Along with color, texture is one of the most evocative visual elements, engaging not only our eyes but our sense of touch—as well as our memories and associations. Many artists seek out ways of creating texture and consider it one of the most important aspects of their work. Yet because it is such a powerful element it needs to be used thoughtfully, and often with restraint. How can we use texture most effectively in our work, allowing it to take its place with other visual elements without overpowering them? What are the special qualities of texture that can be used to enhance our work?
Texture is problematic when it is an end goal and not a means to an end but created without meaning or intention. Texture for its own sake alone can lead to a superficial and non-cohesive painting. On the other hand, it can work well as a prominent feature but needs to be part of an overall concept. What do the textures you are interested in evoking? How can you use them as part of a larger idea?
Texture falls into two broad categories--actual, physical texture that can be perceived by touching, and visual or illusionistic texture in which we read something as having physical texture, but in fact the surface of the work is smooth to the touch. Each has its own distinct qualities and uses, and the combination of both in the same work can create intriguing contrast. Either kind of texture can be bold or subtle, organic or mechanical in appearance, and referential or not (whether how it is made has meaning in the painting.)
Texture is a powerful element that when used in a thoughtful, intentional way can bring strong meaning and associations to your work. Like any other visual element, consider its relationship to overall design and to your source ideas and intentions.
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