Artist Tips: My Favorite Tools to Create Texture
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
As you may have seen with many of my pieces on this site and on Instagram I love adding texture to my paintings. Texture, especially in abstract art, is very important in conveying themes, adding interest, and creating depth in your painting. So I've compiled a short list of some of my favorite tools and techniques I use to achieve texture in my paintings.
Any products mentioned or linked in this post are NOT sponsored and I don't get anything if you purchase from these links. I genuinely like and use these products and want to share them with you.
Classic Palette Knife
As you can see from the many built up layers of paint I use this knife a lot. It's a Liquitex Professional Painting Knife Small in #5 and I mainly use it to lay down large areas of color when I begin a painting. I feel that palette knives help spread the color around better than brushes if you're just trying to get some initial color down. I also use it to build up color and make areas that are thicker than others. It's also great for mixing paint and putting gel medium on canvas since it's easier to clean than a brush. Overall, this is just a solid artist tool that I come back to again and again. They also have knives in the same shape as this but a larger size. Since I mainly work with medium to small canvases this size works fine for me. But if you do larger paintings I might get one in a larger size.
Worison Palette knives:
I got these as a gift for Christmas and have been loving them ever since! They came in a set of 9 but I mainly use numbers 1, 2 and 3 (as you can probably tell by the amount of paint on them). These palette knives have a lot of unique shapes to them compared with the traditional palette knife and create really interesting textures. I like to use then for scraped or scratched texture, but they can be used for a lot more. Below I've shown an example of some of the textures that can be created with them.
Natural & Synthetic Sponges:
I use a variety of sponges in my work to add texture but the ones I use the most are the sea wool sponge (middle and bottom left) and the synthetic round sponge (top left and bottom right). These are a relatively cheap and easy way to start adding texture to your work. The sea wool sponge is great for stippling and blending two colors together. I especially like to use it in my galaxy paintings to combine the colors for the sky. The synthetic round sponge gives a more subtle texture and I've also used it as a stamp for print designs. Also when used with acrylic inks as opposed to heavy body acrylics it gives a bubbly, watercolor effect that's really interesting.
Some downsides to sponges are that with each use they disintegrate slightly, especially if you're like me and are a little rough on them when cleaning. So I wouldn't get too attached to any one sponge since you won't have it forever. They can also get mold or mildew if not taken care of properly, so always remember to wash and fully dry your sponge between uses to keep mold from growing.
Large, bristly brushes:
Another great way to add texture is with a paintbrush, but more specifically using a wiry, stiff bristled brush, as opposed to a smooth one works wonders. So if you have an old brush that you may have used to paint your house or one that looks like it's seen better days I wouldn't throw it away just yet, because it could be perfect for adding some subtle texture. I use this 2'' coarse, slightly frayed brush that I've had since forever (center brush) to create really nice, subtle background texture.
You can vary the amount of texture by how much water you use with the brush or if you use more water based paints like acrylic inks or watercolors. I prefer to use it dry or almost dry. The one potential downfall is that these brushes tend to shed their bristles easier than smooth brushes so it's something to watch out for. Or that could just add another layer of texture if you keep the fallen bristles, it's totally up to you!
The first picture uses both acrylic inks and heavy body acrylics which gives it a slight watercolor effect. In the second it is used for the background with sponges used on top. In the third you can see the texture it gives more clearly.
This link is for an assortment of brush sizes. But you can also get brushes like these for relatively cheap at places like Lowes or Home Depot.
Gel Painting mediums:
I love using gel mediums for my paintings! Though some may find them intimidating at first they're actually really easy to use. I use Liquitex Gloss Super Heavy Gel the most for my paintings. Super Heavy Gel starts out as a white, creamy consistency but dries mostly clear which makes it great for creating a textured base to put whatever color you want on top. You can also mix the paint in with the gel while you apply it to the canvas.
In the picture below I use multiple layers of this medium to get the effect shown. It took about 5-10 thick layers for this which resulted in the medium protruding about 1/4 inch out from the canvas to give it that 3D effect. But you can also use less for a more subtle textured look. I use a palette knife or stiff brush to apply thick layers to the canvas and try to create peaks so that it really looks like it's coming out of the canvas.
Some other mediums I like to use are Coarse Texture Gel (also from Liquitex) which was also used in the painting above. It creates a great tactile, rough texture like that of a gravel road. It dries white instead of clear but can also be mixed directly with paint. It doesn't spread as nice as gel medium or paint so you'd need a good amount to cover a large area.
Matte and Gloss Gel (either from Golden or Liquitex) work very similarly to Super Heavy Gel, though they are softer and more malleable than heavy gel and don't hold as stiff of peaks. They can still be built up in layers to give a similar result. As the name suggests Matte Medium dries with no shine as opposed to Super Heavy and Gloss which have a slig