different round brushes for detailing, fan brushes used for example forming grass, flat brushes different sizes, etc. When a brush does become misshapen don't throw it away. Their may still be life left in it. For example a brush with the bristles going every which way with soft bristles can be used to blend making a soft transition from one color tone to the next.

Also, when you are washing out the brush during the painting process use clean water and rinse the color completely when you are finished for the day use the warm soapy water. Don't pull at the bristles it will cause them to fall out.

Kneaded Eraser: I like to use these erasers because they can be shaped any way that I need them unlike the gum or plastic erasers, but they do have their uses. Kneaded eraser need to be kept in a clean area because they will collect any thing they come near to like hair, dirt. They will stick to things like your sketch pad and you will be looking every where trying to find it. Trust me I know!

Finely, I have an old tool box that I put all my brushes, pencils, paint, erasers, any small items in and then I labeled the box Acrylic paint and brushes. You don't have to do it this way I just find it more convenient because I also do oil painting, and pencil drawing and I like to keep my materials separate.

I hope I haven't overwhelmed you. Once you have what you need collected it is just a matter of restocking from time to time.

Now you have everything collected so lets begin!


  • Gesso
  • Art Masking Fluid (helpful but not required)
  • Acrylic paint
  • Brushes specific for Acrylic paint (once you have used a brush for example oil paint the water based paint do not work well no matter how much cleaning.)
  • Canvas (the size is up to you also the canvas type, example I used a panel you may want a stretched canvas or paint on a board up to you)
  • Samples of silk fabric, model, etc.
  • Pencil (soft will help keep the line light) and a Kneaded Rubber Eraser (easer to maneuver into tight spaces)
  • Spray Workable Fixatif to keep the pencil drawing from smudging
  • Something to hold water to wash the brushes and add to the paint. I use deposable cup but any container that is tall will work.
  • Paper towels or deposable cloth to dry the brushes
  • Palette deposable or plastic

Step 1: This Step Is Optional: Preparing the Canvas

I consider this step optional because some people like to keep the canvas as purchased. I like to make the canvas smoother if I am doing certain textures. For example, the silk I am about to demonstrate, for me, works better on a smooth surface. To accomplish this, I put layers of gesso on until it is as smooth as I like. You can also add pigments that will change the color of the gesso. I have done a few with the black gesso but for this lesson I will leave it white. As you see when I get to the finished product that a dark canvas could have worked it is just harder to see the sketch. What's the saying. You can not have light without the dark. What this means is to highlight the reflective glow of the white shimmer on the blue silk you must have the dark blue background. Without it we don't get the same Pop!

Step 2: Collecting Reference Materials

For me this is a must. I have done several drawing using silk as my material but still pictures of the material are very helpful. If you can find silk material in the color you plan to paint even better. I have chosen a blue silk for the dress and White pearl for the jacket. Like I said you can find reference material on line, magazines, or if you have it silk fabric.

Note: When you are looking for reference materials remember that you must decide where your light is coming from. Mine with be going directly at the model. So keep this in mine so you find materials matching your finished product. If for example your light is coming from the right you need to find reference materials with the light coming from the right other wise your shadowing with not be correct.

You also need to keep this in mine when you are doing the sketch. This is very important.

I used an old photo of my mother for the model. (It doesn't quit look like her in the end but that is ok). However, keep in mind that if you use a person you need to have their permission. If it was you, would you want someone to use your likeness without your permission? Not knowing what they may do with that image. Just be mindful of others it makes for a better life.

Step 3: Now We Make a Sketch of the Painting

Some people like to do this freehand directly to the canvas, but I like to do a sketch first so I can work out any problems before I commit to the canvas. I don't like to erase a lot on the canvas. Once this is done it is time to transfer the sketch to the canvas. I needed to enlarge the drawing to fit my canvas because I did my sketching on a computer program, Painter 11, so when I printed a copy it was on a piece of copy paper. If you did your sketch on a sketch pad you can make it to scale.

In the example photos of the hand and face you will notice that I made a smaller graph. This is so I can do more detail drawing.

Note: When you are sketching to the canvas try not to make the pencil drawing to dark. Example the grid that I used to enlarge the drawing. I don't want that to appear on the finished painting if I make it to dark I may not be able to erase it. Some colors are transparent so the lines may show through. I use a kneaded eraser because you can form the eraser to the shape you need and it doesn't smudge the pencil line as easily.

Step 4: Now the Fun Part We Begin the Painting

Once all the unwanted lines have been removed it is time to start the painting.

I all ways start with the background. You may ask why? I will use this painting as the example. if I finished painting the model and dress before the background I may find it difficult to do with out getting the background color on the dress and model covering up what I have already done.

I have decided on a simple background so that the model and dress are the main character of the painting. I used a Art Masking Fluid to cover my model and dress that way I could go completely across the canvas without covering up the model. Once the canvas is dry I can remove the masking fluid and continue with the painting.

Note: I have made a, what I call, a canvas cover. I use it to cover the canvas when I am not working. It is a simple wooden square with an old piece of sheet stapled to it. the sheet is used to keep dust off the wet canvas but still let air in so the canvas can dry. I have front and back view above. This isn't required if you can complete your painting fairly soon it will not make a difference. However, things happen and you can't always finish a painting when you would like. The one I made is for panel canvas not the boxed canvas.

Step 5: Adding and Removing Art Masking Fluid

The first photo looks like the sketch in the previous steps, however, if you look closer you will see a yellow tint. This is the Masking Fluid which I used to keep the background paint from sticking to my figure. I am not quit satisfied with the background colors but time was running out and the silk is the major lesson for this painting.

Art Masking Fluid is not a required medium however I do find it makes it easer for doing backgrounds and as you will see later the hand that rest on the figures hip. When you remove the Masking Fluid you will find that the Acrylic paint does not com completely off at the edges. I use an X-Acto knife to gentle cut the acrylic paint and smooth the edges. Any sharp edge will do but it needs to be very sharp and easy to maneuver.

Note: I begin with the object that are furthest away and paint them first. Example the background. You will find it hard to add a background after you have completed the finished figure without getting unwanted paint on the figure.

Step 6: Painting the Figure

I like starting with the face. I do the face color then add the shadows and highlights. Now I do the eyes then the lips, eyebrows and eyelashes. It is not easy to do much detail with such as small picture but if you are doing a portrait of just the face these steps can make it easier.

Note: If you notice the second picture I have changes the hair, my next step. To make the fine strokes in the hair I us a small round brush a number 3. I put a lot of water in my colors and take the brush through the paint twisting it as I go so that the point is sharp. The paint should be like ink, it makes the strokes more fluid.

Now I move to the hand and do the same procedure as with the face. Base color, shadows and then the highlights.

Now I move to the jacket. I also wanted it to look like silk as well as the dress. The base coat first, then the shadows and highlights.

Note: (Using the example of the white jacket.) Don't look at something and only see a white jacket. If you study the subject no matter what it is a face, jacket, car, etc. it my be white as a whole but if you only lay a layer of white down it is going to be very flat looking. If you study clothing you will see it reflects different color from it surrounding from the dyes, from the type of material it is made of example the silk is a glossy material and will reflect more than say cotton. The color of the shadows will not always be adding black to the white. Sometimes it maybe best to add a dark blue for example to reflect the color of the dress. I added a layer of pink that although it is not strong does bleed through giving the jacket more of a fabric feel. I added some silver to the trim of the sleeve and hem of the jacket as well. Experiment with this by getting out a favorite jacket of your own. If it is blue denim if you paint it blue will it look like denim? No! Try it for your self.

Step 7: Now the Silk Dress

Now it is time to move to the silk dress. As you have seen I have already done some work on the dress by adding some Ultramarine Blue to the dress. I did a wash tracing the curves of the fabric. I do enjoy doing the folds of the train on the skirt. I mostly work in pencil which I have a lots of experience which makes that medium easier for me. If you have ever tried to do pencil work it is totally different from color work no matter the medium.

Once I have the wash down it is a matter of doing the same thing as with the face, hair and jacket. The main colors I used are Ultramarine Blue, Mars Black and Titanium White. The reason that I specified the colors it to remind you that their is different blues that you can purchase and you can mix to make the shade that you want. You don't go to the store and find only blue acrylic paint. Same with the black. For example, Mars, Midnight which has a blue hue, same with the whites.

I personal don't go for perfection so yes you will find flows in my work. No matter how hard I try I always think something needs more work. Sometimes you just need to say I have done my best and move to the next project.

I hope I have encourage you to try Acrylic painting and have giving you some good advice. I have to say that some are things I have tried and learned by trial and error others have been gifts of knowledge other have passed to me.

If this lesson is something others find enjoyable, time permitting, I may try more. For now I say goodbye and wish you well.

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    3 years ago

    Your painting is beautiful, and has a vintage Asian style to it, which is so cool! I love it.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you Dumbphone.


    3 years ago

    Looks gorgeous!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks attosa.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks glad you liked it!