When people think of how to paint textures, they usually think of additive techniques, meaning those in which you add paint (or found objects) to the piece. An approach I really enjoy that creates fascinating textures is a subtractive one. This means that you apply paint to the surface, and then use something to lift paint up.
You can use a variety of things to remove paint from your painting surface, such as brushes loaded with thinner, or paper towels, plastic wrap, palette knives or scrapers – just about anything you can think of, really!
A fun technique I recently discovered uses a kneaded eraser. I get six or seven large kneaded erasers and combine them to create one large eraser. I press the eraser into the surface of various stones and fossils I have collected. This creates organic textures in the eraser. I then press the eraser onto a board with wet oil paint on it. The peaks in the textured eraser pick up the paint, so when I remove the eraser I am left with a very unique texture.
01. Laying down the oils
I begin by laying in a thin layer of acrylic paint (Raw Sienna and Raw Umber in this case) on a small gessoed panel in a quick and painterly fashion. This piece is going to be a surreal portrait, so I paint thickly in oils to describe the shape and features of the head. I also apply thick oil paint around the top of the head.
02. Shape your eraser
My goal is to use the subtractive eraser technique to create a textural transition between the head and the background. I press my eraser into a large piece of green malachite, which creates wonderful shapes in the eraser. I then plot where to place the eraser on the painting to get the maximum effect.
03. Lifting the oil
I press the eraser firmly into the areas around the head (but not so hard that it completely flattens the eraser). When I remove the eraser, the oil paint has lifted and the thin acrylics beneath are revealed in a kind of ethereal texture that is perfect for the mood I want to create in this piece.