Use basic supplies and household items to add interest to your sketchbook.
Just add texture. It not only makes your sketchbook more visually interesting, it’s a great way to experiment and try something new.
Great artwork comes from looking at something in a new way.
But you don’t need specialized tools or art supplies to add texture. You just need a little imagination and some basic items from around the house. I’m going to show you how to use rinse aid, saran wrap, shaving cream, and regular old tape to change up the style of your sketchbook and create something new.
Start with a blank page in your sketchbook, or use this as an opportunity to cover up a page you don’t love. A beautifully textured background will encourage you to draw a new subject and complete a page, or add to a page that just needed a little something extra.
10 Ways to Experiment with Adding Texture
TIP: Keep a test page in the back of your sketchbook where you can try different techniques and see which ones work best with your paper and materials. You can also make it into a layout with your handwritten notes!
1. Marbled Web
One of the most interesting textures you can add comes from an unexpected source – cobwebbing used to decorate the house for Halloween. If you have a background that needs a little old-world flair, give this a try! Painter Trish McKinney showed me how to do this with acrylic paint using a gel printing plate, but it also works beautifully in a sketchbook.
- Apply a light wash of paint and, while it’s still wet, spread out and tack cobwebbing around the corners of your layout with removable blue tape. Let dry.
- The paint will accumulate near the cobwebbing and add a unique texture.
- Once it’s dry, apply another layer over top — with minimal water so that it doesn’t run underneath the webbing.
- Let dry completely before removing cobwebbing.
As a bonus, you can reuse the cobwebbing. The next time you use it, it will redeposit any watercolors that have dried on the surface.
2. Tape Texturing
The torn rough edges of masking tape lend themselves to distant landscapes, allowing you to focus on the foreground of your sketch.
- Tear masking tape and apply pieces to your page. Burnish the tape to get a good seal.
- Apply watercolors to your page.
- Dry between layers, adding more tape if desired during each layer.
- Once done and completely dried, peel tape off to reveal layers underneath.
- Leave some pieces on if you like the effect.
3. Drip Effects with Alcohol
When watercolors interact with rubbing alcohol, you get an organic and spontaneous background that looks otherworldly.
- Apply a wash of watercolors to your page and let it dry completely.
- Using the same or a contrasting color, dilute your paint slightly and paint another layer over top.
- Pour rubbing alcohol into a dropper or a spray bottle and apply to your pages for varied textures. Let dry completely.
You can get another look by dipping a cotton swab or ball into rubbing alcohol and applying it to the page, or letting the soaked cotton drip. Let dry. Be careful with the amount of alcohol you add – depending on your paper, it could show through.
4. Using Salt Flowers
This texture gives a lot of depth using cooking salt. Think about using it as a background or underpainting for a group of shells in a shallow, watery, or tropical beach setting. It also creates drama for a starry night sky. It all depends on the colors you choose!
- Wash the page with two or more watercolors.
- While wet, sprinkle some sea salt (or Fleur de Sel, which literally translates to ‘salt flowers’).
- Let dry completely and gently brush the salt off the page with your fingers.
5. Wax Resist
You may remember this technique from dying easter eggs as a child, but you can take it to the next level by using it in your sketchbook, both to retain the white of the paper, or to retain a prior layer of color.
It can make negative painting a detailed scene (think picket or chain link fence) a lot easier. I like it so much I once terrorized my small children by showing them my custom box of 64 crayons – all in white.
- Apply a light-colored crayon over the area you want to mask, or over a stencil design.
- Apply a contrasting wash of watercolors over the top of the entire design.
- While wet, brush other colors into the wet wash.
- The crayon will resist the watercolor while giving you a sketchy feel to the masked effect.
6. Dry Erase
Have you ever wished a watercolor sketch had just a little more lift or highlight in an area?
While you can use a paint pen to achieve this look, sometimes that texture doesn’t work for adding more washes. Or maybe you want a light contrast rather than pure white. Depending on your paper, you can easily achieve this on a completely dried painting.
- Start by painting an area with pure water from your brush or spraying water over a stencil. Count to ten, allowing the paint to reactivate.
- Blot the area with a cloth towel — very lightly. Blot it once more.
- Take that same cloth towel and rub over the spot to erase the paint. How hard you rub will determine how much paint comes off. If you used a ‘staining’ watercolor, you won’t get as much lift.
This is a great way to add white birch trees to a background of dark green paint. Or it can be as simple as a highlight on a metal railing.
7. Jet Dry Drip
Applied to a wash of watery acrylic ink or fluid acrylic paint, this technique creates a resist and, depending on the drips or design applied, can create peeled paint finish or fresco finish.
- Thin your fluid acrylic paint or ink with water.
- Apply a wash over your surface.
- While wet, quickly drip and tilt, spray or stamp into page with rinse aid onto the surface.
- Dry the paint with a heat tool.
- Dap off rinse aid with baby wipes or a slightly damp towel. Repeat as desired.
8. Vaseline Veil
This masking technique is almost so easy that it feels like cheating, but it creates really beautiful halo effects. You don’t need to plan ahead, but you should use this technique on waterproof media such as acrylic paint or inks. Otherwise, it will be reactivated by the petroleum jelly.
- Stamp, paint and decorate your page as desired with a waterproof media.
- When painting is dry, use your fingers to apply dabs of petroleum jelly on the areas you want to mask off slightly. You can also use a stiff bristled paintbrush.
- Paint the remainder of the page with your medium of choice and allow to dry.
- Wipe off petroleum jelly with a dry towel to reveal the protected areas.
- Add additional details as desired.
9. Shaving Cream Effect
To create a background that won’t lose its splendid marks when you paint over the top, try this technique with acrylic or alcohol-based inks. This technique can be messy – but as long as you protect the next page with a taped in sheet of deli wrap – it has delightful results. You can mask off areas with masking tape if you want to leave a margin around the spread.
- Working on a Teflon or silicone craft sheet, mark off the general size of your page with a permanent marker (this can be removed with rubbing alcohol later).
- Apply shaving cream to the marked off area and spread like you are evenly frosting a cake. An old hotel room key works great for this part.
- Drip your medium of choice into the shaving cream. If you want a recognizable pattern, try to create even rows of these dots of colors.
- Using a narrow toothpick or a silicone-tipped tool, connect the dots and swirl the colors. Do this as much as you like. Your colors will blend as little or as much as you like. The beauty of this technique is that you aren’t committing to paper until you are happy with what you see in the shaving cream.
- Place your sketchbook layout right-side-down into the shaving cream.
- Lift it off carefully and place it onto a protected surface. Scrape back the shaving cream, a little at a time and discard as you reveal your masterpiece.
10. That’s a Wrap
Let’s finish up with some simple techniques that involve products you probably have in your kitchen cupboards: tissue paper, cling wrap, and aluminum foil.
Apply a wash over an already dried background, in a contrasting color and try one of these effects with kitchen wrap while it’s still wet.
- Crumple and unfurl a piece of cling wrap and place it over the top of the wet paint. Let dry. Remove wrap.
- Same as above, but with aluminum foil this time. It creates a different quality of mark.
- Crumple a tissue and let it sit on top, absorbing in the wet watercolor. Remove and reapply as long as it is still able to absorb until the paint is dry.
Creating texture with basic household supplies helps add visual interest to your sketchbook, and you don’t need special supplies to get started. Try one technique, try them all, or discover your own ways to add texture to your drawings.
About: Sally Lynn MacDonald has worked in the art materials industry for over a decade. She attends trade shows where manufacturers present the latest trends, newest colors and coolest tools. She has rarely met an art supply she didn’t want to own in every color. You can take advantage of her #fullsetsyndrome to navigate the world of art materials from her Studio Lab. This Anarchivist® seeks to abandon rules and reacquaint you with the passion of creating something from nothing. Even if it does seem like she has everything at her disposal.