Create Doodles on T-Shirts with a Bleach Pen

Need some new pieces for your wardrobe? Here’s an idea: add doodles to a t-shirt! Kim Ballor shows you how in this tutorial from our spring 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop. Try this technique on a new shirt, or use it to upgrade an older top.

doodles on t-shirts
Kim Ballor shows you how to create doodles with a bleach pen. (Photos by Sharon White Photography)

Wearable Doodles by Kim Ballor

Back in the day when we were tie-dyeing and discovering new techniques to make groovy clothing, we used discharge paste to remove the dye from fabrics. These days, a bleach pen does much the same thing faster and with less expense.

On my first try with a bleach pen and a t-shirt, I started doodling and had so much fun that I did not stop until the front was covered in doodles. I think you will find it the same fast and easy fun. Give it a try.

Materials

  • Plastic for work surface
  • T-shirt (I used a red vintage cotton t-shirt. Fabric content does not matter, but I suggest a heavier weight fabric. The t-shirt I used was very thin. It worked fine, but I had to doodle quickly.)
  • Cardboard, stiff, cut to fit your t-shirt (I used a 20″ x 30″ foam board from the dollar store.)
    • NOTE: T-shirts stretch. Even a size small fits the foam board.
  • Masking tape
  • Bleach pen (I used A Clorox® Bleach Pen®.)
  • Rag or paper towel
  • Optional:
    • Water-soluble marker
    • Drawing paper and pencil
    • Tracing paper
    • Chalk
    • Paring knife

CAUTION: Wear old clothes and work on a protected surface for this project. You might be the neatest painter or doodler in the land, but it takes only one close encounter with wet bleach to ruin what you are wearing.

1. Stretch the shirt over the cardboard. Tape it in place with the sleeves taped to the back, so the shirt will stay flat and wrinkle free. (Figure 1) If you want to doodle on the sleeves, cut pieces of cardboard or foam board to fit inside the sleeves. Keep the shirt flat on the work surface as you doodle.

FIGURE 1

NOTE: It is not necessary to pre-wash your t-shirt if it is new.

2. Feehand doodle your designs on the shirt, or draw them on paper first. If you’re reluctant to jump right in with the bleach pen, practice doodling the main motifs with the bleach pen on paper. When you feel confident drawing them, doodle on the shirt with the pen. Alternatively, use a water-soluble marker to draw the main motifs onto the shirt, and use those lines as a guide. (Figure 2) Another option is to lay a piece of tracing paper over the motifs on your paper and trace the lines with chalk. Turn the tracing paper chalk-side down on the t-shirt and rub the backside with your fingers to transfer the design to the shirt. It helps to whittle the end of the chalk stick into a point for this. (Figure 3)

FIGURE 2
FIGURE 3

3. Shake the bleach pen and squeeze a bit of the bleach gel onto a rag. Make sure what comes out is white gel, not a clear and watery liquid. If you don’t shake the pen before using it, the heavier bleach will be in the bottom of the pen, making the last of your lines more bleached out than the beginning lines.

4. Do a couple of practice lines on your rag before you work on your shirt, to get the feel for making thin lines.

NOTE: The bleach you are using is a gel, not a liquid, so using just enough pressure to get it to come out of the pen will result in a thin line.

5. Hold the pen with a slight squeezing pressure and start drawing your main motifs. It’s important to work quickly. You have about 20 minutes to finish your doodling before the bleach dries.

NOTE: If the bleach dries on your shirt it will damage the fabric. I have found it is better to have a subtle design than a bright-white bleached design.

6. Draw the main motifs randomly on the shirt, repeating them as many times as you like. Be sure to maintain the pressure on the pen. I found bubbles resulted otherwise and made a mess.

NOTE: I used the entire contents of a new bleach pen on this shirt.

TIP: If the bleach pen gets difficult to squeeze, hold the pen over your rag and give it a hard shake downward. This will move the bleach down toward the tip and make it easier to squeeze.

7. When the main motifs are outlined with the bleach gel, do some freehand doodling. Fill in around and between the main motifs with simple doodles, like stems and leaves, lines, dashes, spirals, dots, tiny circles, squiggles, small five petal flowers, curlicues, or words. (Figure 4) Doodle with thin lines to lessen the chance of your lines running together.

FIGURE 4

NOTE: Once the bleach is on the shirt, it is too late to fix lines that are too thick. You can turn thick lines into something larger, like a big flower center, or repeat the fatter lines in other areas to make it look intentional.

8. Carefully remove the tape from the t-shirt and slide it off the board. Rinse the bleach gel off the shirt, and follow the manufacturer’s washing and drying instructions. No matter how you do this, you will not hurt the bleach lines. I have held the board directly under the shower spray, and I have peeled the shirt off the board and rinsed it in the sink under running water. As the shirt dries, the bleached lines will stand out more.

NOTE: The more pigment there is in the shirt, the less your bleached lines will stand out. A light- to medium color shirt will have brighter lines than a dark color.

doodles on t-shirts


Kim Ballor is a multi-media artist who lives in Michigan. Art projects currently holding her interest are making lampwork beads and jewelry design, acrylic and watercolor painting, and doodling in her journals. Visit her website at artfromtheword.com.


Want more ways to wear your doodles? Try making zendoodle fabric beads with Kristal Wick!

Here are more great products to inspire your doodle art:

If you think a doodle is just a scribble or cute drawing and nothing more, it’s time to take another look. This issue of Zen Doodle Workshop will show you just how creative and daring doodle artists can be.
Energize your soul and soothe your spirit with the fun and colorful doodle and lettering techniques inside Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe.
Reuse and reinvent your artwork with this video of mixed-media methods, Top 10 Doodle, Drawing and Mark-Making Techniques hosted by Amy Jones. From using art journal prompts to designing your own doodles, find your creative expression in the exploration of media and techniques.

Categories

Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques, Paper Art and Zen Doodle

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