Texture in art is described as the way artists use their chosen medium to create a physical or tactile surface texture in their art. This could mean either creating a three dimensional aspect to the painting or drawing surface with their paint medium, or creating the appearance of texture.
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Texture in art definition
Texture in art is the way an artist creates a visual feel or perceived surface on their work. It is achieved through the use of various elements such as shape, form, and value. The artist may manipulate these elements to create a desired effect on the viewer.
Why create texture in art?
Texture can be used to create a sense of depth, add interest, or evoke certain emotions. It can also be used to create visual balance or contrast. For example, a painting with rough texture might have smooth areas to provide relief from the busyness of the overall image.
Some artists use texture as their primary means of expression, while others use it to complement other elements in their work. There are many different ways to create texture, and the possibilities are limited only by the artist’s imagination.
Types of texture in art
There are actually two types of texture in art. The physical surface of the painting or drawing itself can have three dimensional properties. Artists create this effect by layering thick paint that holds its shape, creating marks and visible brush strokes in thick paint or painting on a textured surface. Physical texture can be created with a limited number of mediums. The mediums used to create physical texture must be viscous and hold their shape when wet. For example, you can add mediums such as cold wax to oil paint to make mixtures thicker and to help retain brushstrokes on the canvas. Grab a palette knife and paste paint onto the canvas to make interesting patterns and shapes.
The second type of texture is illusory or visual texture, which is when the artist uses various elements to create the illusion of texture. This could be done through the use of brushstrokes, colour or values. For example, an artist might use a dry-brush painting technique to create the look and feel of fur on an animal. Or, they could use contrasting colours to give the illusion of different textures in the same image. Final artworks may not have any physical or tactile surface qualities on the canvas, but the brush or pencil marks emulate the textural qualities of certain objects or subjects. For example, in the painting above, I stippled paint on the panel in short sharp strokes to create the illusion of leaf texture.
Methods of creating texture in art
- Painting with a stiff brush
- using a variety of mark-making tools, like palette knives, catalyst blades and wedges
- building up layers of paint
- using a variety of mediums
- adding sand, or other materials to a painting surface
- using a palette knife to spread paint
- using a spray bottle to add texture
- flicking paint onto the surface
- using found objects to create frottage or grattage paintings
- dry brushing
Some artists use multiple methods of creating texture in a single work. This can add depth and interest to the piece. It can also be used to create a sense of movement or change.
Which mediums can artists use to create texture?
Artists can use thicker, more viscous mediums that hold their shape while drying to create physical texture in a painting. Some good examples of mediums that can create physical texture on the surface of the canvas or panel are oil paints, heavy body acrylic paints and wax—either encaustic or cold wax. Oil paint dries slowly and when painting in thick layers, it could take months to fully dry and harden. The solution to this, is to add an oil paint medium to the paint mixture. An added medium like Liquin Impasto or cold wax will speed up the drying process of the paint. If the paint cures and hardens faster, it will be ready to varnish, hang on the wall, or send to a gallery sooner!
To create the appearance or illusion of texture, you don’t need paint to hold its shape. You can use any kind of paint or drawing medium to create this effect. For example, watercolours can be used to create the illusion of fur, feathers, leaves on trees or grass. Dry-brush painting is a good technique for creating the illusion of texture with any kind of paint. You could also get a thin brush and runny paint, such as oil paint mixed with linseed oil, or gouache, and detail single brush strokes to represent grass shapes.
Other art mediums such as clay can be used to create wonderful textures on vessels or sculptures. Picking up 3D media can take more practice compared to 2D media like paint, so try to find a local art class if this is something you’re interested in.
Supplies to add texture to artwork
There are a number of different supplies that can be used to create physical texture on an artwork’s surface. From dry mediums such as marble dust, or sand, to oil paint mediums such as cold wax. When choosing your mediums and additives, make sure they are suitable for your painting medium of choice, as some will only be suitable for use with oil or acrylic and not both.
Golden texture mediums
Golden makes a range of awesome texture mediums that artists can add to their paint mixtures, or apply to the surface of their canvas or panel to paint or draw on top of.
The texture mediums are mostly made to be used with acrylic paint, but some can be used with other media too. Here are a few of our favourites.
Artists can incorporate Golden Gel mediums to their acrylic paint mixtures, to thicken the paint and to aid it in holding its shape. The Golden Gel mediums also come in a variety of formulations, each with a different purpose. For example, the Golden Heavy Gel is good for thickening and extending the paint, making it go further without affecting the colour, viscosity or adhesive qualities.
This is a fiber paste made by Golden that can be used as a painting or drawing ground. Apply it over your surface, making dynamic peaks and marks, or scratching into it whilst wet. The texture can be likened to papier mache.
The Golden Molding Paste is one of our favourite texture mediums! This is another paste medium, similar to the Fibre Paste and comes in different textures. The coarse texture has marble dust and chalk in its mixture, which gives it a toothy, sand-like quality. It holds peaks on the surface and provides structure to a surface before painting. It’s relatively easy to control with a palette knife and depending on how thickly artists apply it to the surface, it will dry in a few hours. Mix it with acrylic paint, or apply it to a gesso ground to paint over with any medium of your choice.
Pumice gel adds an incredibly coarse texture to the surface. It can be difficult to control, so it takes a little practice to get to grips with. If you want the ultimate rough texture in your artwork, almost like the texture of brick, this could be a great option. Apply to a surface, then paint with acrylic over the top. This medium is particularly inflexible and can crumble when dry, so mix it with a little Golden Gel medium to make it more flexible.
This is one of the most fun texture mediums! Crackle paste shrinks as it dries, so when paint or another medium is applied over the top, it cracks and fragments, resulting in an awesome weathered effect. It can be used with acrylic paint to give a chipped paint look, or used on its own to crackle and flake.
As the name suggests, this gel is made with glass beads, which suspend in the mixture and leave a lustrous, shining surface when dry. The glass beads give a 3-dimensional quality to the surface and can be used as an interesting alternative to glitter. Mix it with your chosen paint colour, or apply it to the surface and paint over the top.
Oil painting texture mediums
The options for creating texture with oil paints are slightly more limited compared to acrylic paints. This is because Golden has manufactured so many textured pastes and gels specifically for acrylic painting. However, you can use some of the Golden pastes as textured grounds. There are also these options to choose from:
A beeswax and oil mixture, cold wax can be added to oil paint to create interesting texture and depth. You can apply it with a brush or painting knife to build up texture on the surface. It takes a little practice to get used to as it’s quite a dense medium, but once you have the hang of it, it’s great for creating interesting effects in oil paintings. Cold wax dries to a matte finish and holds its shape on the surface. It also dries a little quicker than regular oil paint, so it’s useful for speeding up the drying time of the slow drying oils.
You can also add dry mediums such as sand, marble dust or pumice stone to your oil paint to create textured surfaces.
Liquin is a synthetic resin that you can add to oil paint to make it thicker. It’s useful for creating textured surfaces as it helps the paint hold its shape on the surface. You can also use it to speed up the drying time of oil paint and it dries to a satin finish.
Watercolour texture mediums
There are limited options for creating surface texture with watercolour. This is because watercolour is an incredibly thin, runny, water-based medium that has inherent self-levelling properties. However, there are a couple of mediums that can be added to the paint to create some interesting effects.
Artists can add Aquapasto to the paint mix to make soft and subtle peaks and texture with watercolour paint. Simply add some colour to the medium and spread across the paper with a brush. It won’t hold its shape like some of the other texture mediums on this list, but it can show brush marks and create swirling textures. Use this medium with watercolour or gouache.
It’s super easy to create texture with salt. Sprinkle salt into a wash of wet colour on the paper and wait for the layer of paint to dry. Salt is absorbent, so the water in the watercolour will pool around it. Although this method doesn’t create pronounced texture, it can create the appearance of movement and a mottled effect.
How to create texture paintings
Your materials are really important when it comes to creating a texture painting. For example, if you’re using thick, heavy body paint, make sure to use a stiff applicator like a bristle brush or synthetic alternative, or even a palette knife, so that you can move the thick paint across the surface effectively.
Once you have your materials, it’s time to start creating! Here are some tips:
- Start with a sketch of your idea. This will help you know where to place the different textures in your painting.
- Plan your layers if you’re building texture on the surface. For example, you will have to consider leaving the first layers to dry if you want to create separate looking colour layers. If you’re painting wet on wet, paint with the thickest paint layer last.
- Experiment with different mediums and techniques. Make sure that the mediums you choose are compatible with one another and use a variety of mark making techniques to add interest to your artwork.
- Use contrasting colours to accentuate the different textures in the painting and make them stand out more.
- To create movement or change, use multiple methods of creating texture in a single work.
Create texture in drawings
Just like with painting, you can use a variety of drawing techniques to create marks on the paper that emulate texture with pencil medium. Some examples of techniques that create a sense of texture and movement in a drawing are hatching, scumbling, cross hatching and stippling. Stippling is the technique of creating thousands of tiny dots on the page to represent light and shadow in an artwork. Dots appear closer together in the darkest areas of the drawing and also provide a subtle textural appearance. Hatching is the technique of drawing parallel lines close together to create shading, tone and texture. Cross hatching is when you draw intersecting sets of parallel lines at different angles to create an even darker shadow.
Make a textured ground to paint onto
One idea to create texture in art, is to create a textured ground, let it dry, then paint over it. This way, you can paint with fine details over a voluminous surface, to achieve a unique appearance.
There are a number of Golden Acrylic mediums that can be used as an initial layer over a gesso canvas or panel, to provide texture before starting a painting. As we demonstrated before, the Golden Molding paste, is an opaque white paste that contains marble dust to give it extra absorbency, which makes it suitable for use with most drawing and painting mediums. Apply the paste with a palette knife in your desired shapes, to achieve three dimensional texture.
Abstract texture paintings
Texture in art can look painterly, but still represent a subject. Just like works by expressionist and impressionist artists. However, artists can also use texture to create completely abstract works, which don’t have distinct subject matter. Play and experiment with materials and colours to achieve different effects.
Some ideas to get you started:
- Use a variety of mark-making tools to create different kinds of marks and lines on the surface. For example, you could use a Catalyst Wedge tool to scrape paint from the surface.
- Use mixed media techniques, such as paint and pastels, or ink and watercolour, to create interesting effects.
- Apply thick layers of paint with a palette knife.
- Paint on a textured ground.
- Incorporate additives like marble dust or sand into the paint mix, to provide and extra tactile appearance.
Techniques to create texture in art
The impasto technique is a painting technique where paint is applied to the surface in thick, textural strokes. This technique is often used in oil painting; allow time for the paint to dry in between layers, or paint on wet layers.
The sgraffito technique is another way of incorporating texture into paintings. It involves scratching through a layer of wet paint to reveal the layer beneath. This can be done with a variety of tools, such as the end of a paint brush, tooth pick, or other similar objects you find around your house.
Ideas for painting with texture
One idea is to create a textured ground, such as with the Golden Molding Paste, and then paint over it with oil paints. You could use a palette knife tool to create flower shapes on the canvas with the molding paste, then paint with realistic colours over the top. The coarse molding paste is an choice for creating realistic sand in seascapes and beach scenes, as the paste has a texture similar to sand. Use it as a ground and paint a sand colour over the top, or mix it in with your acrylic paint and apply straight to the surface.
The Golden Crackle Paste is another great product for creating texture in art. It provides an absorbent surface that dries to an inflexible cracked layer. Paint over it with washes of colour and watch the paint run into the cracks.
Another idea is to use the sgraffito technique to create interesting patterns and texture in your painting. Paint a gradient onto the surface of your two favourite colours, then use the end of a paintbrush to scratch away a design of your choice. For more arty ideas, check out our easy oil painting ideas guide.
Texture in art examples
There are a number of famous artists who used texture in their works. Van Gogh and Monet both used the impasto technique in their paintings. Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ is an excellent example of how texture can be used to create a sense of movement in a painting. Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ also uses thick strokes of paint to give the work an almost three-dimensional quality.
Other artists, like Jackson Pollock, used the sgraffito technique in his paintings. Composition With Sgraffito IV is an excellent example of how this technique can be used to create a sense of movement and energy in a painting. In Pollock’s Number 1A, 1948, he used various splatter and mark making techniques to create a sense of texture and chaos in his art.
Grattage is a technique that was used by Max Ernst. He would place objects such as wire mesh on a canvas primed with fresh paint, then lift them to create a relief print. A famous example of his work is ‘La Foret’, which uses this technique to create a sense of movement and energy in the painting.
Texture can be used to create different effects on the viewer. It can be used to create a sense of depth and add dimensionality to your paintings. Experiment with different techniques and materials to find the ones that you like best.
By understanding how texture works, you can use it to enhance your own artwork. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Try new things and see what you can come up with.