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Relief banners

This is a tutorial on how I made the wall relief banners for Odyssey. The idea was to create the impression of a sculptured wall relief in stone or clay. However you could use similar techniques for coloured wall reliefs if you want. Remember that a hung banner will never really look like stone but they are very effective at communicated a sense of a carved environment, whilst still being obviously a banner!

You will need:
  • Unbleached cotton, linen, or muslin - as big as your wall relief will be.
  • Photocopying shop
  • Pencil and long ruler or straight edge
  • Brown (Burnt Sienna) acrylic paint and preferably also some Pthalo Blue or similar 'cold' blue.
  • Brown marker pen with a thick chisel nib


Design your image - or if you are using real wall reliefs download a nice high resolution image of them to print out then draw over the outlines and details you want in a medium black felt tip.

Decide how large you want each section and photocopy them up to size.

Mark out your border areas with a pencil and ruler. Lots of panels will look good but remember that large empty areas will probably not look that great, so if you have empty areas consider putting little cracks or 'blemishes' in the design to make them look more like stone.

Trace your designs through onto the fabric. I did this by shutting my fabric in a window so that natural light shone through it and blutacking the design to the window pane behind it. You might be able to see through thin fabric well enough to just trace them directly onto it.

Happy with your design? Good. It's time to get messy.

Get a large flat area that you will be able to clean the paint off afterwards. Don't worry, acrylic paint will come off with a wipe/mop but it will definitely soak through the fabric.

The principles of faking  a relief is to paint whilst constantly thinking about where the light source of the 'carving' is coming from. It should definitely be from above, choose whether to have it from the top left or top right. The picture is made up of 4 colours:

  1. The unpainted fabric colour - the highlights
  2. The pale wash - the 'default colour' of your banner
  3. The darker wash - the shadows
  4. Very dark outlines for detail.

These banners all have a light source at the top left so the highlights are along the top and left of every shape and the shadows are along the bottom and right. The default colour (the pale wash) should be painted everywhere EXCEPT the highlights.


Mix up a very watery greyish brown. I find brown with a smidge of Pthalo Blue works well. You will need a LOT of paint to cover a large banner so to ensure your colours match mix it all up at once. For banners the size of these you'll use at least a beaker of wash. Do not make your colour TOO subtle or you will waste a lot of work - remember it will be a lot lighter when dry than it is wet and you want it to be noticeable. If in doubt, test your colours on a corner of the fabric first.

Paint the entire area of your banner in this colour EXCEPT for the highlight areas. These are any areas that would catch light coming from the top left, e.g. every top left edge and any bulges in the 'carving' e.g. the horse's shoulder in the (increased contrast) image right. Remember you can create subtle 'bulges' with your second wash so keep this for the most 'sticky outy' of your fake sculpture.

It will take a lot of paint and soak through. Try not to move your banner as the soaked through paint will then be soaked up by the unpainted fabric you move onto it. For this reason I did my wash on the floor as my banners were so big.

Wait for wash1 to dry.


Use any leftovers from wash 1 and add more paint to create a stronger coloured wash. This colour can be subtly colder (bluer) than wash 1 but it should not be warmer (browner) in hue. You won't need as much as wash 1 either, perhaps half.

Paint in the shadows, using your judgement. This should be much of the background, starting at any edge to the bottom or right of a sticky-out bit e.g. under the horse's belly and to the right of his legs. This should then fade out to the 'default' colour of the first wash.

You could also paint in shadows on some of the edges on the relief shapes themselves, if they curves away from the light particularly, or would have a shadow cast on them e.g. under the beards and hats of the figures right.

The banner to the right uses a lot of wash2 on the figures, giving a very 3D appearance, whereas the lion below is pretty much one colour, giving a much more graphic effect.


Now draw on your outlines and detail. This really depends on how 'graphic' you want your result. For a more realistic effect, do not use a marker pen, use a thin paintbrush and more subtle colours and shading. For a more eyecatching but slightly cartoony effect, use a marker. This is also much easier to control. These banners were done with a marker.

Control your line thickness dependent on the level of detail of your sculpture but also according to the direction of light. Every bottom right edge should have a thick line, but stick to thin lines for textural detail such as the horse mane below.

You don't need to outline everything - if you have a sharp line between a shadow and highlight it might look better without a pen line, especially at the top left highlight area of each shape (I left many of my borders unoutlined e.g. under the lion above).

Remember, the deeper your sculpture, the stronger the colour (e.g. eyes) and the more shadowy, the stronger the colour - so use a much thicker line on the shadow side than on the general outline.

Will try to get some better pictures soon.