OC’s Guide to Visual Elements, Part 6: Texture

Published: May 22, 2020

by Leslie Latimer

some sand

Welcome back to our exploration of the eight elements of design. If you’re keeping track, you know this is our sixth entry. Today we’re discussing our feelings. Sort of. More accurately, we’re talking about texture, the design element you can feel.

Texture is one of the most unique elements of art and design. Where art normally plays with our sense of sight and maybe hearing, texture plays mostly with our sense of touch. Texture can be placed into one of two categories: implied or real. In some instances, the artist is so skilled in making a two dimensional work appear three dimensional we feel as if we could reach out and touch it. These implied textures often transform physically flat objects into bumpy, smooth, rough, scaly, furry or velvety objects, making the viewer believe they are real. On the other hand, many artists work with materials such as clay, wood, fabric, metal, and found objects to create authentic textures we can actually touch.

marble silk

Three dimensional artists such as sculptors, ceramicists, fashion designers, and installation artists work very closely with texture. Actually, it is almost impossible not to. The materials they use, such as wood, clay, fabric, or metal already have their own texture even before the artist begins their work. However, they often create other textures through sanding, polishing, scraping, and carving. Many artists incorporate additional materials such as feathers, silk, rocks, bark, and other objects with interesting textures to enhance the feel of the piece. The contrast of textures, such as smooth and rough, is often used by artists to make a statement and heighten the effect of a piece. Some artists even use texture subversively, making objects out of textures that elicit a reaction, such as a fur spoon or limp keys.

van gogh

Those who work with two-dimensional mediums work with texture just as much as three-dimensional artists. Painters, illustrators, and printmakers often suggest texture through their brushstrokes and line work as well as through certain techniques such as crosshatching and shading. A popular technique among painters is impasto, in which they build up the paint on a surface to create texture. Photographers enhance different textures in their work often through the use of lighting and angles. Conveying texture in two-dimensional pieces is essential, since it brings interest and vibrancy to pieces that would appear flat and lackluster without it.

Texture, whether in art or design, shows up in the same ways and does similar things. It’s one of the most obvious elements but also one that’s very easy to overlook. Pay attention to your textures to avoid making people feel bad.

Join us for the next entry in this series, coming soon, where we’ll be exploring volume. Turn it up!

And if you missed the previous entries in the series, check them out! Here’s our intro, followed by line, shape, color, tone, and pattern.

Photo Credits
  • Raffaelo Monti. Veiled Lady. 1860, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
  • Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait. 1889, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.