Creating Texture

Creating realistic textures in drawing is a matter of closely observing every detail of your subject's surface, and using the appropriate medium and technique to create an illusion of that surface on paper. Now we'll look at some common textures that you will come across in drawing and ways to draw them.

It's helpful to remember that you are trying to create an illusion. You will never exactly match the look of a surface—especially in black and white—though I have to admit, the masters of realism in graphite, like J. D. Hillberry and Mike Sibley, achieve astounding results. Extreme realism is achieved by very close observation of high-quality reference sources, combined with patient, detailed rendering and supplemented by a range of techniques to make the job easier and to facilitate creative expression. When sketching, you need to communicate this information to the viewer in a minimal fashion, but you still need to observe it accurately. The mind is good at putting clues together to understand what is going on in a picture, but the clues must be useful ones in order to create a convincing illusion.

Remember that highlights are highly reflected light and will always be much brighter than the light bouncing off your paper. You can heighten the visual illusion by deepening the mid and dark tones of the drawing.

Essential Elements in Texture Drawing

Paper surface is particularly important when creating textures. A velvety paper can help you create a soft, fuzzy look, while a smooth surface enables you to create the crisp highlights needed for reflective surfaces. For the varied textures required for a complete drawing, you might need to employ techniques such as lifting, incising, or rubbing to create the surface you need. Most realist artists prefer a smooth, durable surface such as Bristol board, but particular subjects—such as landscapes or teddy bears—might be well suited to a rougher surface.

Place several different types of paper together, and you'll notice a significant variation in color temperature. Some are pure white, some look cool—faintly blue—while others may have a warm cream tint. Grays tend to be cool or neutral. Pure white paper is important in any drawing where bright sunlight or intense highlights are going to be a feature. In other drawings, a slight tint can add warmth or character.

Choice of medium is another key element. Soft pencil used lightly skips over the surface, with light reflecting through dull, textured particles. Firmly used, sharp, soft pencil can create a dark, solid surface with a slight gloss. Harder pencils leave a smoother, finer particle. The increased amount of clay in harder pencils also makes a more matte, lighter gray particle. The addition of charcoal or carbon pencil adds a richer, darker black.

Something else to consider when creating texture is how you apply the pencil to the paper. When sketching, it is easy to fall into the habit of shading away without much thought. When creating fine textures, each pencil stroke becomes important. There are numerous techniques you can employ: place the pencil on the paper and lift it off in flicking strokes; “feather” the pencil, gradually applying it and lifting off in a somewhat circular action; place the pencil down, make the mark, and lift the pencil straight off; or stipple with a straight up-and-down dotting action. To make a dot with a harder pencil, use a twisting motion.

Basic pencil strokes

The graphite can be manipulated in various ways to create textural effects. Layering soft-over-hard or hard-over-soft pencil changes the appearance of shaded areas. “Burnishing” layers of pencil until the paper texture is filled polishes the graphite particles and creates a dense area of tonal value with a smooth sheen. Lifting the top layer of burnished graphite reduces the shine. Use of a blending stump (tortillon) creates soft blended effects and dulls the surface by reducing the light reflected through the particles.

Masking tape and Blu-Tack can be used to lift areas of graphite to create interesting, subtle textures.

Frottage is French for “rubbing.” The rubbing effect is created by placing a textured object underneath the paper and rubbing with the side of a pencil or charcoal. Fairly thin paper and a moderately firm medium are required for the best results. Thick paper will not allow the texture to be picked up, while a soft medium tends to push into the surface and fill in the pattern.

Scraping into an area of graphite creates coarse, ragged lines. Incising—cutting out a section with a scalpel—creates crisp white lines, but should only be attempted on heavy paper or board. Both these effects are dramatic and irreversible, and must be tested before being used in a major piece.

Impressed line and stipple effects are created by using a fine, rounded point—such as a large darning needle or plastic knitting needle—to squash a fine line or dot into the surface of the paper. The point should not be so fine as to cut the paper. When shading is applied over the surface of the paper, the impressed lines stay clear.

Sgraffito involves scratching into the drawn surface.

Impressed line: lines pressed into the paper before shading.

Lifting with tape or Blu-Tack to create a textured surface.


Read through the previous paragraphs on applying and manipulating the pencil, with paper and pencils in hand. Experiment with each of the techniques mentioned.

Global Versus Local Tone

Global tone, or global value, is the approach to value drawing that you'll generally use when sketching. Basically, artists use value to describe form by allocating planes around an object at certain values and getting progressively darker around the object. Usually the actual fall of light is the reference point for this shading, with the colors, highlights, and shadows based on actual observation. However, small variations in surface quality are not really taken into account.

Local tone, or local value, is an approach to value drawing that involves observing value variations on an extremely fine level. Rather than being concerned with using shading to model the form, the artist seeks to accurately reproduce perceived values in a small, accurately drawn area, which come together to form a highly realistic representation of the object. Generally, local tone is used in conjunction with reference photographs, which enable the artist to focus on very fine details, but this approach can be used when drawing from life.

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