What is texture?
Texture is the actual or the illusionary tactile value on the surface of an area as created by nature or by an artist through a manipulation of the visual elements.
Here is an example of how texture can be applied to manipulate value, color, and form to give the impression of a face. Notice the lines created with oil pastel:
Another textural example is of stippling, using dots in varying proximities to one another to give the illusion of changing values:
Common Texture Patterns
To get an idea of some common patterns employed by artists to give the illusion of texture in 2D art (or real tactile texture in 3D art), see some swatches below:
The most basic method of creating value in ink drawing is linear hatching. Fine parallel lines fill an area, so that from just a slight distance, we have the illusion of value. The closer the lines are, the less white paper shows, and the darker the value appears. Heavier (thicker) line weight also gives a darker appearance.
Crosshatching uses layers of hatching placed at an angle. Usually, the first layer would be vertical, the next horizontal, the next at forty-five degrees, and so on. This methodical approach can look a little mechanical, so artists often use variation in direction to add interest.
Hatching placed at a slight angle creates a moire-like effect, the diamond-shaped fragments of white paper enlivening the denser areas of value. This technique is often used in figure drawing, with the direction of line helping to suggest the cross-contours of the body. Hatching which follows a contour can also help to make objects appear more three-dimensional.
Scumbling and Random Hatching
The Elements of Art: Texture
Grade Level: 3–4
Students will be introduced to one of the basic elements of art—texture—by identifying different types of textures found in multiple works of art and hypothesize what materials and techniques were used to achieve that texture. Then, they will experiment with a variety of media and materials, including found objects, to create different textures.
- Smart Board or computer with ability to project images from slideshow
- Heavy cardstock (4 small sheets per students) or other surface sturdy enough to build up texture
- Multiple sizes of brushes
- Variety of media: paints (tempera, watercolor, etc.), colored pencils, oil pastels, crayons
- Found objects like leaves, sand, stones, twigs, etc.
Do you recognize these marks? How do you think the artist applied paint to the canvas?
Texture is the look and feel of a surface. Painters have many ways to create different textures. They use different sized and shaped brushes: everything from tiny pointed brushes to flat, wide brushes. They can also use other tools—special knives, sponges, even fingers—to put paint on canvas.
What are some ways that artists create texture?
- They brush paint on in watery strokes and thick drips.
- They put paint down in short, fat dabs and long, sleek strokes.
- They twirl their brushes to make circles and curls.
- They apply paint in thick layers that stick out from the canvas.
- They put different colors on top of each other.
- They mix in sand, dirt, or other materials into the paint.
- They add white highlights to make things look shiny.
- They scratch through paint to show colors underneath.
Chuck Close worked from a black-and-white photograph of his wife’s grandmother, Fanny to create Fanny/Fingerpainting. He divided his canvas into a grid, and then, square by square, pressed the marks of his fingers to the canvas to make this portrait of Fanny. Carefully layering his fingerprints onto the canvas, he built up the lines of her face and neck. Close explained, "I like using the body as a tool for painting . . . by using my hand, I can feel just how much ink is on my finger and then I can feel very clearly how much I’m depositing on the painting."
Leonardo da Vinci
Ginevra de' Benci [obverse], c. 1474/1478
oil on panel, 38.1 x 37 cm (15 x 14 9/16 in.) (thickness of original panel): 1.1 cm (7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
Five hundred years before artist Chuck Close pressed his fingers to canvas to make Fanny/Fingerpainting, Leonardo da Vinci also used his fingers to smooth oil paint for the perfect skin of his teenage model, Ginevra de' Benci. Da Vinci first used small brushes to paint Ginevra's face. He applied the paint in very thin layers. But in the end, he needed his fingers to get the clear look and smooth shadows that form her face. How do we know? Art specialists looked at Ginevra's face with high tech equipment to discover the traces of da Vinci's fingerprints (pictured below). Scholars believe he used his fingers to smooth and soften the edges and surfaces of her face while the paint was still wet.
Detail of da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci showing his fingerprint
Leonardo wrote, "See that your shadows and lights blend like smoke without strokes or borders." This technique, which came to be called sfumato (literally "smoky"), represented a radical break with traditional painting techniques, which relied on line to define forms. In avoiding line, Leonardo was able to achieve a more lifelike painting.
View the slideshow below and have students find the following textures:
Slideshow: Textures in Paintings
How do you think these textures were achieved? You may want to refer to the list in the “Background” section.
Each student should select one object from a painting presented in the slideshow. Have them draw the basic shape of the object on four separate sheets of paper. Next, have them fill in each line drawing using different media and tools to create various textures. If accessible, you may want to take students on an outdoor walk to collect various objects (leaves, twigs, etc.) to try out in the classroom. Students should experiment by using multiple sizes of brushes, mixing in unconventional materials like sand, creating different patterns, adding more media or scrapping it away, or other creative avenues they arrive at using the materials responsibly and safely.
Students will then select two of their works of art and use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the process they used to create each piece and what the end product looks like. They should share their findings with fellow student artists.
The Elements of Art is supported by the Robert Lehman Foundation
National Core Arts Standards
VA:Cr1.1.4 Brainstorm multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem.
VA:Cr1.2.3 Apply knowledge of available resources, tools, and technologies to investigate personal ideas through the art-making process.
VA:Cr2.1.3 Create personally satisfying artwork using a variety of artistic processes and materials.
VA:Cr2.2.3 Demonstrate an understanding of the safe and proficient use of materials, tools, and equipment for a variety of artistic processes.
VA:Re7.1.3 Speculate about processes an artist uses to create a work of art.
VA:Re7.2.4 Analyze components in visual imagery that convey messages.
VA:Re8.1.3 Interpret art by analyzing use of media to create subject matter, characteristics of form, and mood.
American, born 1940
oil on canvas, 259.1 x 213.4 x 6.3 cm (102 x 84 x 2 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Lila Acheson Wallace
Martin Johnson Heade
Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, 1871
oil on wood, 34.8 x 45.6 cm (13 11/16 x 17 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
Martin Johnson Heade
Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, c. 1890
oil on canvas, 38.4 x 61.5 cm (15 1/8 x 24 3/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Circle of the National Gallery of Art in Commemoration of its 10th Anniversary
Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873–1876
oil on canvas, 61.5 x 97 cm (24 3/16 x 38 3/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of the W. L. and May T. Mellon Foundation
Fitz Henry Lane
Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay, 1863
oil on canvas, 62.5 x 96.8 cm (24 5/8 x 38 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Francis W. Hatch, Sr.
White Poodle in a Punt, c. 1780
oil on canvas, 127 x 101.5 cm (50 x 39 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Green Plums, c. 1885
oil on canvas, 22.9 x 27.8 cm (9 x 10 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
Self-Portrait, c. 1630
oil on canvas, 74.6 x 65.1 cm (29 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss
Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Daniel in the Lions' Den, c. 1614/1616
oil on canvas, 224.2 x 330.5 cm (88 1/4 x 130 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
Still Life, 1866
oil on canvas, 62 x 74.8 cm (24 7/16 x 29 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Collection