Studio Saturdays: Creating Visual Texture

One thing that keeps me enamored with mixed-media art is texture. I love all the roughness, bumps, patina, and grit that give artwork depth. Visual texture has the same effect—there’s nothing I like more than lingering over a piece, taking in the layers of color, pattern, and shape.

Texture is so much a part of mixed media that we made it the focus of our Art Lessons for 2017. The Texture Adventures series features 23 lessons by six different artists, each offering incredible projects and techniques exploring how to create physical and visual texture. Kicking off the program this year is Sandrine Pelissier, an extremely talented artist from Canada who creates depth-defying layers in ways I’ve never seen before. I used her January Art Lesson, Custom Sketchbook with Spirograph Designs, as inspiration for an art journal page. Yes, we will indeed be using a Spirograph, so now would be a good time to say hello to your inner child.

visual texture

If you’re not familiar with our Art Lessons and Lettering Lessons, allow me an elevator pitch: These are bite-sized monthly digital downloadable projects filled with great techniques from top artists. Each lesson includes tons of step-by-step photos and a companion video, allowing you to do a deep dive into all kinds of mixed-media art. At $3.99 each, this is an affordable way to really ramp up your skills.

For this project, I covered an art journal page with sheets of random book text that I stuck down with glue stick. This part is my own spin, but I wanted to see how far I could take the visual texture aspect.

Visual texture created by gluing text pages to an art journal page
Book pages were glued on randomly to an art journal page for the first layer of visual texture.

I then covered the page with a thin coat of white gesso; this helps obscure the text somewhat, and it’s also an important step in building the layers.

Gesso painted over book text
Gesso was painted over the text as a base for the ensuing layers.

When that was dry, I brushed on an acrylic paint wash in shades of magenta and red, diluted with water, and added shades of blue by flicking paint on the surface. While the paint was still wet I added drops of rubbing alcohol, and was amazed at the beautiful visual texture it added—the paint separated and pooled in areas, creating all kinds of interesting patterns.

Visual texture created with alcohol on wet acrylic paint
Drops of alcohol were added to wet acrylic paint to create lots of visual texture.

Here’s a close-up. What I love about this technique is that every time you do it, you’ll get a different outcome, and that element of surprise is so satisfying. I wasn’t sure what I would get by using colors with a lot of contrast, but I loved the effect. At this stage, I could still see the book text through the paint, which added a nice extra layer of visual texture.

Alcohol dripped on wet acrylic paint
Alcohol dripped on the wet paint resulted in cool splotches and patterns.

When everything was dry I fired up the Spirograph. Indulge me for a minute while I tell you how much fun I had playing with this thing after not even thinking about it for decades. It brought back all those memories of spending hours with the wheels and pens, making design after design. I gotta hand it to Sandrine—she knows how to have a good time making art.

Because of the bold, bright colors I was working with, I decided to create the Spirograph designs with a white gel pen (I used a uni-ball Signo). The nice thing about the Spirograph is that even if you royally mess up—which I did a few times, I’m not going to lie—it doesn’t matter. The visual texture you’re creating will look great no matter what, so knock yourself out. Don’t give up, and don’t start over again—just keep going.

Spirograph designs created visual texture on the page
Spirograph designs, created with white gel pen, added more visual texture to the page.

I thought about what type of design I wanted for my page, and decided on intersecting vines. I drew them with a black Stabilo-All pencil for two reasons: I could see the lines against all the busyness, and I wanted to use some of the pencil for shading. Stabilo-All pencils are water-soluble, which makes them great for creating shadows and depth. If you don’t want that effect, use light pencil marks, or go with something permanent.

I started brushing white paint in the negative spaces with a small round brush, purposely dragging the brush through the pencil lines to get a little bit of shading around the leaves and the edges of the vine. If I added paint where it wasn’t supposed to be I quickly removed it with a baby wipe. As the design began to emerge, I liked what I saw.

Painting in negative space around the image
I painted the negative spaces around the image, which was drawn with a water-soluble black pencil.

As I continued to paint, more of the visual texture emerged in different ways. The Spirograph designs were evident in areas that weren’t painted over, of course, but they showed through some of the white as well, drawing my eye in. The brushstrokes created even more texture, and the shading added still more depth. At this stage most of the book text was obscured, however, so that’s something to note for next time—perhaps forgo it, or make the first layers of gesso and paint lighter.

Creating layers of visual texture with paint, alcohol, and Spirograph designs
The layers created by the paint, alcohol, and Spirograph designs stand out after the focal image emerges.

To bring some of the book pages back I painted a text-filled page with yellow paint, then cut out small circles and glued them on the vines to suggest buds. I shaded those as well with the Stabilo-All pencil. Coming back to it the next day, I thought it needed one more element, so I wrote some quotes about spring along the edges.

Collage and journaling finish the page.
I collaged buds made out of painted book text and some journaling to complete the page.

I’m not crazy about everything I create, but I love this page. After doing this one Art Lesson I have broken new ground in my art journaling, and I know I’ll be using these techniques and methods again, exploring more ways to create visual texture. Check it out for yourself, and see how much you get out of one project. Sandrine has another lesson out, too: Add Visual Texture With Dip Pens. I’ve got my pen and ink ready to go.

Thank you for joining me for this Studio Saturday! I always like to leave you with a few related things that you might enjoy, so take a look at what’s available in the North Light Shop. See you again next week!

Art Lesson Volume 1: Custom Sketchbook With Spirograph Designs by Sandrine Pelissier
Learn how to add layers of visual texture in Art Lesson Volume 1: Custom Sketchbook With Spirograph Designs by Sandrine Pelissier.
Art Lesson Volume 2: Add Visual Texture With Dip Pens by Sandrine Pelissier
Get even more visual texture techniques in Art Lesson Volume 2: Add Visual Texture With Dip Pens by Sandrine Pelissier.
Texture Techniques for Abstract Art video with Jodi Ohl
Explore texture mediums and much more in the video Texture Techniques for Abstract Art with Jodi Ohl.
Surface and Texture Exploration Kit from North Light Shop
The Surface and Texture Exploration Kit includes the Top 10 Art Techniques: Surface and Texture Secrets DVD plus a sampler of art panels in this fantastic kit.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.