Painting on a Denim Jacket
I’ve been meaning to have a go at painting on denim for a while (inspired mostly by All Things Lilly Ann on Instagram) and decided that with a bank holiday weekend and therefore 4 full days off work to play with, now would be the perfect time! Having spent weeks searching online for tips on how to do this and not finding much I thought it would be a great idea to document my little project and what I learned from it.
Taking Art GCSE at school and being an avid painter growing up meant I was always using acrylic paints for my arty projects, feeling pretty confident with them and having a great stash in my creative toolbox (you can read all about that here). Conflicting info online debated whether you should use fabric paint, acrylic paint with fabric medium or just straight acrylic paint on denim, and in the end I found a great little article from Kessler Ramirez which said acrylic paint was perfect for the job - so decided to go ahead and try it out. I also read online that watering down acrylic can make it easier to paint with on denim, as well as preventing it from cracking as much, so decided to take this advice as well.
I started out (as always) with a design on my iPad Pro. I had a cute little phrase in mind that I wanted to letter, and used Procreate to sketch out and then refine a design, changing the colours to test how it would look on blue denim.
I then set up the denim jacket, setting it out flat on the table (I later moved outside in the sun so placed a placemat under the painting area to keep it flat). I then began marking out the areas in which I would be lettering in with washi tape, using a ruler to measure - because the lettering is on a horizontal, I wanted to get this spot on! With a squared grid layered over the lettering on my iPad Pro as a guide, I could work out the proportions for the piece and mark it out accordingly.
I then began painting out the design with white acrylic - starting with the letter D as I find it easy to paint! I soon worked out that heavily watered down paint works well for marking out the design (almost like sketching), as it comes out so lightly that if you go wrong it can be quickly rubbed off. I then went ahead and sketched out the rest of the lettering.
Once the letters were sketched out and in place, I took time to replicate the digital design with a paintbrush. I used a small, flat brush to do the lettering as it helped me get the edges consistent, white being thick enough to paint a nice sized line on denim and do intricate parts when needed. The lettering style is pretty script-like so it didn’t need to be perfect, but I took plenty of time with this to make sure that I was happy with the letter forms.
I then spent the majority of my time on this project going over and over and over the lettering until I was happy with the thickness of the paint and the neatness of the outlines - you need about 3 layers of paint to look thick and glossy, with extra tweaking for getting the edges spot on.
Once I removed the washi tape I added in the stars - again sketching them out with watered down paint, and then adding a layer or two of thick white acrylic. It was really useful to have a flat edged brush here as it allowed me to get the lines of the stars straight.
I then added a layer of bronze acrylic over the top of the stars to make them pop! I love how these came out - this colour of acrylic is really pigmented and metallic, so they really catch the light.
And that’s the paint done! It’s recommended that you heat set the acrylic paint to make the plastic finish more durable. I did this using a hair dryer held close over the paint for around 5 minutes, but you can also do this by chucking it in the tumble dryer for 20 minutes or ironing the reverse of the jacket.
And now I can’t wait to have another go at painting on denim! It’s so fun to create artwork that has a purpose and you can actually wear around (proudly!). Next time I’m going to have a go at using some sort of medium to make the paint flow easier on the denim - although it wasn’t overly difficult, and forced me to take my time with the letter forms, it would be interesting to see the effect using a medium to thin the paint would have on the process and finished product. For now, I’ll be wearing my newly customised denim jacket at every possible opportunity!