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The Elements of Art: Texture

Grade Level: 3–4

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.

Shown from the shoulders up against a white background, an elderly woman gazing at us fills this black and white vertical portrait painting. The portrait is created with tones of light and silvery gray with darker gray in the shadows. Short, wavy, flyaway hair stands off the top and sides of her head, and she looks at us with half-closed, small eyes under arched brows. Her wide mouth is closed, and the corners are pulled back in a slight smile. Deep wrinkles run down from the corners of her mouth to her drooping jowls. There is a deep, round hollow, shaded black, at the base of her neck, which is surrounded by a starburst of fine wrinkles. She wears a light gray, V-neck shirt with white stripes and stylized flowers. The overall impression is that this portrait is painted with delicate tones of gray, but closer inspection reveals that it was made with inked fingerprints. The whorls of fingers in black ink, pressed lightly or layered against the canvas, are visible.

Chuck Close, Fanny/Fingerpainting, 1985, oil on canvas, Gift of Lila Acheson Wallace, 1987.2.1




  • 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

Collect examples of the following various textures for students to examine and feel. Then view the slideshow below and have students find those textures in the works of art:

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

Slideshow: Textures in Paintings

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 examined in class and represented in a painting in the above 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, 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.

As an alternative to accommodate motor control differences, the teacher can cut stencils of a student's chosen object from heavy paper, and then tape the stencils to the other four pieces of paper for the student to paint over.


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

National Core Arts Standards

VA:Cr1.1.4 Brainstorm multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem.

VA:Cr1.2.3 Apply knowledge of available resources, tools, and technologies to investigate personal ideas through the art-making process.

VA:Cr2.1.3 Create personally satisfying artwork using a variety of artistic processes and materials.

VA:Cr2.2.3 Demonstrate an understanding of the safe and proficient use of materials, tools, and equipment for a variety of artistic processes.

VA:Re7.1.3 Speculate about processes an artist uses to create a work of art.

VA:Re7.2.4 Analyze components in visual imagery that convey messages.

VA:Re8.1.3 Interpret art by analyzing use of media to create subject matter, characteristics of form, and mood.

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

Explore a video tour of Leonardo’s portrait

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