First things first, in the context of this article, when I use the word medium, I mean something you mix with paint to change its consistency. I’m mentioning this because a medium can also mean the type of paint, for instance, acrylic or watercolor. (You can usually judge what is meant by the context in which the word is used.)
Texture medium (or gel or paste) is, as the name suggests, used to add surface texture to a painting. It’s stiffer than paint straight from the tube, so will hold a form or shape more readily. It’s also cheaper than paint, so an economical way to build up thick layers of impasto. You can mix it with a color, or paint over it.
The photo shows a tub of texture gel where I’ve scooped out a lump with a palette knife. You can see how the medium holds its shape. It doesn’t drip or droop, but stays put. You can create peaks and grooves with a palette knife, brush marks with a coarse-haired brush, press patterns into it, use it as glue to add collage items. It’s extremely versatile!
If you’re wondering about the texture medium being white rather than clear, this is one of the properties of texture medium you should pay attention to on the label.
Properties of Acrylic Texture Medium
Different brands of acrylic texture medium are formulated differently and variously labeled as pastes, gels, and mediums. They all do the same job of adding texture, but some will be glossy when dry and others matt; some will dry completely transparent, others will be slightly opaque or stay white. The medium may also act as a retarder to give you more time to work with it.
How to you know what it’ll be like? Read the label on the container, which should give you this information. If it doesn’t, see if there’s an information sheet available from the manufacturer, or test it before you use it on a canvas. Be aware that there are differences, so that if a new tub of texture medium doesn’t act quite as you expect, you don’t panic that you’re doing something wrong.
Whether it’s glossy or matt isn’t absolutely crucial as you can change something from glossy to matt (or matt to glossy) when you varnish a painting relatively easily. You simply use a varnish that gives the finish you want.
The opaqueness of the medium is important if you’re mixing it with a color as it will have an impact on what the color looks like when it’s dry. Don’t get caught out by a medium making your colors appear lighter than you’d intended. It’s something you learn from a bit of trial and error, until you get a feel for it. Remember, you can paint over the texture medium, so if something isn’t the right color when it’s dry, it’s not a disaster.
How long texture paste takes to dry depends on how thick you’ve used it. Very thick layers will be touch dry in a few minutes, but not dry all the way through, so if you apply lots of pressure it may flatten. Again, a little experimentation will soon teach you what to expect.
Clear vs White Texture Medium for Acrylics
This photo shows two different types of texture medium, spread on a piece of brown cardboard without any paint mixed in. On the left is a texture paste, on the right a texture gel. I chose the two as obvious examples of how some mediums dry opaque white and some transparent. It’s crucial to check what the bottle label says before you use it so you don’t get an unwanted surprise in an important painting.
Next: let’s take a look at how to apply texture paste to a canvas…
How to Apply Acrylic Texture Paste
You can use anything to apply texture paste onto a canvas or a sheet of paper. Different tools will produce different textures. A coarse or stiff-haired brush will create more marks in the paint than a soft brush. I like using a painting knife because it’s easy to get the paste out of the tub, it’s easy to spread out and to scratch patterns into the paste.
Spreading texture paste with a painting knife is akin to buttering a slice of bread with a springy knife. The action is the same, and if you don’t like what you’ve done, you can scrape it all up and start again.
In the photo I’m using texture paste straight from the container, without mixing any paint into it. This particular brand looks very white at this stage, but won’t be when it’s dry. You can also see that I’ve applied, applying the paste on top of some dried paint — as with all acrylic mediums, you can use it at any stage in a painting’s development.
Pressing into Texture Medium
If you press a painting knife into the texture medium (left photo) and then lift it off (right photo), the result is a ridged texture. It’s very different to the smooth result, you get when you spread the paste sideways. It’s a bit unpredictable, as it depends on how much medium, you’ve used, how dry it is, and the size/shape of your painting knife.
There’s tremendous potential here, for textures in the skies, sea shores, grasses, rusted surfaces, windswept hair. Don’t focus on getting a perfect end result when you first use texture paste, but play around and experiment to see what happens. Once it’s dry, it’s time to paint over it…
Painting Over Texture Medium
Once the texture medium has dried, you can paint over it without disturbing it. The two photos here (click on photo to see a bigger version) are details from the foreground of one of my seascape paintings where I pressed a knife into the texture paste, let it dry, then applied paint over it with a brush and by spattering.
By running a brush over the surface lightly, the paint hits only the top ridges of the texture. By pressing a brush firmly against the surface, it’ll go in between the ridges too. Another option is to use very fluid paint, which will flow off the ridges and puddle between them.
Correcting Mistakes in Acrylic Texture Medium
While it’s still wet, it’s easy to fix mistakes in texture medium or to remove it. Simply scrape it off with a painting knife or a cloth. How much time you’ve got before it dries depends on what brand you’re using and how hot it is in your studio. A draft across your painting will also increase drying time. Again, it’s something you’ll get a feeling for through experience.
If in doubt, remove the medium when it’s still wet and then think about what you’re doing with it. Because when it’s dry, however, you’ll have to take some sandpaper to smooth down the surface.