Texture and pattern


When drawing or painting, texture is that aspect of the work that makes you think that you could just reach out and touch it and it would feel just like…. satin or sand, feathers, soft skin or dried, wrinkled old skin.

Artists like Vermeer began to paint images where every fabric and every object was identifiable by a realistic representation of its texture – fur, wool, feathers, wood, tiles, bricks. There are lots of images of Vermeer to be seen on Wikipedia.

Another painter who excelled at this was Dominque Ingres.

My kleptomaniacal talents are not very good. I tried to lift some images from Wikipedia to illustrate these two artist here but was unsuccessful. So you will need to do some Wikipedia-ing yourselves to see examples.

In times of high realism, texture referred to the ability to reproduce the  illusion of an object which relayed the sense of touching and feeling to you.

Come the revolution, which in this case was late nineteenth century, the Impressionists provided texture in a whole new way. Through their goal of having the viewer do some of the colour mixing in the process of looking at the painting, they daubed colour on canvas in small dots of pure colour. The epitome of this was the work of Georges-Pierre Seurat, father of Pointillism. Degas used small cross hatched strokes to build up layer after layer of colour to build up his pastels and then he took this method into his oil paintings.

As the Twentieth Century rolled into view,  artists were beginning to break down the rules and regulations that had contained the expressions of image making. Artists began to refuse all the rules. Still, most of them were all trained in classic art education; so the result was that they couldn’t really toss out everything. Minimalists attempted to bring things down to their most basic forms – and textures. Kasimir Malevich painted a scandalous painting called White on White which had a square white canvas with a second, smaller white square turned on an angle. The only distinction between them was a slight shift in white and the texture of the paint.

(And we all know that this  is possible, that white  – the absence of colour in pure light rays, when translated to paint pigments, has some trace element of another colour so that we get cool whites and warm whites – just ask your house-paint dealer!)

Yves Klein painted  completely blue paintings. The absence of a remarkable (as in, being able to identify it as being there) texture only meant that the texture was completely unified in that piece.

Expressionists expressed textures in wild gestural marks – Willem de Koonig and Jackson Pollock, for instance. The Canadian painter, Riopelle, achieved texture through carefully placed marks, where these became the only reason for the painting.

But you may say, “Get more practical! I want to know how I can use texture and pattern in my drawings; and I’m not going to do those flaky abstract things.”

So how do we explore textures that can serve us in our own image making?

The only way to find what pleases and serves you well in your painting and drawing is to experiment.

First, start with drawing. (See the illustration above.)

Use a roughish piece of paper like a Manila or any kind of paper recommended for charcoal drawing. Use a medium thick vine charcoal because it can give you good dark marks and light delicate ones as well.

On the paper make about five lines from top to bottom and and about seven horizontally so that you end up with about 35  contained shapes which for ease of discussion, I’m going to call squares even if the shape is more randomly formed.  Try to stay within the lines so that you don’t get halos around the texture you have filled in to it.

Start by filling in one with charcoal. Leave it alone. It is your bench mark.

In another one, fill it in and gently smooth the charcoal to see if you can get a velvety surface.  Try and get the charcoal to be even all over. In another square, tap the charcoal tip all through the square.Try doing this in one  square with a light touch and in another , almost pounding the charcoal against the paper. Try putting the charcoal firmly on the paper and then twisting it slightly as you begin to make the mark, then repeat that throughout the square.

You can see, above, that there is a square that is randomly done with circles and one where they are lined up. Textures can be random or organized, as you need for your image.  You can make marks even (all over, just the same) or not, with variations in pressure and tone.

Some of the results will look more like pattern than texture. What’s the difference?  I’d say that pattern is more repetitive of a single type of mark, and the mark would tend to be a specific shape, but then, I’ve always had difficulty separating the two, or defining one versus the other. There are grey areas where pattern is texture or vice versa.

Do you see in some of these textures something that would be suitable to indicate a designer’s beard? grass? polka dot pattern on fabric? felt? fur?

Look at the objects around you that you feel have a rough texture. Try to find a mark or a series of marks that could represent it. Then draw a picture where the various objects represented have a variety of textures.

Elizabeth, my student whom I introduced to you in the blog on Shape, chose a scene outside the studio window with 1) grass, 2) debris in the wheel barrow 3) a shrub just coming into leaf 4) a wooden fence with lattice work on the top 5) some plants in the garden behind the wheel barrow and 6) a nice flat looking shadow.  Each of these six textural areas required different mark making to help them represent the objects in a realistic manner.

We made this exercise into a consolidating one, where not only did she need to express objects with pattern and texture, but she also had to think about her composition, the placement of objects,  and to think about the shapes, and in the overall image, to get a good balance of light and dark.

She had done marvelously well within the hour that she was here, but she took the drawing home and I will just have to wait until next week to see the results!


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