There are two ways to create texture when painting - Implied and Actual. This post is about actual - the tactile type which is perceived both visually and physically. It's the type of texture that, were a viewer to rub their hand across it (God forbid 😂), they'd feel the raised texture. It's perceived differently than visual texture, which can only be perceived, as its name implies, visually. Examples of visual texture might be the depiction of intricate hairs on a subject's face, waves in an ocean or the use of patterns.
Having said that, when it comes to "actual" texture, I've noticed that most artists fall into one of two categories - they are either "Team Texture" or "Team Smooth". Team Smooth will usually go to great lengths to ensure their paintings are super smooth, from preparation to completion, with no signs of texture, while "Team Texture" embraces every bump and bruise, believing that every rise in their canvas adds to its beauty and authenticity. I fall into the latter.
If I were to venture a guess, I would say artists that tend to be Team Smooth are probably representational artists, and artist that tend to be Team Texture are more than likely abstract - maybe 😂. I'm basing this assumption on the supposition that, if I were painting an image of something, I'd want the focus to be on that image rather than the canvas that lies beneath it. Conversely, when I create an abstract painting, the surface beneath adds richness and life to the final image.
That said, historically, there've been many Realism and Impressionism artists who've embraced texture, using it as a method to increase the richness of their images - van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and Rembrandt to name a few. Personally, I can't imagine painting without texture and thus have no clue why someone would want to avoid it. Yet, it's been my observation that many artists dislike texture and both sides rarely fluctuate their stance.
Personally, I say the more texture the better! To me, without it, a painting lacks depth. It also makes a painting scream - ORIGINAL ART! I absolutely love running my fingers across a
blank canvas feeling that bumpy white texture - a characteristic I've been told is typical of less expensive canvases. Whether that's true or not, I don't know; all I know is that I get a high when I feel that rough rawness of the canvas under my fingertips as I prepare to start my painting, and only after I've added to that texture with rips, runs and raised surfaces do I consider my painting complete.
So, for those of you that are with me, and consider themselves part of Team Texture and might want to add onto their repertoire of techniques, I thought I'd share a few techniques I've picked up over the years, to create texture in my work. Please comment on whether you've used any of them, plan to use them, or have some additional to contribute - God knows, I'm always up for trying something fresh and new!
Choosing the right canvas:
When I paint, I typically like to use either canvas panels or higher end gallery wrapped canvases because they offer the sturdiness I need. I’ve purchased cheaper canvases, like the 10 packs from Michaels, in the past but feel they give too much in sturdiness when I press on them. I'm sure there are ways to strengthen them, but I don’t have the patience, so I stick to canvas panels, which are backed by a hardboard or melamine, or level 3 canvases, which provide the strength I need to pile on paint when I need to.
Prepping my surface:
If I know I'm going to go heavy on texture, I either use paint or gesso to prep my surface. I'll use gesso if I know early what I want the final result to look like. Gesso is a white paint-like substance that provides a base and improves the adhesion of subsequent layers of paint. Most stretched canvases come with a layer of gesso already applied to them, but you can always add more. Although gesso typically comes in white, it also comes in several other colors, including clear, that can be mixed with acrylic paint to layer up the thickness of your canvas - note: gesso will tint hues, so you may want to consider using a heavy pigment paint if you want your gesso to come close to the hue you've mixed it with), it's a great option for creating texture.
I'll prep my surface using paint in bottles. I'll often create linework underneath my painting as a second layer and then finish up with a layer that's thinner and I can squeegee off or pull across the linework underneath. I find this technique creates unique patterns and pays homage to the second layer by not completely covering it up.
One of the most popular methods for creating texture, that's been used by the Masters for ages, is the impasto technique. Impasto involves applying thick layers of paint directly onto the canvas using a brush or palette knife. Historically, this is achieved with oil paint; however, can also be achieved with acrylics by using heavy body paints or by mixing them with a medium like modeling paste (see image above). Impastos raised areas of paint catch the light, creating shadows and highlights that add dimension. You can experiment with different brush strokes and knife techniques to achieve varying textures.
Collage and Mixed Media:
If you’ve seen my work, you know that I LOVE incorporating papers from books, letters, newspapers, and the like, into my paintings. I do this for two reasons. Firstly, I think they add great visual interest and secondly, they add wonderful texture! I’ve done this with everything from buttons to handmade papers, to create unique textures. My process is to glue materials onto the surface before or after painting, depending on the desired effect. Keep in mind that if you use paper with text, you'll want to adhere them after you've applied paint, if you want them to maintain their appearance. I’ve also recently started using plastic adhesive materials over newsprint which keeps the paint from fully covering up the text underneath. It also helps the paper to stay straight when I paint over it. If it is important that you see the text, I’d recommend using a glaze with your acrylic paint to thin it, so that the text can be seen through the applied paint surface.
Sgraffito is a really cool technique that involves scratching or scraping into a layer of wet paint to reveal the layers beneath - similar to the squeegee technique mentioned above. I do this all the time! My favorite way of doing this is to apply a layer of black paint as a first layer, let it dry, then layer over it with another color that I'll scratch through, revealing the black underneath. Usually, I use a pointed tool like a palette knife, the end of a brush, or even a toothpick to create intricate patterns or lines. This technique works well with thick layers of paint to produce dramatic textures.
Another great technique is dry brushing. It involves using a relatively dry brush with very little paint. By lightly dragging the brush across the surface, the texture of the canvas or previous layers of paint becomes more pronounced. This method is effective for creating rough or weathered surfaces. This can also be accomplished with a palette knife. I often dip my palette knife into paint and then drag it across a rough area to highlight the texture underneath (see below):
Stippling and Dabbing:
Stippling and dabbing involve applying paint to the surface with small, repetitive dots or quick pats. This technique can be achieved using a brush, sponge, or even your fingertips. By varying the density, size, and pressure of the dots, you can create a variety of textures, from soft and fluffy to rough and grainy.
I have several favorites I use regularly. They are Gaffrey's heavy body gels (clear and white), Golden’s modeling paste and Michael's level one gesso. These and other mediums like them can be mixed with acrylic paint to add texture. These mediums come in various forms, such as gels, pastes, or granular additives. They can be applied directly to the canvas or mixed with paint before application. I recommend experimenting - a lot with different types and brands to find the texture medium that suits your desired effect.
Another favorite - let's face it, I love them all 😂! The wet-in-wet technique involves applying wet paint onto an already wet surface. This method allows the colors to mix and blend spontaneously, creating organic textures and gradients. It is particularly effective for creating soft, flowing textures, such as water or clouds - it's like a watercolor effect, only looser.
Experiment with Tools:
While my brushes and palette knives are my favorites, I don't limit myself to just these. Any chance I get, I explore unconventional tools to create unique textures. Some to consider are sponges, credit cards, rags, or even those fingertips - yes, going back to the heart and mind of 5-year-old can be extremely cathartic! Each tool will produce a different effect, so be open to experimentation.
Well, those are my faves! Remember, the key to creating texture in a painting is experimentation and practice. Don't be afraid to take risks and try new techniques. The more you explore and push the boundaries of texture, the more unique and engaging your paintings will become. So, Team Texture, let's grab our brushes, palette knives, and other tools, and continue our journey of texture exploration! As I said, I’m always looking for new techniques, so please drop a comment telling me some of yours!
Until next time, keep those brushes strokin’!