Texture refers to surface, means surface. Everything that has a surface has texture. There are two kinds of texture:

  Tactile touch 3D texture
  Visual illusion 2D texture

In this lesson you will:

Learn the relationship between tactile and visual textures.

Investigate the use of texture in art.

Learn what constitutes a pattern.

Make a collage that uses texture in a pattern.



All surfaces have texture.

Textures range from the smoothest polished mirror to the roughest mountain range as seen from an airplane. The term is often misused to refer only to rough surfaces but this is not correct. All surfaces have texture.

A designer recognizes that different textures can affect interest in different ways. Some surfaces are inviting and some are repellent and so are the textures that suggest those surfaces. Using different textures can increase interest in a composition by adding variety without changing color or value relationships.

While texture can make an image more interesting it is not a strong enough element to be useful for organizing a composition. Value and color contrasts are more efficient at that.

The two kinds of texture are:


Tactile means touch. Tactile texture is the actual (3D) feel of a surface. This is of paramount importance to three-dimensional design but of only moderate interest in two-dimensional design.

The actual surface texture needs to either be felt, or seen with light raking across its surface to make the texture visible. Painters are most likely to take advantage of this to give their painting's surface a lively look. Paint can be built up into rough peaks in a technique called impasto. Vincent Van Gogh is famous for this. Some painters add sand to their paint to make more tactile texture.

Collages can use textured paper and other three-dimensional materials (like string, cardboard, sandpaper, etc.) to make a tactile surface.



Visual texture refers to the illusion of the surface's texture. It is what tactile texture looks like (on a 2D surface). The textures you see in a photograph are visual textures. No matter how rough objects in the photograph look, the surface of the photograph is smooth and flat.

Both types are important to the designer, but in 2D art, the illusion of texture is used more than tactile texture.

Visual texture is always a factor in a composition because everything has a surface and hence a texture. The construction paper you have used all semester has a boring texture that is only slightly different from the sketch book's paper. Some other colored papers are more visually interesting. This is because of their color, but also their texture. Look around the house to see what interestingly textured papers (both visual and tactile) you can find (start with wrapping paper).

When photographs are used for collage materials, texture starts to take on more importance. Now you can use the illusion of many different textures, as well as the colors and objects in the pictures. This is one of the things that make collage such a potentially powerful technique. What you lack in control and versatility is more than made up by the rich variety of colors, textures and images that are at the your disposal. Collage allows someone with modest technical skills, and no drawing skills, to create a sophisticated image.

Texture is one of the more subtle design elements. It can make an image richer and more interesting, but is not likely to save a poor composition all by itself.

Most textures have a naturalistic quality; they repeat a motif in a random way. A motif is any recurring thematic element or repeated figure in design. It could be an object, shape, color, direction, etc. With a texture you may be aware of the repeating motif but you are more aware of the surface.


A recognizable motif regularly repeated produces a pattern. Pattern requires repetition -- in design as in life (a pattern of behavior). The more regular the repetition, the stronger the pattern. Compare this field of flowers with a checkerboard. Both have a repeating motif.

The most noticeable patterns occur when you see the group before the individuals -- notice the organization first (the checker board). All of the motifs in a pattern have surfaces, so there is always texture. But there is not always pattern -- only when you notice it.

Texture and pattern are related. When you look closely at a tree you can see the pattern of leaves that make its surface. When you back away you loose awareness of the leaves and notice the texture the leaves make on the tree. Farther away still and you can see the pattern of the trees making up the forest and finally the texture of the forest. In this way pattern changes to texture as you loose sight of the individual motifs. This is easy to do with natural patterns, but you have to get quite far away from a checker board grid to see it as texture.

Patterns are generally more noticeable than textures. This makes them a stronger visual element for controlling attention.



Student example #1

Student example #2

Student example #3


Design a simple pattern with 20 or more shapes in it (a 4 by 5 grid for instance. Use quilt patters as an inspiration for your pattern. Into each shape of the pattern put a sample of a different texture, like different fabrics are used in a quilt.

Organize the samples in a way that makes it easy to see the pattern. Remember that value is the strongest contrast, and hence organizing element available to a designer. Color differences are also strong ways to separate or group items in a composition. Notice how traditional quilts use similar values and colors to make larger pattern out of the smaller blocks they are make from.

Keep it simple but bold. Remember that variety will make it more interesting. A traditional quilt pattern may be used or make up your own. A sampler of quilt pattern blocks is to the left. These can be grouped together to make a larger pattern.

Information about quilt patterns can be found in: the World Wide Quilting Page's alphabetical list of quilt blocks http://ttsw.com/Blocks/AlphaBlockList.html and Hester Butler-Ehle's site: http://www.portup.com/~hjbe/quilt/qblox.html

Use thumbnails and make a full size rough. Use the rough as a template to cut the texture samples to shape. A sturdy template from light cardboard or a thick magazine cover would last longer if many shapes were to be cut the same shape.

If the shapes are cut so that they overlap slightly the white paper behind them will not show in the gaps between shapes. A colored background can be used to advantage especially if regular gaps are planned between shapes (gutters).


Use samples chosen for clarity, uniqueness and color/value. No recognizable objects are allowed -- all textures chips must be the same surface for the entire shape (value and color changes allowed). Cut them out large and try them in place by folding. Do not cut them out too soon unless your pattern uses only one size/shape motif.

These textures blocks are easy to distinguish because there is good value contrast between them.

Try samples next to each other and make sure that the edges of the shapes are apparent or the pattern will be lost. Different textures do not look much different from a distance -- not as different as value or color.


Keep the overall pattern in mind while laying out the texture shapes. Step back from time to time and squint at the composition to see how apparent the pattern is. Choose color relationships that both separate shapes and make attractive combinations.

Consider using dark, light and medium values to get a full value range in the quilt. .

Use borders as needed to make an attractive presentation.

One of the things to be learned by this project is how texture, value and color are related. Make a black and white photocopy (optional) of your quilt. Study the composition without any color. Is the pattern as apparent? How different do the shapes look because of their textures?
Label this project TEXTURE. It is worth 20 points.

© 2002 James T. Saw
Do not copy or reuse these materials without permission.