Texture! / by JW Harrington

Color provides powerful stimulation for almost all of us, as I explored in my last post. In a visual art work, visual detail pulls the viewer in to inspect (more about that in a later post).

Texture also draws in a viewer and leads to questions: “Is that surface rough to the touch, or does it just appear that way?” “ Is that area still wet?” “Wait, I see shadows cast by those three-dimensional peaks on the painting, and they move when I change my orientation — so they must really be there in three dimensions!” “How did the artist do that — is there really that much paint on the surface right there?” Texture makes the viewer want to touch the piece, to get that additional sensory information. (To be honest, one of the reasons I buy some art pieces is to be able to touch them when I want to. Oops, there went the possible re-sale value of art works I own!)

I’ve been looking forward to more experimentation with surface texture in my painting. Toward that end, I purchased a lot of “cradled” hardwood panels. “Cradled” means that the 4 mm-thick piece of sanded hardwood is glued to a frame of softwood to yield a rigid, hollow painting surface that is 1.5” thick.

What does this do for me?

The wood surface (especially some more sanding and a layer of gesso) has no grain of its own, unlike cotton canvas. Any texture you see in the painting is what i put there, with nothing added by the support for the paint.

The wood surface is rigid and sturdy. If I load up a really thick impasto, the support can take it without sagging, and the support has no ability to move up and down like the drum action of stretched canvas. So my thick paint and additional mediums will not crack.

The 1.5-inch thickness, with no visible break or distinction between the front and the sides, combined with the visual and tactile texture of the painted surface, gives some implication that you’re looking at a 1.5” thick mass of paint — very impressive!

This first set of paintings on panel are all 12” square: fun to work with, easy to move around, and available at a nice, low price point!

In Through Change and Through Storm, I’ve used a heavy, matte, acrylic gel medium and three shades of deep red to create a rugged and colorful surface, with only two pigments.

In Trace, I’ve used the same technique, on a very different palette of colors. I don’t usually attribute a programmatic meaning to my abstract work, but I’ll admit that this makes me think of Champagne.

More or Less entailed the most profligate use of gel medium and the resultant textures: there are three sequential layers of thick paint-with-medium, built up after each dried, to create this evocative surface. Everyone who’s seen this creates a different interpretation of these forms!

I’ve also played with an acrylic product that creates a thin, transparent layer atop the surface, which I can then paint over, after it dries. I did that to paint Allegory 1 and Vigil, trying to create a slight three-dimensional separation among the figures that are painted atop each other.

Midas actually used a combination of these techniques. There’s a lot of color and pattern under that rich gold, visible upon close inspection. (I want to draw you in!)

Let me know what you think! Follow me on Instagram!