How I Add Texture to a Painting

  • “Hi Marion, how do you put texture on your paintings? All my paintings look like an illustration, flat. I’m a graphic designer, so I want to learn how to paint with textures. Do you use gesso or paste?” — Giulianna C.
Detail from Across the Minch Painting seascape by Marion Boddy-Evans Scotland Artist
Detail from “Across the Minch” where I used texture in the rocky shoreline, letting paint run over and between it as the sea does at the shore.

I use acrylic texture paste, most often applied it when I plan the initial composition but not always. My current favourite is Golden’s light modelling paste. I like it because it dries as an absorbent matte rather than gloss, so further layers of paint adhere well to it. Also, as the name implies, it doesn’t add much weight to the painting, which is important when it comes to hanging large canvases on a wall.

With this particular texture paste there’s not much shrinkage as it dries, which is important, otherwise you end up having to apply several layers. (I used to love Winsor & Newton’s matt gel, but had a couple of tubs of it that shrank to almost flat when dry, so have stopped using it). I use acrylic paint over it, but it’s suitable underneath oils too.

Detail: Sheep Painting Texture
Detail from “Garden Party” where I used texture for the wool and horns of the sheep.

Sometimes I’ll mix in a colour before I apply it if it’s at the start of a painting, which does help you see where you’ve applied it! If it’s a later layer in a painting I always mix in colour as the paste dries white not clear.

I apply it either with a knife or cheap, rough-haired wide brush, spreading/brushing it around, tapping against the surface, scratching into it — anything goes really to create an effect. Don’t use a good brush as it’s hard on the bristles and tedious to wash out thoroughly.

Drying time depends on how thickly it’s used and how hot it is. In a breeze on a sunny day it dries in a coffee break. Midwinter, I leave it overnight. How do I tell if it’s dried yet? Nothing scientific, I poke at it.

5 Replies to “How I Add Texture to a Painting”

  1. Thanks Marion,I will try it on my next paint. All your articles are so interesting, but
    those that makes me read it and read it again, to keep me out the affraid of making mistakes, are: “Paint with a Beginner`s Mind”, and “Suggesting Rather than nDelineating.

  2. That modelling paste sounds good. I’ll give it a try but, at the moment, I’m using either plaster (polyfilla) and/or sawdust mixed with lots of PVA glue (which I also use as a medium for glazing with water) If I’ve got it I’ll use Fuller’s Earth or gilder’s whiting for finer textures. Thanks for the article (as ever, most informative and useful)

    Providing one uses adequate amounts of PVA the applied texture sticks firmly to canvas.

  3. Love your articles, this one about texture very useful as am planning an abstract landscape where I want to use texture in the foreground. Love the rich darks and contrasting orangey colour in detail from “Across the Minch”.

    1. The orange was a base colour — rather intense when it was all orange, before any other colours were added!

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