ave you ever looked at a painting from afar and seen a beautiful image, and then when you looked at it from up close all you saw were the paintbrush marks and textures on the canvas? Seemingly the painting took on another meaning altogether. Texture is everywhere we look, and in this article, we will discuss texture in art, what it is, along with texture art examples.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Texture in Art?
- 2 The Two Types of Texture in Art
- 3 Describing Texture in Art
- 4 Summary of Texture in Art
- 5 Learn everything about the Elements of Art
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Texture in Art?
The texture art definition comprises various meanings. Firstly, the concept and word, “texture” relates to the “surface quality” of an artwork. What does surface quality mean, you might wonder? This is the surface of any artwork, be it a painting on a canvas or the feel of a sculpture.
This brings us to another important word related to texture, and that is feeling.
The texture in painting or sculpture allows us to feel the artwork, which can feel smooth, rough, or have a glossy or matte finish. Now, we won’t go up to any painting and start touching it to feel the texture to understand it and engage with it; similarly, we cannot always feel a sculpture.
This leads us to another meaning around the texture art definition, which is that it can be seen without being felt, in other words, we can see when an object or painting is textured. The texture of any artwork tells us what it is, and without it, it would be more of a shape than anything else. For example, think of a painted apple or tree bark; if these objects lack texture, they might appear more spherical or like a vertical column.
Texture in painting is an important part of what gives it life.
Texture in art forms part of the seven elements of art, which is considered almost like the “building blocks” of an artwork. The seven elements of art include color, line, shape, form, value, space, and texture. These give the artwork its character and are coupled with the principles of art.
The principles of art include balance, emphasis, harmony, variety, unity, contrast, rhythm, movement, pattern, repetition, proportion, and scale. These are almost like rules or guidelines that allow us to apply the elements correctly to create a composition that works or acts almost like a set of criteria it allows us to analyze an artwork efficiently.
The Two Types of Texture in Art
There are two common types of texture in art, namely, visual, otherwise described as “implied” or the “illusion” of texture, or physical, which we can touch and see, these can either be on a two or three-dimensional surface. Texture in art gives the impression of a three-dimensional object, figure, or space. It can create depth and enhance certain qualities like contrast, movement, rhythm, or emphasis.
Below, we discuss these two qualities in more detail and illustrate them from texture art examples.
Visual texture is otherwise referred to as “implied” or giving the “illusion” of texture. This is usually on a two-dimensional, flat, surface like a canvas, which we can see. An example of this is if the paint is applied smoothly, but it gives the impression of textured subject matter.
Visual texture can be achieved in a multitude of ways allowing significant freedom of expression. If it is a painting, the common way will be with paintbrushes or painting tools like a palette knife, a sponge, or any other form of applying paint.
The type of paint utilized is also important; for example, there are oils, acrylics, tempera, or watercolors. Each type of paint will provide a different effect, or texture, on the canvas, the latter of which is another important aspect to consider as canvases, or any other painting surface, will have different textures dependent on what they are made of.
The Arnolfini Portrait (1434) by Jan van Eyck; Jan van Eyck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Additionally, there are different painting techniques that will inform the texture of the visual composition. Some of these, but not all, include impasto, which is a thick layering of paint on the surface; dry brushing, as the name implies, a mostly dry paintbrush is utilized with paint on it; sfumato, which is a technique made famous by Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci; and pouring, which is a textured abstract art form characteristic of Abstract Expressionism.
If drawing, which can be done with pencil, pen, or charcoal, among others, the type of paper will be an important contributor to the texture; artwork created through drawing or sketching will also appear textured if various techniques are applied.
Portrait of a man in red chalk (c. 1510), a presumed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Some of these techniques include the common hatching and/or cross-hatching, which consist of lines parallel to one another and crossing one another; stippling, which consists of dots; scribbling, which is a more random application of lines or scribbles, and shading, which can be done with either your finger or a tissue paper to create the desired effect.
There are seemingly countless techniques that will create different textured effects in a composition. We will see these techniques in a variety of examples all throughout art history. As we mentioned above, Leonardo da Vinci pioneered painting techniques like sfumato, which we see in his famous painting titled Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506).
Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo (1503-1506) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The sfumato technique gives the impression of a smooth texture especially when skin is depicted. Different paint colors or tones are blended with one another in such a way that it produces a smoothed or “softened” effect, sometimes described as “blurred” too.
This can be where the colors change in tone, and it does not leave any traces of the edges or outlines of the subject matter.
Another example includes da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1486) depicting the two infants, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, Mother Mary, and Uriel, an archangel. Here, we see texture depicted as smooth and fair skin tones.
Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1486) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci and workshop, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Other well-known Renaissance artists like Raphael and Giorgione also utilized the sfumato technique. For example, Raphael’s The Sistine Madonna (1512-1513) and Giorgione’s Youth Holding an Arrow (c. 1500) both depict the figures’ skin as smooth.
Youth Holding an Arrow (c. 1500) by Giorgione; Giorgione, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The skillful rendering of texture, artwork including clothing like robes, curtains, bedding, as well as furs, metals, and jewels, among others, is a prominent feature when looking at Renaissance art. The subject matter was realistically portrayed, this realism was emphasized through texture in elements of art.
The Sistine Madonna (1512-1513) by Raphael; Raphael, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Additionally, the visual texture was masterfully employed by artists from the Dutch Still Life genre of paintings during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Examples include the Dutch Golden Age painter Pieter Claesz, who was a pioneer in what was known as ontbijtjes pieces, or “breakfast pieces”.
His painting Still Life (c. 1625) provides the perfect illusion of a table setting and all its accouterments; a cut-open pie, various biscuits, bread, nuts, and olives, a knife, a spoon, silver plates, and goblets filled with what appears to be wine.
There is hyperrealism about this painting and its objects, especially the lustrous qualities of the glasses and silver, which appear smooth, and the rougher qualities of the other food items like the bread and pie.
Still Life (c. 1625) by Pieter Claesz; Pieter Claesz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Physical texture in art points to the physical feeling of artwork, something that has tactile qualities. This can be a sculpture or a painting on which the paint has been thickly applied, like the impasto technique, or it can be a sculpture made from any material like bronze, wood, marble, or even stainless steel.
A famous example of how physical texture can create a sensation and illusion of something is Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (1994 – 2001), including several of his other large sculptures, which appear like inflated balloons. These sculptures are made from stainless steel, inviting us to want to touch it and feel for ourselves whether it is in fact a real larger-than-life-sized balloon.
Another example is thickly applied paint to denote a textured subject matter, for example, the bark of a tree, a pool of water, or tall stalks of grass, as we see in Joan Eardley’s texture artwork Seeded Grasses and Daisies, September (1960). This painting is a combination of textured abstract art that also becomes the subject matter.
If we look at art history after the Renaissance and the development of the Modern era, artists felt more aware of expressing their inner worlds and the fleeting world around them.
New painting techniques were utilized to evoke emotions and ideas. Impressionist and Expressionist artists became famous for the way they utilized their paints and textured abstract art resulted. Famous texture art examples include those of the Impressionist Claude Monet, who sought to depict the world around him, almost like taking a photograph, en plein air or outdoor style. Using colors and texture, he gave us beautiful renderings of rays of sunlight and shade, for example, Impression, Sunrise (1872) or Sunrise, The Sea (1873).
Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet; Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In both above-mentioned paintings, Monet depicts the rays of sunlight on the sea’s surface in short, choppy, and textured, brushstrokes; most of his paintings are created this way. This adds more expression and feeling to the artwork versus a painting that is created with long, regular, and precise brushstrokes.
We will see these types of brushstrokes and textures in Vincent van Gogh’s artworks too, such as in the famous “The Starry Night” (1889) or his “Self Portrait” (1889).
He created texture not only through a thicker application of paint but also utilizing swirling shapes, which gave the composition a different meaning beyond what is real, for example, the sky in The Starry Night painting is depicted in rhythmic swirls, which lead us to feel more about it than it just being a night sky.
The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Other artists like the Romanticist J.W.M Turner, combined colors, lines, and textures to create ambient compositions. In the famous oil on canvas Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844) Turner depicted the ideas of speed from the train and the elements of nature like rain in a flurry of thick and thin lines with various painting techniques.
Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844) by J. M. W. Turner; J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Describing Texture in Art
Texture can be described in many ways and for any artist, art historian, or art enthusiast some descriptive words will come in useful when exploring texture in elements of art. We already know the more common words like smooth and rough, below are a few others that fall into similar categories.
|Soft, glossy, shiny, lustrous, reflective, matte, silken, sleek, satiny, downy, leathery, furry, velvety, feathery, woolly, wrinkled.||Hard, coarse, raised, prickly, bristly, wiry, stony, frosted, glazed.||Scratched, sheared, incised, etched, engraved, chiseled, chipped, carved.|
Summary of Texture in Art
|Type of Texture||Characteristics||Texture artwork example|
|Visual texture (“Implied” or “Illusionistic”)||Texture that we can see, but not physically feel. It is commonly on a two-dimensional surface and gives the idea of texture or the illusion of texture.||Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506) by Leonardo da Vinci
Still Life (c. 1625) by Pieter Claesz
|Physical texture||Texture with tactile qualities, that we can feel, usually this is more three-dimensional like raised paint on a flat canvas or a sculpted artwork.||Balloon Dog (1994 – 2001) by Jeff Koons
The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh
In the article above, we looked at texture and its function as one of the elements of art. It can be applied in a myriad of media, for example painting like oil colors, acrylics, watercolors, drawing like pen and pencil, as well as sculpture, which can be anything from stone to steel. There are also various techniques available that create different textures. We also explored the two primary types of texture, namely, visual, and physical texture, each with its own unique characteristics, whether it is illusionistic or real to the touch. Whether it is a draped dress, a bristly brush, a sleek slither of sunlight, texture can be molded by the other elements of art like color, shape, form, and line, embossing the meaning of the visual composition.
Read also our texture art web story.
Learn everything about the Elements of Art
We have written a series about all the elements of art, if you would like to dive a bit deeper into the topic:
- Elements of Art Overview
- Color in Art
- Value in Art
- Line in Art
- Shape in Art
- Form in Art
- Space in Art
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Texture in Art?
Texture is one of the elements of art and relates to the “surface quality” of an artwork, whether a painting, drawing, sculpture, photograph, installation, or graphic art. It can be created through numerous techniques and media to enhance the subject matter and give it meaning.
What Are the Types of Texture in Art?
There are two main types of texture in art, namely, visual, implied, or illusionistic, which can be seen on a two-dimensional surface; and physical texture, which has tactile qualities and can be felt on either a two or three-dimensional surface.
What Are the Elements of Art?
The elements of art are color, line, value, form, shape, space, and texture, these are utilized as visual tools to create artistic compositions. They can be applied following various principles of art to create expressive, abstract, realistic, or any other form of artwork.
What Are the Principles of Art?
The principles of art are, namely, balance, harmony, unity, variety, movement, rhythm, proportion, scale, emphasis, contrast, repetition, and pattern. These work in conjunction with the seven elements of art.