What is Texture?

Christy Olsen

Every material has a different touch or tactile quality to it. Texture refers to the roughness or smoothness of the surface, i.e., the physical feel, appearance, or consistency.

Texture is an Element of Design

Texture may be a tactile, visual, faux, natural or simulated phenomenon and is one of the elements in the 'Visual Elements of Design.'

Tactile, Physical, or Actual Texture

This refers to the actual variations on a surface, which may be felt by touch, such as animal fur. It may be smooth or rough.

Tactile Texture

This texture won't appear in shadows or areas of shade because it needs light to stand out or be seen. When the light hits the physical variations, it creates a cast shadow.

Implied or Visual Texture

It gives the appearance of a physical texture, but it is only an illusion in drawing or painting, created on a two-dimensional surface. In drawing, implied texture may be represented by repeating shapes, dots, lines, stenciling, or mark-making.

Visual Texture

A stippled texture is created by applying many small dots of shades and tones to a surface. Edges or contours of drawn objects are important in creating visual texture; they may also be enhanced to represent the type of texture (e.g., fur does not have a smooth edge around it; it looks furry).

Faux Texture

It is a type of visual texture that uses visual art techniques, such as sponging and glazing, to mimic the effect of natural elements. For example, paint-splattered from a toothbrush in watercolor will create faux texture.

Drybrush texture is created by lightly dragging a dry paintbrush over the artwork's surface. Gritty texture is a type of medium-to-heavy textural effect produced by the use of coarse brushes, palette knives, or other tools.

Impasto in oil painting happens when the painter uses a palette knife to build up thick layers or gobs of paint that physically protrude from the canvas or board. This may be considered physical texture as well as faux texture.

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

Some drawing papers have a lot of tactile texture or 'tooth' and may produce visual texture. These papers are considerably rougher than computer or printer-thin sheets of paper.

Detail of 'Graining'
(build-up of ink from brayer & brush on cold press watercolor 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 suitable 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 and textural effect.

Natural Texture

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

Marble has a "Natural Texture."

The texture appears as a repeating pattern without a sense of structure or form (e.g., cone, cylinder, sphere, cube-type shading, etc.), and there are no cast shadows.

Simulated, Artificial, or Hyper Texture

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

Simulated or "Hyper Texture"
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