What is Texture?

Texture is the tactile quality of the surface of a work of art or put more simply Texture means how something feels.

We experience texture in two ways: visually (through our sense of sight) and physically (through our sense of touch).

Visual Texture

Visual texture is the illusion of texture, the photorealists of the late 1900s and early 2000s were the best at creating this illusion. 

For example in this painting by Ralph Goings, yes it really is a painting, we can see the sticky texture of the donut but if we were to touch it, all we would feel would be the smooth surface of the painting.

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Donut (2006) Ralph Goings

To create this illusion, we can use a mixture of other visual elements like line, shape and tone, though tone is often the most important in creating texture.

Watch the video and try it yourself.

Physical Texture

Physical texture is the actual physical surface of an artwork or design. It describes the tactile feeling you would get if you were able to run your hand over an artwork.

"Art is the colours and textures of your imagination"

Megan Trainer

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Balloon Dog (1994 - 2000) Jeff Koons
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LAND (2016) Anthony Gormley (Photo by Amanda Slater)


Physical texture is a very important part of sculpture and Sculptors think a lot about how to engage the viewers sense of touch, even if the audience isn’t allowed to touch their work.

For example, If you were to run your hand over this sculpture by Antony Gormley then you would feel the cold, hard, rough texture of the rusty metal


Many artists use physical texture in painting to show their technique and to express emotion. 

Applying thick areas of paint on a canvas like this is known as impasto. This thick paint creates a visual effect that allows you to see the individual brushstrokes the artist has used.

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Starry Night (1889) Vincent Van Gogh

"Towards the end of the painting, I start to use my fingers to build up thick impasto layers of texture"

Deborah Phillips

The British Artist Frank Auerbach has created many heavily textured artworks that show his long arduous process through thick layers of oil paint.

The depth, texture and sense of space in these paintings makes standing in front of one a unique experience.

In a slightly less extreme example of texture, I’ve been working on this landscape painting recently and I’ve been experimenting with impasto in the clouds to create some contrast between sky and the smooth hills below. It’s not finished yet, but it gives you an idea of how this might be incorporated into a painting.

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Head of E.O.W. by Frank Auerbach – Photo by Graeme Churchard
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"As I work at my drawings, day after day, what seemed unattainable before is now gradually becoming possible. Slowly, I'm learning to observe and measure. I don't stand quite so helpless before nature any longer"

Vincent van Gogh