Texture in painting is a difficult element to define. The texture does not just refer to the roughness of smoothness of a work of art, but also to the subtle gradations of surface difference, from the quality of the brushstrokes to the addition of foreign elements into the work of art. The most exciting aspect of texture is that, when used carefully, it adds to the meaning and depth of an artwork. On the other hand, if the texture is used inharmoniously, then it can become a negative factor.
Using texture in painting
The way in which you paint involves texture. For example, if your brush strokes are gentle and smooth the overall texture of the painting will be smooth and even. Painting in a more “expressionistic” fashion, with broad and impulse strokes, creates a different texture that is rougher and more dynamic to the eye. A good painting will involve both these extremes. A work by Turner, for example, while conventional in many respects, also relies heavily on painterly texture for its force and impact.
The best way to understand texture in painting is to experiment. Take a board or spare canvas and use this as an area on which to practice. Try different brushstrokes using varying amounts of paint. It is a good idea to build up a reference library of different textural effects. Buy a notebook for this purpose. If you are using oil paints then you will have to buy a notebook with specially prepared sheets. Experiment with different strokes of your brush on each sheet and in this way you will acquire an understanding of direct textural effects in painting.
Expanding your knowledge of texture.
The texture of the painting surface.
Note as well that the surface that you use becomes an important factor in the creation of textures. For example, a rough canvas will produce a very different textural finish to a painting than would a smooth board. It is very important that you take into account the type of texture that you are working on. Plan your painting in relation to the background.
In order to expand your understanding of texture you will need to experiment with different materials. There are numerous techniques that you could apply in this area.
Firstly, use different tools when applying paint to a paper or canvas surface. Experiment with painting knives and other materials. Use different objects, for example, steel mesh and glass to apply paint to your surface. The famous German artist Max Ernst used steel mesh to produce a background to some of his paintings. He did this by applying paint to the steel mesh and then placing the canvas firmly on the sheet of painted steel. The impression of the painted mesh was retained on the canvas surface and was used as a textural background to the painting.
Building up texture with objects
Another method that is a bit more adventurous, and also uncertain, is to experiment with different elements that are actually integrated into the painting rather than applied to the surface externally. One of the most interesting textural elements to use is fabric. Try this experiment on a piece of board of canvas. Search for odds and ends of old fabric a piece of a shirt, curtain fabric, etc. Once you have collected an assortment of interesting material textures, integrate them into your painting in the following ways.
If you are painting with acrylic the process is very easy. Acrylic paint is itself a very good adhesive and you can simply coat one side of the material with acrylic paint and paste it on the surface. In other words, you apply the material directly to the painting in progress. Another method would be to first apply textural elements to the surface before beginning the painting.
The same method can be used when working with oil paints but remember that oil is not as strong and adhesive as acrylic and that it takes a much longer period of time to dry.
Once your textural elements are firmly in place the next step is to begin painting over them. Once again, experimentation is the only way in which to progress. Remember that it is not always necessary to know in advance how the textures will look part of the excitement and art of painting is to respond to the textures as they emerge.
Apply a thick layer of paint to the area covered with fabric. Then scrape back the paint with a cloth or painting knife. Some of the paint remains and parts of the underlying fabric are visible. As you apply further layers of paint, the texture will almost disappear, leaving only a subtle trace and impression under the surface. In this way, it is possible to build up a painting with many layers of interesting texture.