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The Elements of Art - TEXTURE

A Guide for Teachers

A background collage of Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. jessie's avatar is in the bottom right corner, and the text "Elements of Art: TEXTURE" are in a bold white font to the left

TEXTURE: the element that, unlike space, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You can look at anything and will most likely be able to identify its texture. But don’t worry, we’re not just stopping there. Texture, the element of art actually has a couple other terms under it. To begin, let’s unpack its most basic definition!

Are your students not fans of reading? Don’t worry. We have a short and sweet video called Texture: Elements of Art Explained that gives them a fun and quick rundown of the element!

What is texture in art?

Texture is the way something feels if it were touched, or the way an object looks like it would feel if it were touched. Textures can be described with a variety of adjectives, such as fluffy, smooth, bumpy, squishy, and much more! Texture is important when trying to make a piece look as lifelike as possible, but it isn’t all about realism. There are four different kinds; actual texture, implied texture, invented texture and abstract texture. But let’s start by defining actual texture!

Actual texture

Actual texture, also known as literal texture, is texture that’s actually there and something you can feel when you touch it! There are a few ways that you can get actual texture -- one way is by using the same material as what’s depicted. For instance, if you drew denim shorts, you’d use actual denim fabric in the piece. Another way is by using a textured medium! Painting with sand mixed in, gluing down egg shells or rocks and more are all ways to give your art actual texture. You could also use a combination of different textured materials to give it a more eclectic effect. This technique is called collage, and you could use anything from fabrics to garbage!

Self Portrait by Rembrandt (1659)
Self Portrait by Rembrandt (1659)

The most popular way to give your artwork actual texture is with the techniques and tools of your medium. 3D work often uses techniques like pinching, pressing, scoring, scraping, and so much more! Actual texture with 2D artwork often uses paint -- acrylic and oil paint can be layered in globs to create a bumpy texture! This is called impasto, a technique first created in the 17th century by Diego Velasquez, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt.

Rembrandt often used impasto in his art, such as in his Self Portrait painted in 1659. He used impasto in the lighter areas of his paintings, and painted most of his backgrounds with fairly thin paint. This was to create contrast, which is a principle of design. Ironically, because you can’t feel it right now, it’s more like implied texture. But let me get into the definition of that one first!

Implied texture

Symi (Thrown Drapery) by David Ligare (1978)
Symi (Thrown Drapery) by David Ligare (1978)

Implied texture, also referred to as visual texture or simulated texture, is texture that isn’t actually there, but looks like it should be. This is the one that most of us are used to. Whether someone draws a sharp knife, a fuzzy sweater or a haystack, it’ll all feel like a sheet of paper or a canvas.

To be honest, almost any art piece could be used as an example for implied texture, but Symi (Thrown Drapery by David Ligare is a really good example of texture that isn’t actually there. This photo-like painting is done in the style hyperrealism or photorealism, where the art piece is nearly indistinguishable from a photo. But, even with all this painted texture, you wouldn’t feel anything beyond the canvas underneath.

I know what I’ve said so far is that texture is either real or not real, but don’t worry! We still have a couple more definitions to go.

Invented texture

two heads made of brass, one is left untouched while the other is painted in vantablack
You can't see any of the facial details when Vantablack is painted!

Invented texture is texture that’s created by the artist, and wouldn’t be found naturally. For instance, let’s say you were drawing a bunny. But don’t use its actual texture, or any texture you can think of. Only think of the most incorrect answers. THAT’S invented texture!

Vantablack is a great example of invented texture. Invented by Surrey NanoSystems in the United Kingdom, Vantablack is a material that can be painted onto objects. It’s considered the world’s “blackest black”, because it absorbs 98% of all light. It looks like you’re staring into the void when you look at it! The rights to using the material were bought by Anish Kapoor, but a different consumer version was created by Stuart Semple called Black 3.0. You can still purchase it on his website, Culture Hustle.

Abstract texture

Object le Déjeuner en Fourrure by Meret Oppenheim (1936)
Object le Déjeuner en Fourrure by Meret Oppenheim (1936)

Abstract texture is using different textures in places they don’t belong. Sometimes this creates juxtaposition, where two things are placed together to emphasize contrast. So let’s say we drew that rabbit again, but instead of fur, we gave it scales. That’s abstract texture -- things are textured with the wrong answer, but at least this time they’re still textures that exist around us!

Object le Déjeuner en Fourrure by Meret Oppenheim is a pretty popular example of Abstract texture. I don’t think I need to tell you that fur doesn’t belong on our utensils and cutlery, but this piece was meant to show that although fur is nice to touch, it would feel awful when in our mouths. This creates juxtaposition, since these objects belong in our mouths, but would feel horrible if we were to actually put them there.

A less fine art-y example of abstract texture is Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a game for the Nintendo Wii that was later ported to the Nintendo 3DS. Everything in this game is made of everything sewing related you can think of. The clouds are made of stuffing, the trees are made of fabric and stitching, and the levels all look like a large sewing project. It makes the most dangerous situations look fuzzy and friendly!

cover art for Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn (2019)
Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn (2019)

There you have it! Texture is one of the most versatile elements of art, since it’s either there, not there, real or not real. Experiment with the textures that you use, and you could even discover an interesting new technique that works for your style! But the best thing about texture is that as long as you let your intended style shine through, you’ll always be creating great works of art!

Need some lessons to teach your students about the element? Here are some TEXTURE: Classroom art activities!

  • Experiment with techniques! Scratch up your paint, score your clay -- see what textures you can create!

  • Try to paint with impasto! Can you make a scene have actual texture with the paint you use?

  • Use abstract or invented texture! Whether actual or implied, see if you can give your art a new feeling by giving it a different texture!

Want to learn more about texture, and how to apply it? You can learn to use it for the first time in our drawing foundations class! If you’re a little more advanced with your artwork, consider checking out Art Mentorship, which helps people learn independently. If you want elements of art resources for your classroom, check out our teachers pay teachers page, where you can get worksheets and slideshows for texture and all the other elements of art!

Teacher Resources:

If you’re a teacher, here are some related resources for your classroom!

Check out our Teachers Pay Teachers store for more art worksheets, handouts and lesson plans.

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