What is Texture?

Texture is both a tactile and a visual phenomenon. It refers to the roughness or smoothness of a surface i.e. the physical feel, appearance, or consistency. Every material has a different touch or tactile quality to it. However smooth surfaces also have texture such as marble or wood. In the visual arts, texture is one of the "Visual Elements of Design" and falls into the following categories.

Tactile Texture

Also known as 'physical texture' refers to the actual variations of a material or surface. It can be felt by touch, i.e. animal fur can be smooth or rough.

When the light hits the physical variations of a surface, it casts a shadow which appears as a pattern. It won't show up in shadows or in areas of shade because it needs light to stand out or been seen.

Tactile Texture

Visual Texture

Or implied texture is an illusion. It is created on a two-dimensional surface, in drawing or painting and make the appearance of a physical texture. For example, in watercolor, paint-spattered from a toothbrush will create visual texture. The visual texture created may portray the subject matter realistically, however, without a sense of structure or form (i.e. cone, cylinder, sphere, cube type shading, etc.), the texture appears as a repeating pattern.

In a drawing, implied texture can be created by the repetition of shape, dots, lines, stenciling or mark making. Remember to use the edges or contours of the object to enhance the texture (i.e. fur does not have a smooth edge around it, it looks furry).

A visual texture may also be produced by some types of drawing papers that have a lot of tactile texture or ‘tooth.’ These papers are considerably rougher than, computer or printer thin sheets of paper. Paper with a lot of 'grain' or 'tooth' may not be best suited for creating the illusion of a flat, smooth surface or texture. However it's good for ‘graining,’ a drawing technique that involves the gradual build-up of marks or medium over the ‘grain’ of the paper. The texture of the paper will come through and add to the overall visual textural effect.

Yume Gardens by Christy Olsen. pen & ink on watercolor paper heightened with gouache. 8x14.

Detail of 'Graining' (build-up of ink from brayer & brush on cold press watercolor paper)

In oil painting, visual texture can be created with a physical build up of paint, a technique called ‘impasto.’ The paint actually protrudes from the canvas or board. The painter uses a palette knife to add globs of paint or to build up layers that appear as textured areas.

Natural Texture

Belongs to a specific organic element created by the natural world such as the grain of wood, reptile skin or elephant skin. However, a smooth and polished surface such as marble is also considered a natural texture.

Marble has natural texture

Hyper Texture

Or artificial texture is created by a computer or cyber graphics simulating surface texture. Textures are produced by adding small distortions across the surface of an object or by describing the texture in a repeating photograph.

Hyper Texture
What's your favorite texture?
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