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Core Art Skills: Part 5, Traditional Media Techniques

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Read Time: 7 mins
This post is part of a series called Core Art Skills.
Core Art Skills: Part 4, Working in Traditional 3D
Core Art Skills: Part 6, Bringing It All Together

If you've been following the course you've hopefully been using your sketchbooks more and have have tried your hand at clay. If so, you should now be happy to get your hands dirty and make some textures. In this Session Ben Mounsey will continue on with the core art skills and show you different methods for creating textures. You will learn how to add texture to your digital artwork, and the most striking ways to use it.

Core Art Skills Series

Why Texture?

Why is it good to have texture in digital artworks? This is a great question, the easiest answer is that it adds value to a medium that seems far too instant and artificial. It creates an illusion of tangibility and adds a layer of sensory stimulus. By this I mean, the artwork communicates to the audience, how it might feel to touch it. If you look at the surface texture of an oil painting, it is uneven with a rough surface where the layers of paint have been built up. When painting a choppy sea, an oil painter can build the paint to create a choppy textured effect.

Emotion, mood and movement can also be communicated with texture. Something as chaotic and choppy as the sea, conjures up visions of drama, action, vulnerability and fragility, like a Ship on the waves. In digital work you could go as far as to overlay real images of choppy water, but sometimes a less obvious source of texture will yield a better result. As an example, brush strokes or torn papers can simulate choppy waves with more emotion than a photo source.

Gathering textures can be an imaginative and highly creative process. You can gather your textures by taking photos of anything from rust to cloud formations and scanning papers, or you can create them yourself. I'm going to take you through a few methods for creating textures.


Paper Texture - Paper textures hold a wealth of possibilities, I recommend you keep your eye out and start collecting interesting papers you find and build a resource library. A simple box or filing system is a good idea to catalogue your textures and access them for use or reference. I like aged, used and discarded papers the best. You can source your paper from anywhere, and if you can bare the sacrilege,you can tear out pages from old books. Just remember, if the writing on the page is readable it needs to be carefully considered before being using in your work. What text says can be of consequence or unsuitable for your work, this is also true for languages you don't understand.

If you want an 'aged look' a bit quicker, you can try staining your paper with tea and coffee. Make sure you use a few tea-bags and create a really strong brew, then soak the paper in the tea and dust with a few crushed coffee granules to create age spots. There are other ways to distress paper, you can tear, repeatedly crush or even burn (safely) pieces of paper to achieve a nice result. Once ready for the computer, scan or photograph your textures, and if needed take them into Photoshop and tweak the Levels and Color balance. When a texture has strong color, you may want to remove it, to do so you can use photoshop, go to Image > Mode > Grayscale > at the prompt choose Yes to "Discard the Color Information". For more control over the output, go to Image > Adjustments > Black & White. Without the color you are left with just the texture information, this way colors within your artwork wont be muddied by the texture overlay. From there you just need to drop them into your artwork file and use the Transparency settings and Filters to get them to blend with your artwork. Its a good idea to implement you textures early as they will change the look of the colors in the file.

Mono-printing - The second technique I'm going to show you is a little more involved, it's a printmaking technique called Mono-printing. Mono-print involves inking a flat non-porous surface, traditionally a sheet of glass, but you can also use an old baking tray. You can Mono-print in color, but for a texture all you need is black. The ink can be oil based, as is traditional, but for speed and efficiency I use a water soluble printing ink. It's quicker drying and easier to clean off the tray and roller.

First, squeeze a small blob of ink onto the tray and spread it out over the surface by working the roller into the ink. At this stage you have a couple of options, you can use a blunt implement (such as a blunt pencil) or a cloth/rag to draw/rub into the layer of ink. Both methods produce interesting surface textures.

However my favorite method is to use the roller as a brush. For this technique you will need the same setup (roller, tray, ink) as well as some smooth card and cheap cartridge paper. With your tray still inked, work your roller over it several times until the roller is "loaded" with ink. Now take a sheet of cartridge paper and roll over it to test how much ink you need -what you should be looking for is an inconsistent and broken strip. You'll need to experiment before you get an effect your happy with, so keep trying this process a few times.

When ready, roll over the smooth card and make interesting marks, you can use short bursts, overlapping strips etc, again experimentation is key. As I mentioned earlier, mood and movement can be communicated through your textures. As you are mark making, think about the context of your texture and design accordingly.

When you have a texture your happy with, take it into Photoshop, you can use a scanner or a camera for this. The same as with the paper textures, adjust the Levels to add definition. Then change the image to black & white using 'Threshold' (Image > Adjustments > Threshold), and choose a threshold level your happy with. Change the mode to 'Bitmap' by going to Image > Mode > Bitmap. After this save your image as a Tiff – this way you can color the texture in Illustrator without tracing it. Alternatively, in Illustrator you can live trace and expand the texture in order to color it. From here you can play with Transparency and Filters to embed the texture with your artwork.

Project — Add a Hand Made Texture to Your Digital Work

For small spot textures you can use a dry-brush method. All you need is some black ink, or even better, black Gouache, a brush and some card – watercolor textured is best. To create the effect, don't overload the brush, then test it on cartridge paper before brushing on the card. For this task I would like you to use the paint and brush to create some interesting dry-brush textures. Then using the same method as we did with mono-print, add the textures to your digital artwork. Jesse Ho ra has a tutorial on how to add a bitmap texture to a vector file, if you need some extra help.

Conclusion: Textures Add "Life"

It's important to command some skills in using traditional mediums like Mono-print, if only to get what you need from it. Indeed, its not about being a fully fledged artist in every area, but about not being afraid to experiment with them. Adding these skills and textures to your work engenders value and individuality in mark making, and steps away from the artificiality of digital work. So start collecting and creating textures and have fun using them in your artwork! If you're still not convinced of the power of texture, take a look at the following examples of texture in illustration.

Steve Mack - Nourishment

Ty Wilkins - Fox

Alberto Cerriteno - Roaring Monsters (Detail)

Two Fish - Emergency in the Woods

Esther Aarts - Fisherman's Find

Brent Couchman - 3D Media

Tyler Garrison - One Handed Murderer

Laz Marquez - Rear Window

Jonny Wan - Portfolio Work (set)

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