Robin Slee

Often you may hear professional artists tell you that learning to draw texture is not essential. They tend to think that things like value, form, composition, and narrative are more important. While I agree to some extent, I believe adding texture to your drawings is just plain FUN!

Not only does It adds a level of realism, which can really bring your creation to life, it can also give a tangible, tactile feeling to your objects. It’s also very calming. Research has shown that repetitive tasks, under mindful control, are a benefit to our mood. It gives us a chance to relax and get lost in the moment with something that will hopefully turn out amazing!

Drawing and Sketching for Beginners

Last Updated May 2020

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So, let’s get down to business. 

What is texture? 

Put simply, texture is the repeating (or non-repeating) patterns created by light and shadow on an object’s surface. This pattern informs us how rough or smooth an object is, how soft or hard something is, and finally, it helps us determine scale. 

A simple idea to remember is that long lines make up the shape of an object. Short lines make the texture.

The rougher an object’s surface is, the less light can reflect back to our eye. Instead, light particles scatter in multiple directions. This leads to a more diffuse or weak reflection. You can see this when you look at the surface of, say, a rough brick, and compare that to a smooth, glass bottle. Notice how the brick has fewer areas of bright reflected light (and many more shadows). Although the mortar between the bricks is lighter in value, the surface is not as smooth and reflective as the glass.

So, how do we draw texture?  

First, we will help ourselves by using a reference image. Here we have some nice-looking bark. Next, we will convert that image to black and white so it is easier to replicate what we see in pencil, or shades of grey.

Fig 1.
Fig. 1

Notice, there is very little ACTUAL pure black in this image (Fig. 1). Just a few spots right in the depths of those cracks. Everything else is getting lighter. Also, there is actually NO white in the image. Even that bright spot is a faint, light grey.

If we study this image for a moment, there is also NOT very much detail. If you blur your vision by squinting, you can simplify the picture even more. When I squint, I see an overall grey value and perhaps 10-12 dark blobs scattered around the image. What do you see?

Now that we’ve spent a few minutes understanding and simplifying, let’s actually put some graphite on the paper and create an image. For this image, I am using a 2B pencil.

Note: You do not have to copy the image exactly. Instead, just go for the general feeling and let the reference image inform your choices.

We will start by laying a mid-value grey to cover the paper. This will represent the local color, or the wood, as we see it without any actual color information. Then we will start to plot our dark shapes.  These are the areas that receive the least amount of light, like in the nooks and crannies. Ultimately, we will draw these shapes darker with more and more layers of shading. Don’t overthink it. Simply try to draw the general feeling that the bark is giving to you. 

Fig 2.
Fig. 2
Fig 3.
Fig. 3

You’ll notice that I have left the mid-value only slightly lighter than the reference image. This is because my pencil won’t give me a pure black (unless I really scrub it into the paper). I decided to compensate for that by making the local value lighter so my darks appear darker. (See Fig 2.)

You may also notice that my solid gray surface was created by broad sweeping motions using the side of the pencil. Since I used a 2B pencil, I was able to keep the pressure really light — it doesn’t take a lot to make a mark. 

Slowly,  you can see I’m working in the layers of texture by shading, scrubbing, stroking, and hatching.  I haven’t made it to the darkest black just yet.

Fig 4.Fig 5.                                                                            

Fig. 4 & Fig. 5

Once you’ve laid the mid-value gray down and mapped out the darkest areas, it simply becomes a balancing act. Make sure that you are leaving enough light values to represent the lights and adding more shading to represent the darkest areas. Remember, the shorter the strokes, the more texture you are representing.

In Fig 4, I started to build on top of what I have already established in Fig 3, but I have deepened the dark tones and distinguished them with sharp edges.

By Fig 5, there are more black areas filled in. I’ve also incorporated a lot of small strokes, creating that tactile feeling I mentioned earlier. Remember, our goal is not photographic realism. While that is possible, today, we are just having fun.

Fig 6.
Fig. 6

Now, if you’re thinking, “That was a big jump between Fig. 5 and Fig. 6,” I can assure you, it really is not.  I’ve just continued the process of darkening the mapped-out areas, sharpening some of their edges, and incorporating sections of gentle shading — all creating TEXTURE. There’s even a happy little spider making his home within the cracks. 

That’s all there is to it! I hope you will give this exercise a try. With practice, you can start to add more texture and ‘feeling’ to your artwork too. 

If you liked this article, then be sure to check out my blog on drawing ideas for beginner artists. I also teach a Beginner’s Drawing course where I’ll show you how to take your drawing skills to the next level.

Page Last Updated: March 2021

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