by lesley // posted on Sep 4, 2017

Texture is the look or feel of an object and can be real or implied.  It's an expressive tool artists use to reinforce their overall message.  Adding texture to a painting will lead to a more representational, realistic painting.

Real is 3D, can be held, it's how something actually feels such as sculpture, pottery or textile.

Implied (also called visual texture) is 2D and is when an artist paints artificial texture.  It is the illusion of how an object would feel if it could be physically touched.

Reference photos for this 2005 painting, sat on file for months.  I was mesmerized by the textures but intimidated by the complexity of the tooling on the saddle, the braided reins and the leather gloves.  I didn't know how to approach.  Finally I just dove in.  Many times I questioned my sanity. I remember considering aborting the whole process - I didn't feel like I had the required "chops". When time finally arrived to sign and frame, I was so happy I'd persevered - I had gained an understanding of the illusion of texture and had crushed a mental barrier.


The key to creating artificial texture is through the use of value, adding highlights and shadows and through tints and shades.

What could be more rewarding than knowing your visual message to your audience is a success - due to the way you've painted it, there is no doubt how that object would feel if they could touch it.

Just as I was about to wrap this up I remembered a workshop on texture that I gave earlier this year and thought I would include here one of the handouts the students found helpful.


  • A material or texture (glass, leather, wood, silver, copper, etc.) is characterized by the use of highlights.  In other words, texture can be explained by highlight.

  • The smoother and harder an object, the sharper and brighter the highlight.

  • The smooth skin of an apple will contain highlights whereas soft, fuzzy fruits (peach) will not have any highlights.  Shiny, translucent fruits (grapes) have very bright highlights.

  • Fabric has soft forms and no obvious highlights.

  • Metal has strong, sharp highlights. (if the highlight of a metal object is in shadow, it must be kept dull and low key)

  • Rubber has bright but soft-edged highlights.

  • Some objects are so dark and softly textured that no light is reflected and shadows are not discernible.

  • A pale colour placed in a shadow area suggests the presence of light.

  • Pure white is the brightest light we have on our palettes.  It must be reserved for the most light-reflective object in the painting. 


Happy to hear you're enjoying this series Susan, thanks for letting me know. There is no greater compliment than to hear from a viewer who "gets" the intended message. A behind the scenes peek at what goes into and lies beneath a painting is, in my humble opinion, something worth sharing.

I am really enjoying your posts on the elements of a painting. I love this visual of I look at it my hands can almost feel the different surfaces in it!

Glad you found it useful Jocelyn. So many technical aspects to keep in mind while building a painting - they can almost bring the creative process to a halt at times.

Hi Lesley. Thanks for the tips on texture! Excellent.

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