Photo by Leah Caplan.

Photo by Leah Caplan.

Are you tired of last year’s summer tees? You don’t need to be an art student to turn the plain clothes you put off wearing into unique items you can’t wait to show off. The puffy paint a lot of us played with as kids is easy to work with and stays vibrant on fabric for years.

At stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels, you can get packs with a variety of simple colors and styles ranging from glittery and metallic to neon and glow-in-the-dark. While you’re there, you can also pick up fabric paintbrushes and a T-shirt form. The form stretchs the shirt flat and also prevents paint from bleeding through to the back of the T-shirt. You won’t need to worry with denim and thick fabrics, but cotton tends to soak through more easily.

Photo by Leah Caplan.

Photo by Leah Caplan.

Once you have your supplies, you can plan your project. What garment you choose to paint could make the difference between an easy project and a mess. Not all fabrics are created equal. The smoother and tighter the weave, the easier it will be to paint. Denim is great, as are plain cotton T-shirts and tank tops. Textured fabrics like corduroy are harder to work with and the paint will crack along the ribbing within a few washes. You can still paint them, but you’ll want to stick to simple designs that will look good with small cracks in the paint.

Jeans are fun to work with. You can be as elaborate as you like or keep it simple by decorating only one back pocket. Floral and geometric patterns will look good all year, and a sun and cloud is great for a pair of shorts. Clouds are easy to make look realistic by overlapping blotches of various shades of white and light gray. Suns can also be as simple as a yellow spiral or complex with layers and gradients of colors.

T-shirts are popular to paint because they are close to the face and easily visible from a distance. They are also very versatile as they have a large paintable space that’s uninterrupted by belt loops, zippers or closely neighboring seams. Colors on the warm end of the spectrum will go well with a beach scene, while designs featuring aquatic life and water sports fit with any shade of blue and some greens.

Photo by Leah Caplan.

Photo by Leah Caplan.

You can plan out the basic outline of your design before you start painting if you feel more comfortable with an extra step. Don’t be afraid to sketch a copy of a photograph. Soft fabrics like cotton can be drawn on lightly with pencil. It is difficult to erase without wetting the fabric, and the water will cause the pencil to go on darker afterward. If the sketch is light enough to be only just visible, it can often be erased or later washed out. Any mistakes on the inside of the outline can be hidden by the paint. The darker the shade, the less paint will be needed to obscure the pencil marks. Pencil will not work on real or fake leather, but lightly applied ballpoint pen can be erased with a damp cloth.

As you’re painting, remember that the eye will often fill in details with very minimal context. A beach at sunset can be as simple as a palm tree, a band of overlapping squiggly lines in various shades of blue and a red semicircle. Small fish can be as easy as an oval with lines for fins on one end and a dot for an eye at the other. They’ll look even better with a stripe along their length in a contrasting color, and it is easy to make a whole school of them. Other easy images to add might be sailboats, distant birds and a beach ball.

Of course, the last piece of advice is the most important. Have fun painting, enjoy your new favorite item and soak up the sunshine this summer!

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