Know your Basics - Textures

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kuschelirmel's avatar

There are a lot of tutorials out there on how to create / photograph texture as well as how to use them on a technical level, but the question of why and when to use textures is rarely touched. This article wants to fill that gap and therefore looks at texures from a slightly different perspective.

Textures in Manips as you know them

For a photomanipulator, the first thing that comes to mind when hearing the word "texture" are images that can be used in soft light or overlay mode to texture a manipulation or parts thereof. What most manipulators therefore have in mind, are images like the following:

Dear Hermine Grunge Texture by ValerianaSTOCK 2477x3889 Untld. 96 by pandoraicons green distressed wood textur2I by beckas Broken stone texture red by Seeb-san Northern Lights by pendlestock

Beautiful textures, sure, and useful, too, but have you ever thought of doing more with them than the aforementioned overlays? And have you ever considered using other kinds of textures, too?

A more objective look at Textures

The following definition is an excerpt from the google dicitionary (I omitted the parts that have nothing to do with this article):

  • The feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or a substance (skin texture and tone; the cheese is firm in texture; the different colors and textures of bark)
  • The character or appearance of a textile fabric as determined by the arrangement and thickness of its threads (a dark shirt of rough texture)
  • The tactile quality of the surface of a work of art

So textures in "the real world" are something to touch and feel, something that will also influence the appearance of a surface - for example think of naturally occuring textures such as bark, velvet, leather. And they are something you can see, too, think of smooth skin or rough wood, of messy hair or grass and smooth, polished metal.

That in turn means: not only something with bumps and ridges and obvious structure is a texture, but also what we generally perceive as "not textured" is!

Let's take a look at an image that you would normally call "not textured" to illustrate this point:

Untitled Drawing by kuschelirmel

What you can also see in this example, is that smooth and rough textures are both in there and their contrast is what makes the image work. For example, if the sea were not calm, the waves would create unrest and the trees on the hill would no longer stand out. It would all just "mush together".

And that is an effect you can also get from overlaying one texture over everything. I'll show you one of my "early works" to demonstrate:

January by kuschelirmel

While at this point I had figured out how to use masks to get smooth transitions as described in this tutorial, there's just something off about that load of textures. Today, I would do it differently: I would get rid of the overlay textures in the middle where the fractals are to make sure the fractals could stand out from the background (maybe I'd try to make them glow - definitely I'd change the overall lighting which here is not existent).

Let's look at some more examples from around deviantArt:

and see why they work so well from a texture point of view:

This images uses all kinds of different textures to draw your eye to the focal point: the girl is smooth throughout, even her hair seems soft and orderly without being unnaturally neat. The ground is made of stone and sand within a relatively calm sea. The almost idyllic image gets some tension through the sharp edged shards of glass, the glass itself being smooth.

Detailed and contrast-rich smoke textures around the figure give it an eerie quality which is enhanced by the none-distracting outer edges of the canvas. There you have only hints at the big folds of a curtain or something similar.

Boundaries between life and death by IvanVlatkovic

The subtle use of textures in this image is just stunning: they serve as a 3D environment forming the ground and the back "wall" of the "room" the guy is kneeling in, while keeping it abstract enough so our brain doesn't protest at the surrealism of the other elements in the image (tiny trees, big leaves etc). Other textures have a more graphic function, pulling together the elements (the light bent lines that go over some of the leaves or the dripping textures on the heart for example).

Dream of Freedom by ReyeD33

The grimy prison wall is in stark contrast with the world outside, just like life in prison and freedom are different things alltogether.

She draws crosses on the walls. by daunhaus

Smooth and textured areas work together to form something almost abstract.

Taste of Death by Keid

Darkness and light - good and evil - represented in colours, tones and texture.

DARK SIDE by grohsARTig

A great example of abstract art using textures and smoothness to draw the viewers' eyes.

Rusty Cage by NikkiNightBloom

And lastly, one image to serve as the exception that prooves the rule: in this one, the textures are very prominent throughout the image and in this case, they help to enhance the horror-movie atmosphere. But also note that even though the textured-vs-smooth contrast is not evident, there is another form of contrast to take its place: darkness and light.

So how am I supposed to use these textures?

In the case of textures seen as rough vs. smooth patches, the answer as to how to use them naturally goes beyond the aforementioned "use something from the texture gallery and put it on soft light" approach. Even if you include selective application of such textures, you would fall short of what we have seen in the examples above. Often, the texture is already inherent in the photographs you use to create your manips, so maybe instead of asking yourself if you want something to be "textured" at all (as in overlay a texture image), rather ask yourself:

"Are the different elements of these base images helping my image when i put them together or does it feel distracting?"

If you do it that way, yuo might end up deciding to get rid of some more bushes and use more uniform-looking grass instead (or add some bushes if you need more texture) to make sure your main object / animal / person is in focus.

A very popular method to get rid of texture and focus on the main subject is to blur the background and the foreground, mimicking photographic depth of field blur. This sometimes works great, other times I feel like someone was just lazy with their background and overall composition, so they blurred it. It's more or less the "oposite" of using a texture layer all over (or on just the background), just this time, you remove texture instead of adding it.

Here are some examples of where this method works well:

<da:thumb id="357467607"/> <da:thumb id="354361079"/>
 <da:thumb id="351794229"/> Sacrifice by Rafaelll90
BUTTERFLIES by MirellaSantana

This method creates texture-vs-smooth contrast and a sense of depth (see Know your basics - Perspective) all at once, which is probably why it's so popular and often abused rather than used.

Just remember: whatever you do, do it with your eyes open and aware of the effect and considering its negative side effects. And besides: Thinking about an alternative is a good idea to stand out from the crowd.

In Closing

Textures are just one aspect of any image, be it a photomanipulation or a drawing or whatever else, but it can pay off to think about them for a few moments longer than you may be used to. Any image draws their energy from the contrast (or lack thereof) between its individual elements - and aside from light/dark and colour, texture is another way to create contrast!

If you liked this article, you may also like the others from this series, they are linked below.


Articles and Links
Photomanipulation for Beginners

an article about what photomanipulation is and what you need to try it - and on the ever so important issue of "where do I get pictures to play with?"

--> read article <--


Of Copyright & Premades
is an article that strives to explain what copyright means, who it protects and that simply putting work into something will not make using something without permission okay.

Know your Basics - article series:

A series of articles that try to explain some basics in art that you may or may not have heard of before but didn't know what to do with them. All of them are written especially for photo- manipulators, but the principles should hold true in any genre.

--> Know your basics - Colour Theory <--
--> Know your basics - Composition <--
--> Know your basics - Perspective <--
--> Know your basics - Textures <--

Tutorial Treasury

--> 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 <--

Journal Stock Credits: Kaotiksymphony-Stock and iMouritsa.
© 2013 - 2024 kuschelirmel
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UnderlandDigital's avatar
Thank you so much for this honey! I've been using textures more lately and I've been in need of some guidance =D My new goal will be creating abstract textures from scratch but for now this is really helpful! :love: