7 Ways to Wear a Breton Shirt

How to draw a breton shirt

When I drew this self-portrait for my About page, I naturally chose one of my favourite outfits: the breton shirt (organic cotton!) and jeans. What I had not anticipated was how much fun I would have drawing the stripes with pencil, with all the effects of light and drapery. So, naturally, I did it again in a project entirely dedicated to the self-portrait, where I was wearing a breton shirt again.

I was not finished with breton shirts! This time I did not want to focus on resemblance to the model as an individual, but to have fun with fashion and clothes. I created a mini capsule wardrobe: seven ways to wear the breton shirt.

I cannot tell precisely how much time it took because I did not work for long hours in a row: the drawing was sitting on my table, and I would draw whenever I had a few minutes to spare over the course of a few days. All in all, it probably took a couple of hours. Also, as you will see in Step #3 below, I spent a lot of time changing my mind about how to draw the faces (add a couple of hours more for that)!

My first drawing of a breton shirt with pencil, for my  About  page

My first drawing of a breton shirt with pencil, for my About page




For this drawing, you don’t need a lot, just:

  • a pencil (I use 2B)

  • a sharpener

  • an eraser

  • white paper (I draw on 250 gsm/90lb grained A4 paper).

Once again, I wanted to draw a self-portrait from a photo. Let’s say that I am a bit too shy to ask anyone to model for me, so it is easier to be my own model . But getting a reference picture of myself definitely requires some more organization. You may already have a photo you want to draw from, or you may know a nice person who is willing to take that photo for you.

That is the simple way. Which is not mine, of course! I did not want to take a selfie, so I switched, once again, my camera to video mode, put it on a table, focused and went to the other side of the table. I struck different poses, then went back to the camera to stop the video. Back at my computer, I chose my favourite pose and extracted a picture from the video. It’s a bit like taking a thousand pictures to be sure there is one you like!


Step 1 – Sketching the seven figures with pencil

You may already know, from various previous projects, that my personal technique is very much a trial and error process, in three steps:

  1. I look intently at a small part of the reference photo, as if it were an abstract shape.

  2. I try to reproduce it on paper, looking back and forth a lot between the photo and the drawing. Do the shapes look the same? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.

  3. Then I look at my drawing again, not as geometrical shapes but as the portrait it is supposed to be. Does it look like me? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat. 

In the short video above, this runs from 00:00 to 01:05.


Step 2 – Adding all the details with pencil, including the striped shirts

This step was so much fun!

  • First, I drew the details on all the jeans and trousers (01:05 to 01:48).

  • Then the skirts (01:48 to 01:58).

  • Then the jackets (01:58 to 02:23).

  • Then the shoes and legs (02:23 to 02:55).

  • Then the hands (02:55 to 03:20).

  • Then the bretons with all their stripes (03:20 to 03:57).

In the short video above, this runs from 01:05 to 04:06.


Step 3 – Choosing what to do with the faces

I spent an awful lot of time choosing what to do with the faces:

  • First, I sketched them somewhat realistically. The problem was that I had not treated them as self-portraits, so they looked like seven different people, and I was not entirely comfortable with a band of women wearing bretons who were all in fact me.

  • Secondly, I tried to draw realistic self-portraits. Have you ever tried to draw seven self-portraits around a square centimeter each? I have, and it was – hard! It took a very long time to get it right.

  • Thirdly, once my self-portraits were somewhat OK and bearing a real resemblance to me, I realised that the attention of the viewer was drawn to the faces, not to the outfits and not at all to the breton shirts. Which was the whole point of the project! I realised that I preferred the video recordings of the phase before I began to draw the faces beyond the rough sketch. After all that work, should I go back to that raw sketch? I slept on it and the next morning I knew what I had to do. I erased it all, and roughly sketched the faces in 5 minutes. It was like going back to where I had left off a couple hours earlier in the drawing.

I learned a lot: about self-portrait (more training, yeah!), about the focus of a drawing (what the viewer’s attention should be drawn to) and about erasing when you have to, no matter how much time it has taken you to draw what you are about to erase, or how good it is!


And voilà!

And voilà! My seven inspirational models on how to wear a breton shirt.

What was really difficult here was the choice I made to draw the seven figures on the same piece of paper and to draw them in parallel rather than one outfit after another. I do not regret it, because I wanted to achieve some homogeneity in my treatment. What I had not realised when I made that choice was that there is no way to hide mistakes or to decide not to publish one of the figures! I felt I had no choice but to push it through and make all seven figures work.

Let’s be real – some aspects of it are totally unrealistic! OK, I do not wear the same shirt seven days in a row. I almost never wear high heels! Not comfortable enough when I walk around. So I would probably wear flats with the first four outfits. Still, the shoes are mine. They sit in a wardrobe and look beautiful – on a shelf!

Now I can frame the drawing and keep it near my wardrobe for inspiration.


This is the course where I share my personal formula for drawing a portrait or a self-portrait with pencil, even if you don’t have a lot of time or haven’t drawn in a long time.

This is the course where I share my personal formula for drawing a portrait or a self-portrait with pencil, even if you don’t have a lot of time or haven’t drawn in a long time.

If you want a step-by-step guide to how I draw a self-portrait, with even more detail, check out this course, a simple guide to creating an elegant portrait or self-portrait, which will be ready to frame or gift in only 7 days.


If you liked this post, you will certainly like some of the other drawings of clothes you can find on The Daily Atelier. Enjoy!