Student Resource

Texture Coursework Guide

Explore textures in art from woven textures and textured fabrics and materials to gestural marks and patterns

Weaving textiles

You may think that woven textiles, embroidery and fake fur are the exclusive territory of fashion and craft – think again!

As early as the 1920s, artist Anni Albers used weaving to create richly textured abstract artworks. Discouraged from studying painting she chose instead to take up weaving at the Bauhaus School of art. Weaving at that time was seen as a craft and not taken seriously as art. Albers changed all that.

Albers’s abstract patterns were inspired by ancient South American weaving. For Red Meander 1954 she used an ancient labyrinth and Peruvian patterns as her starting point.

Image of Red Meander 1954 by Anni Albers

Anni Albers Red Meander 1954 Private Collection © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

As well as patterns, Albers was interested in texture. She championed modernity, but also worried that people had lost their sensitivity to touch. Factory manufacturing produced slick products that had none of the texture of hand made things. As an artist and a designer she wanted to create artworks that appealed to our sense of touch.

Well you all know how great art can affect you, you breathe differently
Anni Albers, 1982

Like Anni Albers, artist Sheila Hicks was also inspired by South American weaving to create textured artworks. She had studied painting but on a trip to Chile she became fascinated by the textiles she saw there. Her woven pieces from the 1960s are often created in single colours and have the look of textured abstract paintings.

In Landing 2014 Hicks used loose yarns. Tumbling from the ceiling and collecting on the floor, Landing has the 3D presence of an organic sculpture. It also looks as if someone has tipped some pots of bright paint from the ceiling!

Another craft which has been adopted by contemporary artists, is embroidery. Michael Raedecker stitches into his landscape works to add subtle textures to the surface. spot 1998 shows an desolate landscape dominated by a pool of water made from stitched horizontal threads. Other areas of the painting are also stitched, and the threads painted over to create areas of rough texture. The painting balances areas of detail with empty spaces.

There are things happening on the surface ... which hopefully make your eye float around the image … I always try to find different means for how to use thread ... I don’t fill everything in. I leave room for the viewer to step into the image.
Michael Raedecker

Kate Rollison also uses embroidery to create artworks. Tate Collective Producer member Hannah Hill met up with Kate to chat about embroidery, art, and how stitching can help with overcoming mental health issues.

Sculptures from textiles

We have explored how woven fabrics and yarns can became sculptural. Artists also use textiles to create 3D textured sculptures.

Mrinalini Mukherjee
Jauba (2000)

Jauba (Hibiscus) 2000 by Indian artist Mrinalini Mukherjee was made by knotting yarn over a vertical metal structure. The yarn is woven into pleated forms that drape the frame creating flower or plant-like forms.

Laura Ford
Moose (1998)

Laura Ford’s fabric sculptures also involve draping folds of fabric over a metal structure. The several layers of fabric give Moose 1998 its textured form. The fabric looks like clothing. In fact Ford commented that she thinks of her animal sculptures as 'sculptures dressed up as animals which are dressed up as people'.

Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Abakans 1966–75 are enormous 3D structures. They are made from natural fibres such as sisal rope, flax, jute and horsehair. The textured textile forms fill rooms and create organic otherworldly environments.

When we think of fake fur we generally think of teddy bears or coats. But artist Eric Bainbridge uses it to make us look at ordinary objects in a new light. For his sculpture More Blancmange 1988 he has recreated a set of spoons on a huge scale and covered them in fur.

Eric Bainbridge
More Blancmange (1988)

The furry white texture of the spoons contrasts with the smoothness of real spoons that we use everyday. They become an unsettling, surreal presence. As critic Stuart Morgan said:

The fabric unified surfaces, blurred edges and served to camouflage the familiar but magnified objects … Dwarfed by overblown, woolly but somehow familiar shapes, the spectator wandered, intimidated by the new self assurance these artefacts had acquired.
Stuart Morgan

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Close encounters

Close encounters with nature

As well as creating textures, artists are often inspired by the textures they see around them. Textures are everywhere – but it’s often worth looking closely! Bark, moss, leaves, rocks … nature is full of interesting and inspiring textures. Photographs are a good way of exploring textures and seeing them in a new light. (Taking photographs of textures is also a useful way to research and gather source material for your exam project.)

Photographers Werner Bischof, Brett Weston and Guy Bourdin used photography to capture the rich textures they saw around them in nature.

Recording textures

For her project Still Water (The River Thames for Example) 1999, artist Roni Horn used her camera to record the textures and colours of the River Thames at different locations. The colour and texture of these watery surfaces varies dramatically between images. Tidal movement, the time of day and the weather all affect the water’s texture and colour.

Richard Long was also interested in recording textures in nature. But rather than using a camera to record the textures, he got hands on! By laying paper on the surface of rocks and then scribbling with a crayon or pencil over the top, he created a series of richly textured drawings.

Nature into art

The beautiful textures created by nature are artworks in themselves. But nature’s textures can also inspire drawings, prints, paintings and sculptures.

From gravelly deserts to waves in the sea, artist Vija Celmins makes mesmerising drawings and prints from textured natural surfaces.

By filling the paper with a seemingly never-ending pattern of waves or rocks, she creates a sense of the vastness of nature.

French artist Jean Dubuffet made textured collages that often include dried and pressed plants. He then used these collages to make prints.

Dubuffet described the transformation of these plants in to art:

My little bit of grass soaked in ink becomes a tree, becomes a play of light on the ground, becomes a fantastic cloud in the sky, becomes a whirlpool, becomes breath, becomes cry, becomes gaze.
Jean Dubuffet

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Close encounters with the everyday

You don’t have to get back to nature to find rich textures. Cracked paint on a door, a rough, wooden floor, a graffiti-textured wall … you’d be surprised how many ordinary surfaces you probably pass every day are rich sources for texture inspiration.

Have a look at these details of textured urban surfaces. Can you guess what they are?

Everyday textures into art

The rough and pitted surfaces of buildings and man-made objects provide a great starting point for textured artworks.

Artist Nigel Henderson was fascinated by the different patterns and textures he found on the streets of the London’s East End where he lived.

He used these textures to create Untitled No. 8 (Shattered Glass) a large abstract collage. The collage is made from details of photographs he took of various urban surfaces including shattered glass and wire mesh. He then over-painted parts of the collage with black ink marks, creating an effect of fragmentation and splintering.

The rough, scratched surfaces of much-used skateboards add rich texture to Alexandre da Cunha’s sculptures.

Old and scratched, these recycled skateboards tell the stories of the skaters who used them. As da Cunha wrote in 2006, their scratches, dents, stickers and texts providing visual documentation of each skater’s private history, failures and achievements.

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Laying it on: paint and texture

Artists Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff used the qualities of paint itself to create textured paintings. They applied the paint thickly – a technique known as impasto. They then worked into the wet paint with a brush, sculpting it and incising or scratching lines to form their images.

Gillian Carnegie
Black Square (2008)

Gillian Carnegie’s Black Square 2008 combines matt and glossy impasto paint. At first glance the painting looks like a black abstract painting. But the light shining on the ridges formed by brushstrokes reveal an image of tree trunks.

Magda Cordell
Figure (Woman) (1956–7)

Artist Magda Cordell was inspired by the textures and techniques of Jean Dubuffet and Jean Fautrier in painting her powerful Figure (Woman) 1957. Drips and splashes are used to suggest outline the shape of the woman. But the rough surface of her flesh seems to have been created by dabbing layers of thick paint.

Sculpture and texture

Sculptors have also made use of techniques and materials to create textured artworks. Michael Dean’s sculptures start as words, letters or symbols. He makes moulds and casts of his words, abstracting them into an alphabet of human-scale shapes. He uses materials such as concrete, soil, sand, and corrugated sheet metal. The rough textures of the sculptures give them the appearance of having been left outside. They look broken and battered by the elements.

Michael Dean created textured sculptures by loosely molding materials and adding rough textures to surfaces. Other sculptors have chipped, scraped and incised materials to create textures.

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Marks and patterns

As well as creating physical textures, a textured look can also be made using marks and patterns.

Abstract expressionist artists dripped and splashed paint and used gestural brushstrokes and marks to create lively textured surfaces.

Fiona Rae
Untitled (emergency room) (1996)

Painter Fiona Rae also uses marks, but combines these with patterns and shapes to create a range of surface effects. In Untitled (Emergency Room) 1996 colourful flat geometric disks play against a background of messy black and white brushwork.

Although made using smooth black ink, Henri Michaux’s all-over patterns of gestural marks create a sense of spiky texture. Eva Hesse’s ink drawings also suggest texture. But they are made in a very different way. She has slowly and carefully drawn tiny circles into the squares of graph paper.

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Texture and symbolism

Sometimes textures are used to emphasise the message or meaning of an artwork.

Hidden under layers of textured, crayoned marks, mask-like faces are just visible in the sac-like forms of Virginia Chihota’s mixed media drawings.

Virginia Chihota
The Constant Search for Self (2013)

Born in Zimbabwe, and having lived in Libya, Chihota divides her time between Tunisia, Zimbabwe and Austria. In The Constant Search for Self she addresses the issue of trying to keep a sense of identity while moving between places and cultures.

My work is a reflection on the search for one’s self … in changing circumstances. Displacement creates uncertainty but the imperative to survive and the continuity one manages to maintain despite changing conditions inspires me.
Virginia Chihota

By covering up the faces with textured scribbles and marks she symbolises the feeling of her identity getting lost and buried.

Judy Clark also explores identity by using texture. Catalogue [female symbol] 3 Skin 1973 was made by taking ‘prints’ of her own skin and that of a friend. She did this by rubbing graphite powder over an area of skin and then peeling it off using Fablon (sticky plastic). The ‘skin prints’ are presented in a grid and held between sheets of glass. The drawings in the centre of the work mark the places the skin prints were taken.

Clark says about making the work

I was interested in the idea of tracks and by tracking people’s lives and movements and relationships.

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Have a go!

We’ve pulled together some ideas to get you started:

Experiment with weaving

Anni Albers and Sheila Hicks used weaving to create beautiful abstract artworks. You can find out more about Anni Albers’s weaving techniques in this video.

But you don’t need a big fancy loom and lots of yarns to experiment with weaving. A simple loom can be made using cardboard or a wooden frame. (Take a look at this fab Tate Kids resource to see how easy it can be!)

To weave you need a warp and a weft. The warp are the fixed strips that you weave the weft through. (The weft are the strips you use to weave in and out).

All sorts of things can be used to weave – e.g. strips of paper or cloth, string or wool, straws, reeds, bendy twigs and grass.

  • Attach your warp lengths to a piece of card or wooden frame. Fix them at the top and bottom. These can be made from anything from pieces of wool or thin strips of fabric to twigs.
  • Then weave your weft in and out of the strips. Try using different materials for your weft to create different textures. What happens if you weave a strip of newspaper followed by some coloured drinking straws followed by a strip of fur fabric?
  • Experiment with placing your woven surface in different places. Try suspending it from a shelf or ceiling. How does it change if you place it on the floor?
  • You could also try attaching your woven panels together to make a small 3D structure.

Explore textured textile forms

Eric Bainbridge and Laura Ford created large textured sculptures by covering structures with fabrics. Mrinalini Mukherjee uses hanging fabrics to create 3D forms.

Experiment with transforming everyday objects by covering them in fabric. (The covering doesn’t have to be permanent! This is just about researching ideas …)

  • For example you could use a wooden chair or stool. Try draping lots of layers of fabrics or clothing over the chair until it looses its shape. Photograph your textured chair to record it.
  • You could also try pinning fur fabric or patterned fabric tightly around a chair so its shape is still recognisable – but its surface is all wrong!
  • Now try suspending different fabrics from a doorframe or curtain pole to create a hanging textile piece.
  • Explore different ways of changing the shapes of the suspended fabrics.
  • Try bunching some together and trying them with string or creating round forms by wrapping the fabrics around cushions.
  • Photograph your experiments and use them as the starting point for a textured sculptural artwork.

Collect and collage textures

By looking closely at the surfaces of things you can find all sorts of interesting textures. Artists such as Brett Weston and Nigel Henderson collected these surfaces by photographing them. Richard Long made rubbings of rocks and slate.

  • Photograph details of surfaces to create abstract textures. Try and collect as many contrasting textures as you can.
  • Use paper and a soft pencil or crayon to make rubbings of textures.
  • Gather textured cloths, papers and leaves or bark.

You could use your surfaces to make a collage, textured painting or print.

  • Max Ernst used rubbings of rough wooden floors to create eerie surreal landscapes.
  • Nigel Henderson worked into photographs of texture with gestural marks and made textured collages.
  • Jean Dubuffet inked up leaves and made prints from them.
  • Or be inspired by John McHales’s (slightly scary) Furhead 1956 to create a collage of textured fabrics and papers.

Experiment with mark making

From dripping paint and gestural brushstrokes to using unexpected techniques and materials, artists make marks in all sorts of ways.

Collect different objects that you could use to make marks. E.g. twigs, feathers, sponges, old toothbrushes …

Now experiment. Try out different objects and different materials.

  • Use an old toothbrush and some crumbled charcoal to make a dabbed blurry mark.
  • Draw a wonky, scribbly line with a twig dipped in paint.
  • Lay a large piece of paper on the floor and walk over it dripping paint from a brush. Walk backwards and forwards and in circles. (Make sure you lay plenty of newspaper underneath so the floor doesn’t get messy!)
  • Combine dabbed marks, drawn lines, splashed paint to create rich textures.

Looking for more inspiration? Get more ideas for exploring and using texture in art in our Materials, Mark Making and Interwoven exam resources.

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