Basic Art Element — Texture

basic art element texture
A study in texture. Oil painting by Teresa Bernard.

Texture is a basic element of art. Anything that has a surface has texture. Texture is the way a surface looks and feels. It is experienced in two ways — with touch (tactile) and our eyes (visually). Fine artists often use texture in the following ways:

    • Create a focal point.
    • Add interest.
    • Provide contrast.
    • Visually balance their compositions.

Texture is essential in paintings to make objects appear to be real. Even in abstract paintings, texture can enhance the viewer’s experience by suggesting certain feelings or moods regarding the artwork. Texture can also serve to organize and unify various areas of a composition.

Texture can either add to or take away from the overall effect of the composition. When it is used haphazardly or in the wrong way, it can confuse or clutter the painting. However, when used with deliberate skill, texture will bring a composition together, creating the illusion of realism and unity.

The Two Types of Texture — Tactile and Visual

Tactile texture is the real thing. It is the actual way a surface feels when it is felt or touched, such as rough, smooth, soft, hard, silky, slimy, sticky, etc. 3-D art such as sculpture and architectural structures are tactile because they can be felt. Examples of natural texture would be wood, sandpaper, canvas, rocks, glass, granite, metal, etc.

Even the brush strokes used in a painting can create a textured surface that can be felt and seen. The building up of paint on the surface of a canvas or board to make actual texture is called impasto. Painters may choose to apply their paints thickly or thinly depending on the overall effect they wish to achieve.

texture in art
Tractor Tire, a Study in Texture by Teresa Bernard

Visual texture is not actual texture. All textures you observe in photographs and paintings are visual textures. No matter how rough objects may seem to appear in a picture, the image’s surface is always going to be smooth and flat to the touch.

Artists can create the illusion of texture in their paintings by simulation or implying it through the use of various art elements such as line, shading, and color. It is created by repeating lines, dots, or other shapes to create a pattern. Varying the size, density, and orientation of these marks will produce other desired effects as well.

Common Textures

Although there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of different textures, all textures will fall under two broad categories — rough and smooth. For example:

Rough Smooth
Course Fine
Bumpy Slick
Dry Wet
Flat Wrinkled
Scaly Silky
Glossy Matte
Sandy Slimy
Hairy Bald
Hard Soft
Prickly Velvety
Sharp Dull
Sticky Slippery

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture — You are here

Basic Art Element — Value

More Art Lessons

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

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UPDATED: 29 April 2022

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