The textures of tree barks, wooden buildings or gates, rocks and stone or brick walls offer a marvellous opportunity to try to new techniques and to use the painting and drawing media in ways that you might never have thought of before.

“Tricks of the trade” such as spattering water colour or applying it with sponges, scratching into oil paint using wax resist methods or wet-in-wet and wet on dry are all perfectly valid painting techniques as long as the result successfully conveys the textures. We look at a variety of these unconventional methods as well as the more traditional descriptive approaches in which the control of form and detail are of equal importance.


Wood offers one of the greatest ranges of textures of any natural material. In addition to the huge variety of woods seen out of doors, from tree barks to weathered, twisted driftwood, there is an almost infinite number of finishes seen indoors on furniture - the result of sawing, axing planning and polishing many different types of wood.

You don’t always want to emphasise the texture of the barks in a landscape; for example in a woodland scene painted on the pot you may only need to suggest it in broad terms, but when a tree is a foreground feature attention to the texture of the bark can give a focus to the picture.

Decayed or rotting wood in the form of gateposts, faces or mooring jetties also make exciting foreground features in a landscape, or can even be the main centre of interest. Here you will see a whole range of textures, from the dry, hard fissures of weather beaten posts to the soft and crumbling parts of decomposing wood.

There is always a rather romantic and attractive quality to these decaying wood structures, as though they truly belonged to their surroundings. Note the wood and clay pot left to rot can be a rich source of subject matter, as this painting shows. I used a dry brush technique to achieve many of the textures.

If you look closely at the crack you can see how the solid lines peter out as the colour on the brush is gradually used up, producing a broken, dry line that mimics those in the wood. I have used washes and dry brush combine in a careful building-up process, beginning with the lightest tones and finishing with the darker ones.

The soft muted colours also help to convey the weather beaten textures as well as giving an overall unity to the picture.

The great British land scape painter John Constable (1776-1837) loved to include features like these in his paintings to convey the freshness and dampness of the scene. “Old rotten wood slimy posts and brick work. I love such things ... they made me a painter.


When you start drawing textures it is always a good idea to practise by trying to master a simple example. John Ruskin (1819-1900), the critic and artist, use to advice his students to begin by going outside and picking up the first stone they came to in the garden or road. He maintained that learning how to render the special texture and character of this stone, you could learn how to draw anything.

As he made clear, the principle of light, reflected light and shadow are as true of the minutest crack in a pebble as for a large ravine - scale makes no difference. In many ways the textures that you find on smaller stones are very similar to those on a cliff face or in a quarry, and given the right light and angle can often serve as useful models for larger landscape features.

Once you have thoroughly understood forms and textures you can begin to simplify, and this is nearly always necessary when painting large complex rock surfaces such as cliffs. There is no easy recipe for this, but I usually find that trying to commit a scene to memory is helpful, as it compels you to concentrate on the main forms and textures and thus effectively filters out detail. Once the main structure and overall textural effect has been grasped then other information can be slotted into place.

Building materials

Building, boats, trees, fences and rocks all make fascinating painting subjects, especially when they have grown a little weather beaten due to ravages of time and exposure to the elements.

For the watercolour painter, the challenge lies in knowing how to render a convincing illusion of weathered textures, without over working the painting. Walls and buildings made of stone, brick or wood are always an attractive feature in a landscape, often providing a focal point as well as an indication of scale.

The texture of buildings or other manmade structures, whether a dry tone wall an old wooden barn or a brick-built mansion, is a vitally important part of its character. You can paint a tree with no more than a broad general indication of the texture of its bark, or even none at all, but a painting of a building described in flat colour will look both unconvincing and dull.

John Ruskin’s approach to understanding cliffs and mountains, mentioned earlier, is equally valid for features such as dry stone walls and old brick buildings, which often have quite complicated textures, particularly when the stone is old and weathered.

If you are lucky enough to find loose stones or bricks lying about, you might find it helpful to take one home and make some detailed drawn studies. Another thing you can do is experiment with different lighting conditions, because this will show you how much the direction of the light affects the way you see the textures.

When you are working on the spot you obviously cannot control the lighting in quite the way you can indoors, but you can choose the time of day. In general, both colours and textures show up best in low sunlight, which makes tiny shadows that describe small irregularities on the surface. If the sun is too high, the shadows will be minimal, flattening out the textures and bleaching the colours.

Media and methods

Soft pencils with long, tapering points, which produce both line and tone with ease, are an excellent and sensitive drawing medium for conveying the wide range of textures found in wood and stone. Although most watercolour techniques can be adapted to render the textures of wood and stone, there are some methods that can effectively short-circuit the more traditional approaches.


Tissa Hewavitarane

Wednesday, 26 November 2008