Textures in Nature

Activity Guide by Kate Kwasneski, Intern, Grinnell College Museum of Art

In this activity, we are going to look at textures found in nature. When you take a walk outside, it’s easy to see that most natural things are not flat. Rocks have bumps and edges, leaves have patterns on them, even blades of grass have fibers you can feel. We’re going to use the textures found in nature to make art! All you’ll need for this project are crayons, a piece of paper, and the ability to go outside.

Paintings by Pamela Crockett and Regan Golden
Left: Pamela Crockett ‘76, Recursive Romanesco, 2017. Oil on linen, 62 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Right: Regan Golden ’00, Last Light, from The Prairie Constructs Series: Fragile Fern, 2019. Collage and digital color photograph mounted to Dibond, 36 x 50 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

When artists create art about nature, they use the textures of plants in a lot of interesting ways. Here are two examples of different ways that an interesting texture can add something to a painting. In the first one, most of the painting is done in one color, and the texture of the plants is what makes it interesting. In the second, real plants are used to give the artwork a 3D texture.

The first step to this project is finding the textures you’d like to use. Grab a box of crayons and go outside! You can stay in your own backyard, or take a walk. Think about the kinds of textures you want to have in your collage. Some good examples of textures in nature are the veins on leaves or the rough pattern of tree bark. For some of this project, you can do it outside. Hold your piece of paper against the things that are too big to bring inside. If you are mostly going to use leaves and flower petals, you can bring those inside and work on a table. Below are some examples of textures I used to make rubbings.

Images of plants to use and an example of a rubbing

To take a crayon rubbing, put the texture you want underneath your paper. Use the side of a crayon to rub back and forth to pick up that texture. The more crayon surface you have, the easier it will be to pick up the texture.

When choosing your colors and textures, here are some things to think about:

  • How many colors do you want to use in your project?
  • Do the colors you chose look nice next to each other?
  • Do you want all of your textures to be separate, or should they overlap?
  • How much white space do you want to leave on the page?
  • How hard are you rubbing? Can you change the texture by rubbing a different way?
Examples of rubbings

If you are happy with your artwork at this point, feel free to leave it just as it is. If you want to go one step further, you can add watercolor over the crayon rubbings!

Because crayons are made of wax, watercolor paint will not stick to the paper where there is crayon. This technique is called wax resist. The wax pushes the paint off of areas where it is, so the paint only sticks around the crayon and not on top of it. You can use wax resist to add interesting effects to your artwork. When adding watercolor, think about whether you want it to match the crayon color you have used, or whether you want to use contrasting colors instead. Think about how color will create a mood. Decide where you want to put the watercolor, whether you just want to put it around the border of your artwork or see how it looks directly under the textures you’ve used. If you brush water over crayon too many times, though, it will start to stick where the wax is, so make sure to go over your paper with paint as few times as possible!

Rubbings with watercolor


When you were looking for textures to use for your project, how did they feel to your fingers? Did you have a favorite texture? Try using words to describe the feeling. Do the leaves you collected feel bumpy or smooth? Do they have rough edges, or any pointy parts? Do the textures you found remind you of anything else, like a leaf that feels like a blanket or a scratchy shirt? Write about it. Do the leaves you collected feel bumpy or smooth? Do they have rough edges, or any pointy parts? Do the textures you found remind you of anything else, like a leaf that feels like a blanket or a scratchy shirt? Write about it. Maybe you could write a poem about your artwork. You could also write like a scientist and list the name of the plant, leaf type, location found, and time of year.

Web support:
Daniel Strong
Associate Director and Curator of Exhibitions
Grinnell College Museum of Art
Rick Johnson
Student Assistant

Grinnell College Museum of Art

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