The role of texture in abstract art: adding depth and interest

Textured abstract painting, The Big Send-Off, by artist Claire Desjardins.

In recent years, I've been adding more texture to my paintings, more regularly. I enjoy creating mountains and valleys for the viewer to look at.

Abstract art, with its swirls of colors, shapes, and patterns, has the unique ability to evoke a wide range of emotions and interpretations. One crucial element that often goes unnoticed but plays a significant role in abstract art is texture. Texture adds depth, interest, and a tactile quality to abstract pieces, inviting viewers to engage more deeply with the artwork. In this exploration of the role of texture in abstract art, we'll delve into how to use texture to create thought-provoking compositions.

Understanding texture in art

Texture in art refers to the surface quality or feel of an artwork. It can be both visual and tactile, influencing the way we perceive and interact with a piece. Texture can be smooth, rough, bumpy, shiny, or even a combination of these elements. In abstract art, artists often use various materials and techniques to create texture intentionally, which distinguishes it from other forms of art.


Abstract painting, Not a Care in the World, by artist Claire Desjardins.


Creating texture in abstract art

  1. Brushwork and palette knife techniques
    Many abstract artists employ different brushwork and palette knife techniques to create texture. Thick layers of paint applied with a palette knife can create a three-dimensional quality, while varying brushstrokes can generate both visual and tactile texture.

  2. Collage and mixed media
    One of my personal favorites! Incorporating elements like paper, fabric, or other materials into an abstract artwork can introduce texture. The contrast between the flatness of the canvas and the raised or textured elements adds intrigue and depth to the composition.

  3. Impasto
    Impasto is a technique where artists apply paint in thick, textured layers. This technique not only adds visual depth but also creates a tactile experience for viewers who may be tempted to touch the raised surfaces.

  4. Sgraffito
    Sgraffito involves scratching or etching into wet paint layers to reveal underlying colors or textures. It's a technique that adds layers of complexity to the artwork, allowing viewers to explore the interplay between the surface and what lies beneath. This technique works well when wet paint is applied over a dried surface.

  5. Texture pastes and gels
    Some artists use texture pastes or gels that can be mixed with paint to create raised surfaces and intriguing textures. These materials allow for a high degree of control over the resulting textures.

Here's a wee video I made, showing you how to apply modelling paste onto a canvas. Hint: it's just like frosting a cake!

    The emotional impact of texture

    Texture in abstract art goes beyond the visual appeal; it has a profound emotional impact on the viewer. Different textures can elicit various emotions and responses. For instance:

    • Rough textures may convey turmoil, chaos, or intensity.
    • Smooth textures can evoke calmness, serenity, or a sense of order.
    • Combining textures within a piece can create tension, juxtaposing opposing emotions or ideas.

    Ultimately, the texture becomes a language the artist uses to communicate their message and engage the audience on a sensory level.


    Abstract painting, The Crocosmia are in Bloom, by artist Claire Desjardins.


    The role of texture in abstract art: a case study

    Let's take a look at the renowned abstract artist Jackson Pollock as a case study. Pollock is famous for his "drip painting" technique, where he would vigorously splatter and pour paint onto a canvas laid on the ground. This process resulted in a rich and complex surface texture that provided a sense of movement, energy, and spontaneity to his work. The texture created by the layers of drips and splatters allowed viewers to connect with the raw emotion and energy of his pieces.


    Detail of painting, Stop Short of Time, by artist Claire Desjardins.


    Texture plays a crucial role in abstract art, adding depth, interest, and emotional resonance to the artwork. Through various techniques such as brushwork, collage, impasto, and more, artists can manipulate texture to communicate their message and invite viewers to engage with the piece on a sensory level. So, the next time you encounter an abstract artwork, take a moment to appreciate the intricate textures that contribute to its unique visual language and emotional impact. Texture is, after all, the silent storyteller in the world of abstract art.

    Colorful, textured abstract painting, Frosting Folly, by artist Claire Desjardins.

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