The Horror of Tartan

Tartan is one of those things that can make figure painters swoon with terror, but it's actually a lot easier to paint than you might imagine.

The following steps will give you a very acceptable tartan... bearing in mind that I really don't know much about actual historical tartans. If you want a specific tartan, you may have to adjust the process, but for most purposes just changing the colours will work fine. The specific colours I'm using here will give you a result like a generic hunting tartan.

First, paint the base colour — in this case, a medium green.
Next, paint a grid of stripes in a darker shade of the base colour. Don't make them too thin, and don't space them too close together.

The next step is to paint in the intersections of the stripes in a darker shade still. You can stop at this stage if you just want a suggestion of tartan, but the next couple of steps really bring it to life.
The next step requires a good, pointed brush and a reasonably steady hand. Paint fine lines through the middle of the grid in the same colour as you used for the intersections.
The last step is to take a lighter, matching colour (in this case I've used a light yellowish green — or greenish yellow) and paint in another fine grid, overlaying the original grid.

And that's it. you've got your tartan.

Don't mistake me, this is not a technique that will compensate for a clumsy painter, but as long as you're even moderately light and steady of hand, this series of steps will give you a good result every time.

Also works for gingham.


  1. Cool effect! Now I can have a band of barbarians that looks like if they'd just left the country club... :)

  2. Nice work, like the Tartan tut too. ;)