If you’ve got a little time to waste this weekend and some old shirts that you aren’t ready to throw out but really don’t like looking at, I’ve got something for you to do! We recently covered how to draw a mandala. Now we’re going to talk about how to draw one with a bleach pen.
I did this last Sunday afternoon with a ratty old shirt worn for painting and mowing the yard, a Clorox Bleach Pen, and a piece of cardboard that came from the side of a box. I’ve been told you need to soak the shirt with baking soda when rinsing it out to neutralize the bleach. I don’t know how true that is, but I went ahead and did it so you also might want to have a little baking soda on hand. Maybe two tablespoons.
The darker petals in the mandala in the photo above are just a trick of the light. You can see, though, that the shirt has a couple of small holes, some fading, paint splatters, and is just generally worn out. It was the perfect shirt to try this with… no way I could ruin the shirt if it didn’t work. I’d suggest doing the same until you get the hang of drawing with the bleach pen. Worst case, the shirt isn’t really any worse. Best case, you’ve given new life to an old rag!
I slipped a big piece of corrugated cardboard from the side of a box into the shirt so the bleach wouldn’t go through to the back. I want to say a piece of wax paper or butcher paper would probably also work, but I don’t know for certain. If you’ve done something similar before and know it will work, or want to be brave and adventurous with this project, you can try one of those if you don’t have access to a cardboard box.
Decide where you want to start the center of your mandala. I wanted to disguise that hole in the shirt, but didn’t want it to become a hole at the center of the mandala. I started near there. This is a great way to create some cool off-center designs, so you don’t have to start right in the middle of the shirt front. Mine is low and slightly to the right (from my point of view while wearing it.) You could make one for an expecting mother that puts the design right on her belly.
Shake your bleach pen, take the cap off, and start drawing! I had never used a bleach pen before, so I learned a few things doing this. You need to squeeze a little, but don’t squeeze too much. Just enough to make a white line is fine. I made some of my lines a little too thick and it was just a waste of bleach. It comes out as a sort of gel, so it doesn’t really spread everywhere, but you can make it stretch a lot further if you don’t use more than necessary.
I let mine sit for about 15-20 minutes when I was finished, and you can see that lines drawn earlier bleached more color out of the shirt than lines drawn toward the end. Keep this in mind when deciding what order to do your main lines and details in. You can make everything fade out from the center, or you can draw all of your main shapes and then go back and do smaller details so that the details look faded.
You might want to have a plan for what to draw. I didn’t this time, but I would if I did this on a shirt I bought for the project. Just winging it is kind of fun, but I did feel a sense of, “Need to keep drawing! Don’t let the bleach sit too long!” (But don’t make yourself rush! I think I spent around half an hour drawing mine.) If you think that might lock your brain up, sketch out your ideas on a piece of paper first.
If you’re familiar with using paint pens and such, you might have good control for getting finer lines and smaller details. If not… well, you don’t see the variance in line weight on my shirt that you saw in the mandalas I draw on paper. Just like drawing a mandala on paper, though, don’t worry too much over a mistake. Work with it. Let it be part of your unique design.
After I let the shirt sit for the bleach to take effect, I just picked the whole thing up – cardboard still inside – and carried it off to the bathtub to rinse. We have a detachable shower head, which I used for the first part of rinsing the shirt. The gel dried a little. Not to the point of being hard, but it didn’t start running down the shirt, either. After I turned the water in the shower on, I whipped the cardboard out of the shirt and quickly stuck the shirt under the water.
After rinsing, I put the shirt in the sink with water and a little baking soda to soak for about five minutes. Then I thoroughly rinsed the shirt and hung it to dry.
You could do a lot of things to a shirt with a bleach pen. Fancy name writing, a favorite quote… anything you can draw or write in just one color. The color will, of course, depend on the color of the shirt and how long you let it sit after drawing. I wouldn’t suggest using any shirt that is so light in color that a small bleach spot might go unnoticed. And make sure you get the bleach pen made for whites. This is one time you do NOT want to use color-safe bleach, so make sure you’re also wearing a shirt that it’s okay to get bleach on. I didn’t have that happen while I was doing this, but why take chances? I suggest buying a new bleach pen for this project so you’ll know it’s not too old or about to run out. It’ll say on the package if it’s only intended for white fabrics.
Now you have a wearable piece of your own artwork!