How to Add Texture to Oil Paintings

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Most of the painting classes I teach at involve showing the guests how to do acrylic painting techniques. Occasionally I am asked to teach about oil painting as well, and one of the things students want to learn about is how to add texture to oil paintings.

There are many types of oil paint textures and a variety of techniques you can use to create these textures. There are two ways texture can be achieved.

First, there is optical texture. This is when a painting looks as if there is a lot of texture, but it is a smooth finish.

Then there is physical texture. You can feel this type of texture, which involves using a variety of techniques, such as impasto.

Today we are going to take a look at the reasons why an artist would want to use texture when working with oil paints, and how to achieve it. 

Curious to learn more about oil paint texture? Let’s get started.

Texture Brings Paintings to a Different Level

Creating a painting with texture is a way for artists to keep from getting bored by limiting themselves to one certain style of painting or only using certain techniques. Adding texture is one of the best ways I know of to make a painting stand out.

Texture helps to make a painting more expressive, and it adds an element that brings the painting to life. 

Using impasto brush strokes and other techniques can help to add texture, but your painting technique isn’t the only way to get texture in a painting.

Try Using a Textured Surface

When I teach oil painting classes many students are surprised to learn that there are other ways to achieve texture than brush strokes. The surface that you paint on can play a role in how texture is achieved.

For instance, if you are using a canvas that is rough the end result will be a painting that has an interesting texture. When you combine a rough surface with various brush strokes, you will have a variety of textures.

#1. Painting on Natural Textures

One way to get texture into a painting is to paint on natural textures, such as wood, burlap, and even cardboard. Any of these oil paint surfaces will give you a good foundation for creating textures in your paintings.

There are different types of canvases, and each has a different texture. For instance, a linen canvas will have a much smoother texture than one that is made from cotton. Burlap is even coarser than cotton.

The fibers of each of these fabrics used in canvases will produce different effects that will affect the appearance of a painting. When these fibers are primed the oils do not absorb into the canvas, but priming can also reduce the amount of texture you will get from the material.

While burlap does have a lot of texture, the fibers are not woven tightly, making them more flexible. While this can be great for some applications, remember that this material may not stand up to certain types of brush strokes or additives.

Another option is to use oil painting paper, but this isn’t something that I generally recommend for beginners.

Most of the oil painting techniques we will be looking at today will work better on stronger surfaces.

#2. Creating a Textured Surface

You don’t necessarily need to start with a rough surface to have texture in a painting. Another option is to create your own texture on the canvas before you begin painting.

Let’s say you are using wood as an oil painting surface. You can cut or gouge it, or even distress the panel to achieve texture.

You can also add texture by adding a textured ground, such as gesso. There are a couple of ways that texture can be achieved with gesso.

You can use thick gesso, or apply the gesso in thick layers. How you apply gesso can also play a role in adding texture to a canvas. I often like to apply a few thick layers of gesso to a canvas.

You can also use various brushes, a palette knife, and other tools to create texture in the gesso before it dries. It’s a lot of fun to play with different tools for texture. You can use a sponge, textured rollers, fabrics, stencils, etc. to create patterns that will give your paintings interesting textures.

Another way to add texture is to add certain materials to the gesso before priming a canvas. Some artists like to use sand or crushed glass. I’ve even been known to add tiny seed beads to my gesso.

When the gesso dries, these elements will become a permanent part of the painting and provide interesting textures.

Different Paints Result in Different Textures

Not all oil paints are the same, and different brands will have different characteristics. A thick oil paint will be the best option if you want to add texture to your oil paintings. If you thin out your paint with linseed oil or other oils, creating texture will be more difficult.

Some oil paints are stiffer than others, and these will hold a shape until they are dry. This is known as peaking.

You will be able to create little peaks in the paint. The amount of texture will depend on the amount of pressure used and the techniques you are using. Thicker paints are best for texture techniques, such as impasto.

There are also some mediums you can use that will thicken the paint so you get those little stiff peaks, such as impasto mediums. These mediums must be oil-based and compatible with the paint you are using.

How much paint you use will also affect the texture of a painting, as well as the painting technique. If you are using the impasto technique you will be applying thick brush strokes without doing any blending.

Different Brushes Create Interesting Textures

The type of brush you use will also play a role. For example, if you are using a sable brush you won’t get as much texture as you would when using a bristle brush. A palette knife will give you even more texture.

I always tell students at paint and sip classes to never throw away old brushes because they still have uses. You can cut old brushes, which will allow you to create impasto brush strokes.

The Wetness of Your Paint Matters

Let’s say you are imprinting paint to achieve texture. The wetness of your paint can greatly affect the amount of texture you will achieve.

I often let my paint dry for a little while before I imprint textures. If the paint is too wet, you aren’t going to get nearly as much texture as you would if it was drier.

When paint is a little bit dry it is more tacky. This can help to create texture and make the texture more durable.

There are various mediums you can use that will help oil paint to dry faster so you don’t have to wait as long to add texture. This can cause cracking, which can be a pretty cool effect.

Try Using Other Additives

Certain chemicals can be used to thicken oil paint, as well as other materials that may not be quite so traditional. These chemicals will change the physical characteristics of the paint.

Alcohol and other solvents will break down oil paint to make it thinner. But, this will allow the paint to run or drip, which will create interesting textures.

If you want to thicken the oil paint, try using non-traditional mediums, such as glue, corn starch, or ground chalk. You will need to experiment with these to get just the right paint consistency.


As you can see there are many different ways to create texture in oil paintings. It is loads of fun to experiment with when it comes to creating texture.

I always tell paint and sip students to let their imaginations run wild and try a variety of techniques. Try using different mediums, brushes, and brush strokes and see how each can affect your paintings.

*image by Tihon6/depositphotos