Resources on Surface Design: Paint

SAQA Seminar (Article)

Unit 2 of SAQA Seminar: Surface Design is all about paint. Paint is such a versatile way to add additional dimension and design to fabrics. There are many wonderful possibilities for creating with paint including different textures, colors, opacity and application methods. It’s great for beginners and maybe a bit less intimidating than dye. 


History and Culture

For a quick overview, here’s a very brief article about the history of painting fabric — both coloring directly on cloth and using resists to create patterns. Doesn’t this make you want to learn more?

This video from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History highlights an elk hide painting from the colonial Southwest. The second half of the video discusses the use of the hide and the possible artist.

Also from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, “Tracking the Buffalo: Stories from a Buffalo Hide Painting” is an interactive site that includes excellent information, projects, history and supplementary materials. Though the site is designed for young students and educators, it includes some fun resources and links to additional pieces in the Smithsonian collection.

Blogger Wai-Yuk Kennedy shares what she learned about kaga yuzen dyeing on a trip to Japan including amazing in-progress images. This traditional process can be thought of as a sophisticated production version of the western technique for silk painting.

Here is an enchanting video from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London titled Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 - 1900: How a Silk Painting Was Made. The captions explain each step and the video is beautifully shot with tiny details of brushwork, supplies and traditional artistry. (The Victoria and Albert You Tube channel is full of many other amazing videos.)

Kalamkari is a traditional art form of hand painted fabrics from India and Iran. The word derives from the Hindu words for “pen” and “work.” This article from India Mirror details the technique, motifs and its impact on trade and commerce. For additional information plus images, check out this article. Though kalamkari uses dye and printing techniques, the finished works are most often referred to as paintings.

Tutorials, Blog Posts and other Inspiring Links

Judy Coates Perez shares an inspiring step-by-step process of creating an art quilt including not only fabric painting, but also stamping, collage, quilting and finishing. Here’s another blog post from Judy where she talks about tints and gradations.

Colleen Barnhardt's video tutorial includes tons of helpful details! She talks about what brushes and paints she uses and how she picks colors in additional to walking through her unique technique of painting after free motion quilting.

Deborah Wirsu has three video tutorials on using Inktense pencils on fabric including another “quilt first, paint later” technique.

Another excellent video tutorial about Inktense pencils from Jacqui Holmgren.

Jacquard has a handy pdf file of FAQs with special attention to comparing textile paints and inks.

Betty Busby does an excellent job explaining how to paint a smooth gradation on silk using cheap hardware store brushes.

More awesome fabric painting tutorials from Micky Lawler. Painted water landscapes using salted water. Also overpainting on previously painted fabrics.

This overview of paints vs dyes includes brands, sources, pros and cons and tips for painting on silk.

Gloria Hansen explains a really interesting way to create shibori fabrics with textile paints in this blog post. It’s an innovative way to take a technique traditionally designed to be used with dye and convert it to paint.

Don’t miss this amazing time-lapse video of Deidre Adams working on the painted layer of a large commissioned work.


Book Recommendations


The Painted Quilt: Paint and Print Techniques for Color on Quilts
by Linda Kemshall and Laura Kemshall

This book deals with what can be done to the quilted surface – using paint, markers, stamps, bleach and transfers after the piece is already quilted.


Art Cloth: A Guide to Surface Design for Fabric 
by Jane Dunnewold*

A full instruction book on using dye, paint, discharging, and surface design techniques on fabric.



Creative Alchemy
by Judy Coates Perez*

Judy uses her painting expertise to guide you through countless fun and easy techniques that can be used alone or combined in a multitude of ways, to create unique surface design on fabric.


SkyDyes: A Visual Guide to Fabric Painting
by Micky Lawler *

Perfect for beginning fabric painters and those who have dabbled with fabric paints. Easy exercises show how to create skies, earth, seas, and gardens.



Surface Designer's Handbook
by Holly Brackman *

This comprehensive guide covers all wealth of techniques using dyes, paints and resists. The spiral bound edition is so handy to have available in the studio as you play.