Studio Saturdays: That Touch of Texture

I’m a sucker for texture in mixed-media art. Whether physical or visual, I’m always drawn to it. The interest texture adds to a piece is often what pulls me in and makes me want to explore it more—the bumps and wrinkles, the patterning details, the layers, the light and shadow.

Textured book covers
These book covers feature physical and visual texture.

These book covers feature actual texture, made with gesso, tissue paper, and acrylic paint; and visual texture, created with layers of paint, marker, and paint pen. Texture is so rewarding to explore and experiment with. Play with the gamut of paints, mediums, powders, and finishes available, or create texture with stamps, stencils, found objects, cut and folded paper, stitch, or metal. Yep, there’s a lot.

This project started with repurposed book covers. After removing the text block and the spine I drew a vertical line 1 ¾” from the spine side of both front and back covers—this marked the area for the tissue paper.

Making the book covers
Lines on the covers mark the placement of the tissue paper.

Working on both covers at once, I wadded up a piece of white tissue paper until it was nice and wrinkled and then smoothed it out. Then I brushed on a thick layer of gesso right up to the line and, while the gesso was still wet, pressed the tissue paper on top, mushing it around to create lots of wrinkles.

Gesso and tissue paper
Wrinkled tissue paper was pressed into wet gesso.

When it dried I painted on another layer of gesso, then waited for that to dry, and trimmed the three edges with scissors. Since the book covers were dark I painted one base layer of gesso on the rest of the covers.

Quick tip: Different brands of gesso vary in thickness, so dry time will depend on the consistency and weather conditions. If you’re impatient like I am, a hair dryer will speed up the drying.

I started layering paint on top of the tissue paper, painting and removing various colors until I achieved the look I wanted.

Painted tissue paper
I painted over the textured tissue with acrylic paint.

Quick tip: You can also achieve texture effects by skipping the tissue paper and stamping into a thin layer of gesso or molding paste, or using molding paste with a stencil. Just make sure you clean the stamp or stencil right after using any type of medium with it, and allow the medium to dry completely on your substrate before painting over it.

Next I painted the remainder of the covers with heavy body acrylic paint. I’m sure you’re looking at the photo below thinking, uggh. Uggh. But don’t worry. Go ahead and create a colorful horror show if you like, with lots of layered shades and marks. Use stencils, stamps, and found objects to make images. I painted splotches, made some mud, and carved designs into the still-wet paint with the end of my paintbrush.

Painted book cover
Not so pretty–yet.

Decide on a design, abstract or realistic, and pencil it in if you like. I painted circles, then filled in around them with Titanium Buff, using a dry brush with a bit of paint to let some of the background color show through. It helped that the book cover had a slight texture to it, which created even more texture on the paint layer. I also put some of the buff paint on a dry paper towel and dragged it over the wrinkled tissue paper to highlight its texture.

Layered painted book cover
More paint layers, more mark making.

Quick tip: Flat, pre-gessoed canvases make nice inexpensive book covers you can paint or collage over, and they have a great woven texture.

Then I put the covers away for a day. I truly believe this is a necessary step—often when I work on something without taking a break, I can’t see the forest for the trees. I go though so many stages of loving and hating the piece that I don’t even know how I feel anymore. So I tuck it away and try not to peek at it for at least 12 hours, 24 if I can swing it.

When I looked at the covers the next day they told me they needed a little more visual texture. So I added some marks with a black permanent marker and a white paint pen.

Visual texture
More visual texture was added with pens and paint markers.

Quick tip: Crackle and crazing mediums provide texture without adding a lot of dimension.

To unify the two parts of the covers I edged all four sides with black paint, using a cosmetic sponge, and glued on a blue ribbon over the dividing line between the tissue paper and painted sides.

Time to bind! I wanted to be able to work in this book backward and forward, so I created a 7-panel accordion and sewed four signatures of four pages each into two of the valley folds on each side, using a 5-hole pamphlet stitch (I used kraft paper for the pages and mixed-media paper for the accordion). To size the accordion panels, I measured the height and width of the covers and subtracted ½” from each measurement. Here’s a diagram for the pamphlet stitch. It’s super easy and holds the pages in really well. When you come back into the center hole (step 9), tie the two ends together in a square knot around that middle stitch:

Five-hole pamphlet stitch
The five-hole pamphlet stitch.

Quick tip: With this binding, where you start sewing is where you finish. If you prefer the knot on the outside of the signature, bring the needle in from the outside, or the mountain fold side.

To create the book’s closure I punched a hole in each cover on the painted side, pulled through a long piece of ribbon, and glued about 1” of it down.

Attaching the closure
The ribbons were glued to the inside covers.

Then I glued the first and last accordion panels to each inside cover. I wrapped the ribbons around to close.

Textured book
One textured book, waiting to be filled up!

Here’s my cool textured book. Now I can explore even more texture ideas on the inside. Can’t wait!

Want to add some tantalizing texture to your mixed-media projects? Check out these fantastic resources! 

Top 15 Acrylic Painting Starters Printmaking + Mixed Media eBook: Simple Techniques and Projects for Paper and Fabric
Easy Printmaking with Patterns
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Text & Texture in Mixed Media Collage Acrylic Painting Techniques: Creative Textures
Acrylic Paint Pizzazz: Collage Techniques for Paper & Fabric
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