The Elements of Art: Texture

Grade Level: K–4

Students will be introduced to one of the basic elements of art—texture—by identifying different types of textures found in multiple works of art and hypothesize what materials and techniques were used to achieve that texture. Then, they will experiment with a variety of media and materials, including found objects, to create different textures.


Chuck Close
American, born 1940
Fanny/Fingerpainting, 1985
oil on canvas, 259.1 x 213.4 x 6.3 cm (102 x 84 x 2 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Lila Acheson Wallace


NAEA Standards

1-A Students know the difference between materials, techniques, and processes.
1-B Students describe how different materials, techniques, and processes cause different responses.
1-C Students use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.
1-D Students use art materials and tools in a safe and responsible manner.


  • Smart Board or computer with ability to project images from slideshow
  • Heavy cardstock (4 small sheets per students) or other surface sturdy enough to build up texture
  • Multiple sizes of brushes
  • Variety of media: paints (tempera, watercolor, etc.), colored pencils, oil pastels, crayons
  • Found objects like leaves, sand, stones, twigs, etc.

Warm-up Questions

Do you recognize these marks? How do you think the artist applied paint to the canvas?


Texture is the look and feel of a surface. Painters have many ways to create different textures. They use different sized and shaped brushes: everything from tiny pointed brushes to flat, wide brushes. They can also use other tools—special knives, sponges, even fingers—to put paint on canvas.

What are some ways that artists create texture?

  • They brush paint on in watery strokes and thick drips.
  • They put paint down in short, fat dabs and long, sleek strokes.
  • They twirl their brushes to make circles and curls.
  • They apply paint in thick layers that stick out from the canvas.
  • They put different colors on top of each other.
  • They mix in sand, dirt, or other materials into the paint.
  • They add white highlights to make things look shiny.
  • They scratch through paint to show colors underneath.

Chuck Close worked from a black-and-white photograph of his wife’s grandmother, Fanny to create Fanny/Fingerpainting. He divided his canvas into a grid, and then, square by square, pressed the marks of his fingers to the canvas to make this portrait of Fanny. Carefully layering his fingerprints onto the canvas, he built up the lines of her face and neck. Close explained, "I like using the body as a tool for painting . . . by using my hand, I can feel just how much ink is on my finger and then I can feel very clearly how much I’m depositing on the painting."


Leonardo da Vinci
Italian, 1452–1519
Ginevra de' Benci [obverse], c. 1474/1478
oil on panel, 38.1 x 37 cm (15 x 14 9/16 in.) (thickness of original panel): 1.1 cm (7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Five hundred years before artist Chuck Close pressed his fingers to canvas to make Fanny/Fingerpainting, Leonardo da Vinci also used his fingers to smooth oil paint for the perfect skin of his teenage model, Ginevra de' Benci. Da Vinci first used small brushes to paint Ginevra's face. He applied the paint in very thin layers. But in the end, he needed his fingers to get the clear look and smooth shadows that form her face. How do we know? Art specialists looked at Ginevra's face with high tech equipment to discover the traces of da Vinci's fingerprints (pictured below). Scholars believe he used his fingers to smooth and soften the edges and surfaces of her face while the paint was still wet.


Detail of da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci showing his fingerprint

Leonardo wrote, "See that your shadows and lights blend like smoke without strokes or borders." This technique, which came to be called sfumato (literally "smoky"), represented a radical break with traditional painting techniques, which relied on line to define forms. In avoiding line, Leonardo was able to achieve a more lifelike painting.

Guided Practice

View the slideshow below and have students find the following textures:

  • Poodle fur
  • Lion mane
  • Curly hair
  • Soft velvet
  • Delicate lace
  • Smooth skin
  • Shiny satin
  • Scratchy twigs
  • Bristly nest
  • Downy flower
  • Rough, churning water
  • Silky, smooth water
  • Sleek, shiny leaves
  • Furry plums
  • Wrinkled skin

Slideshow: Textures in Paintings

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Martin Johnson Heade
    American, 1819–1904
    Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, 1871
    oil on wood, 34.8 x 45.6 cm (13 11/16 x 17 15/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Martin Johnson Heade
    American, 1819–1904
    Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, c. 1890
    oil on canvas, 38.4 x 61.5 cm (15 1/8 x 24 3/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Circle of the National Gallery of Art in Commemoration of its 10th Anniversary

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Winslow Homer
    American, 1836–1910
    Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873–1876
    oil on canvas, 61.5 x 97 cm (24 3/16 x 38 3/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of the W. L. and May T. Mellon Foundation

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Fitz Henry Lane
    American, 1804–1865
    Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay, 1863
    oil on canvas, 62.5 x 96.8 cm (24 5/8 x 38 1/8 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Francis W. Hatch, Sr.

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    George Stubbs
    British, 1724–1806
    White Poodle in a Punt, c. 1780
    oil on canvas, 127 x 101.5 cm (50 x 39 15/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Paul Mellon Collection

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Joseph Decker
    American, 1853–1924
    Green Plums, c. 1885
    oil on canvas, 22.9 x 27.8 cm (9 x 10 15/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Judith Leyster
    Dutch, 1609–1660
    Self-Portrait, c. 1630
    oil on canvas, 74.6 x 65.1 cm (29 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Sir Peter Paul Rubens
    Flemish, 1577–1640
    Daniel in the Lions' Den, c. 1614/1616
    oil on canvas, 224.2 x 330.5 cm (88 1/4 x 130 1/8 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

  • Textures in Paintings Lessons & Activities

    Henri Fantin-Latour
    French, 1836–1904
    Still Life, 1866
    oil on canvas, 62 x 74.8 cm (24 7/16 x 29 7/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Collection

How do you think these textures were achieved? You may want to refer to the list in the “Background” section.


Each student should select one object from a painting presented in the slideshow. Have them draw the basic shape of the object on four separate sheets of paper. Next, have them fill in each line drawing using different media and tools to create various textures. If accessible, you may want to take students on an outdoor walk to collect various objects (leaves, twigs, etc.) to try out in the classroom. Students should experiment by using multiple sizes of brushes, mixing in unconventional materials like sand, creating different patterns, adding more media or scrapping it away, or other creative avenues they arrive at using the materials responsibly and safely.


Students will then select two of their works of art and use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the process they used to create each piece and what the end product looks like. They should share their findings with fellow student artists.

The Elements of Art is supported by the Robert Lehman Foundation

More Lessons in this Unit

Related Resources

Learn more about Leonardo’s Ginevra by watching “Ginevra’s Story” available through free-loan

Explore a video tour of Leonardo’s portrait

Download family-oriented guides to Leonardo da Vinci and Chuck Close


Questions or comments? E-mail us at