How To Paint Plaid by Mike Pounders*

I recently completed a Mark Akers rough out and several people were interested in how I painted the flannel shirt the guy was wearing.  It won’t seem so difficult once you go through the steps a time or two!  I used 4 different colors for mine: a light coffee color, dark blue, darker brown, and a darker blue.  The colors can be your choice but a light color and dark one usually work better together.  These are acrylic paints thinned to a wash.

 I bought these little plastic containers in the paint section at the hobby store and  I like to use them to mix slightly larger quantities of paint.  I really like adding the paint and water and being able to shake it to get a really well-mixed shade that I like…plus to keeps longer and is ready to be used immediately when I get the urge to paint.


I use a round brush that holds a good bit of paint, but has a fine tip that lets me paint details as needed.  I use it for the wide stripes, but a flat brush might work better.  The other brush is a long liner, that I use for the thinner lines and stripes. I have a smaller one but this one holds a bit more paint so I can make a line in one continuous stroke.                                                 


I practiced first on a sheet of drawing paper, to make sure I have the process down and get some idea how the colors combinations look together.  After doing that, you will also want to practice at least once on a piece of basswood, to make sure your colors look right.  What looks good on a piece of white paper may need to be darker or thinner on a piece of yellow-tan basswood … will look different. 

I just roughly draw a pattern of squares that are close to the size that would be appropriate for your carving. These are about a ¼ inch.  Notice that I have labeled them for brown or blue in alternating columns on the top and side. 



I start by just painting the vertical brown stripes. Try to not make too many passes in order to keep the color consistent.  I use a hair dryer to blow it dry after I finish them.                                                    


Now I do the horizontal lines of brown and you can see that the second coat over the intersections makes those squares darker. 



Blow dry and then do the vertical blue stripes, then blow dry and do the horizontal blue stripes.  All these are just roughly done with your larger brush.




Now, in photo 8, we’re going to use the smaller liner brush to paint a “corral” pattern using a slightly darker brown.  And it will only be painted in the darker blue squares.                                                         


Start by doing the horizontal ones and paint the line all the way across.  I start at the far left and work to the right, so that my hand is not resting in the lines I just painted. I hold the brush like a pencil and use ring finger or pinkie finger to steady my hand. 



Blow dry when finished and then do the vertical lines (brown-on-blue) to form the corrals, as shown in photo 10. Blow dry when finished. 



Now we can do the darker blue intersections.  These will be painted blue-on-brown and will consist of two lines fairly close together, right down the middle of the rows and columns.  I do the vertical ones first, dry and then do the horizontal ones. Again, work from left to right. 




And there you have it…something that looks like a faded flannel shirt.  I actually used one of my own as a reference for the colors and patterns.  I think the faded colors add to the softness effect, but I also sand the shirt to make sure there isn’t too much sharpness. 



If there are a lot of sharp marks or facets from cutting, it can make the shirt look overly-wrinkled or like it was made of paper.  You want something that is soft and flowing…like a real shirt.  The last picture is Mark’s carving, showing the colors and pattern he used.  On his carving, he also burned the larger squares (rather than using just pencil lines) before painting.  This would give your shirt a newer, crisp appearance.  Mark also used colored pens for the thinner stripes.  That gives some nice lines and has a similar transparent effect. 



I couldn’t find the colors I wanted or liked, so I ended up using my liner, which again seemed to give a more faded effect that I liked.  When I paint on the wood, I keep the wood damp if I am painting the face and areas where I want to blend colors.  But I paint the shirt with the wood dry, and also dry between the colors and rows I paint, just like I did with the paper.  Now, when I’ve finished all the plaid, I will spray it with water and get it damp and may then add some washes of gray for shadows in the wrinkles around the buttons and other places.  That’s so I can blend them in, rather than just having a big blotch of color.  So that’s how I did mine…..If you try it, you will find it is not as complex as it appears and it can give a nice effect to a carving.

*This tutorial was provided through the gracious courtesy of Mike Pounders from Arkansas, which he had posted in the Woodcarving Illustrated Woodcarving Forum on 1/9/2017.



Our first comment today comes from Jakobo Santiago from the Canary Islands on our earlier topic on wooden spoons.  Jakobo writes:

“I have learned that you have to rub the spoons with something soft and hard (like a deer horn, a pipe, or something similar) to seal the pores. I’ve tried it and it works! A smooth, shiny finish is achieved before applying the oil”

Thank you for that information, Jakob.  The word spoon is derived from an ancient word meaning a chip of wood or horn carved from a larger piece.  The practice of rubbing wood with a hard tool such as a hard piece of wood or metal is called burnishing, and is widely used here in the United States for all types of woodworking projects, including woodcarving.

Burnishing means to polish (a surface) by friction with a tool to make the wood smooth and bright.   It is particularly useful in furniture making although I have personally done it on some of my wood carvings.

Our second comment comes from Bob Nesbit from Pennsylvania who appreciates the information on wood burning from my last post:  Bob said:


Thanks for the information on wood burning and the different kinds of wood to burn on. I’m also new to wood burning my carvings so this information is helpful.

Bob Nesbit

Thank you for writing in, Bob.  It that kind of feedback which lets me know I’m on the right track with the information I am providing to my readers.  I’m glad you found it helpful.

I’m hoping to get some feedback on today’s post about Painting Plaid.  There are a number of ways this can be done so it would be great if we can open up some discussion of this topic.  Let’s hear your questions and comments.

Our third comment today comes from Ed along with a picture of the stunning fan bird he carved:

“Hi Carvers,  Here is an example of one of my carvings.  I use northern white cedar from Carver’s World.  Anyone have experience with trying other woods?  Thanks,  Ed”


Ed’s Fan Bird

That’s a magnificent looking fan bird you carved, Ed, and beautifully painted as well.  Although I have never tried carving a fan bird yet I have carved many different types of wood which include: basswood, white pine, sugar pine, red cedar, mahogany, black walnut, butternut, yellow poplar, sassafras and red oak. Do fan birds carve well from basswood?

Let the chips fly!  Tell your wood carving friends and spread the word about Wood Chip Chatter, and don’t forget to click the ‘Comment’ button at the bottom of the page to send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going!

And remember, we need your photos!  I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share and photos of your carvings will help to liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting.  Perhaps we can start a carvers photo section!  Email your photos to


Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!


Published by carverbobk

I’m a self taught award winning wood carver who has been carving since I was a teenager. I enjoy instructing other carvers, especially beginners.

5 thoughts on “HOW TO PAINT PLAID

  1. Bob, Thanks for the tutorial. This is my one and only attempt at painting plaid (circa ‘15). I’ll save the tutorial and do some practicing. wh


  2. Bob,
    WOW now that was very interesting on painting the plaid shirt and the steps taken to achieve this. Will add this to my notebook and give it a try. Never seen this done on a carving before.
    Bob Nesbit


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