In “Graphic Design: The New Basics,” the authors make a distinction between virtual texture and physical texture. Virtual texture is the “optical appearance of a surface:” As a viewer, we can learn something about an object or image without actually having to touch it. Physical texture refers to the literal surface: A magazine might be printed on glossy or matte paper, depending on the message it is trying to convey (think of holding a tabloid paper in the check out line at the grocery store as opposed to a fashion magazine). Even in the case of the magazines, the texture informs our eye before we touch the pages themselves. Painting with my two-and-a-half-year-old at home reminded me of the difference between visual and physical texture. I encouraged her to paint with a paint brush, but she quickly gave that up and began painting with her hands. The marks on the paper were clearly distinct, even though the paint color was all the same: you could tell which ones were smeared with her hands or painted with the brush because of their unique and distinct visual presence.
I also thought it was interesting that the chapter on texture talked about letterforms/typography/fonts in relation to texture. Different typefaces (or fonts) have inherently different textures, depending on how they are designed, spaced, and scaled. Some are very bold and some are very fine, some have little contrast and some have no contrast. In this example, the very bold font stands out against the green patterned background in part because it is so thick. The book notes that texture is often most powerful when contrast (visual difference) is used as part of the design. In this case, color contrast is also part of what makes a visual distinction.
The visual nature of letters and words are often even more obvious to us when we look at foreign languages. In this final example, invented Chinese characters by the artist Xu Bing are presented on giant scrolls, which fill a large room in a museum. In this case, the characters begin to feel like a fine, delicate overall texture. Likewise, linear pattern emerges as the characters start to group into vertical columns. This happens in part because of the consistent white space between each column. Also, the characters do not line up into horizontal columns.