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Elements of Design





Texture is an obvious and important element in all we see and touch. To save confusion it can be broken into two parts - Physical and Visual.

Visual and Physical Texture © John Lovett

Visual and Physical Texture – The image on the left bears the appearance of heavy texture, but is completely flat and smooth. The image on the right shows the strong physical texture available with the use of thick oil paint.


Physical Texture

Physical Texture is the texture you can actually feel with your hand. The build up of paint, slipperiness of soft pastel, layering of collage – all the things that change the nature of a surface.

Visual Texture

Visual Texture is the illusion of physical texture, created with the materials you use. Paint can be manipulated to give the impression of texture, while the support surface remains smooth and flat.
Transparent watercolor or Gouache generate little physical texture other than the roughness of the paper they are applied to. Impasto oil paint or Mixed media allow advantage to be taken of physical as well as visual texture.

In architecture and sculpture, physical texture is more obvious, but visual texture is still employed. The large variety of marble used in St. Peters cathedral, Rome gives a rich visual texture, while the surfaces remain hard and smooth.

St Peters Rome © John Lovett

St Peters Rome (Detail) – smooth, polished marble with strong visual texture.

All painting surfaces have texture, from the smooth , carefully rendered surface of Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” to the fractured brush strokes of Rembrandt’s “A woman bathing”.


Understanding the difference between physical and visual texture and being aware of the fact that all surfaces have some kind of texture, helps us take full advantage of this element.

Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons   /    By The original uploader was Cornischong at Luxembourgish Wikipedia (Transferred from lb.wikipedia to Commons.) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Paint can be applied in thin flat glazes to reduce physical texture or with heavy impasto strokes to create physical texture

Some of the lane ways and back alley of inner city Melbourne, Australia, have developed into impressive galleries of heavily layered graffiti. The build up of textures is amazing, with skilfully applied artwork coating every available surface.


The paintings often ignore the underlying surface texture and span everything from steel mesh, plumbing pipes, switchboards to rendered brick walls.

Hosiers Lane Melbourne © John Lovett

Hosiers Lane Graffiti

Just as in nature, variation in texture plays a major part in Landscape design. Differences in leaf size, density and arrangement provide the landscape designer with a huge palette of different textures to work with.

Texture as an element in Landscape design

Texture variation plays a major role in landscape design, providing a means of controlling depth and scale.

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