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Art Terms

Glossary of Art Terms


ABSORBENT GROUND.- It is an absorbent material ,for example towels, rags, and sponges, they are often used to blot, clean up, apply and spread colors, etc.

ACRYLIC EMULSION.- I is a water dispersion of polymers or co-polymers of acrylic acid, methacrylic acid, or acrylonitrile. This liquid dries by evaporation of the water and film coalescence.

ACRYLIC SOLUTION.- It is a solution of acrylic resin in a volatile solvent. Paints made with this liquid binder resemble oil paints more than those made with acrylic emulsion binders.

ADDITIVE COLOR.- It is a color that results from the mixture of two or more colored lights.

ALKYD.- Synthetic resin that are used in paints and mediums. As a medium Liquin from Winsor and Newton works as a binder that encapsulates the pigment and speeds the drying time.

ALLA PRIMA.- It is a technique in which the final surface of the painting is completed in one sitting, without under painting.

ANHYDROUS.- Without water.

ARCHIVAL.- Those are the materials that meet certain criteria for permanence, for example lignin-free, pH neutral, alkaline-buffered, stable in light, etc.

ASTM.- The American Society for Testing and Materials. An independent standard for paint qualities, it is adopted by most manufacturers.


BINDER.- The ingredient in the vehicle of a paint which adheres the pigment particles to one another and to the ground.

BISTRE.- A brown and transparent pigment.

BLEEDING.- In artwork, it is the effect of a dark color seeping through a lighter color to the surface.

BLENDING.- Smoothing the edges of two colors together so that they have a smooth gradation where they meet.

BLOOM.- It is a fine cloudy discoloration which forms, on the surface of varnish, or on melted wax or concrete cast in a plaster mold.

BODY COLOR.- An opaque paint, which has the covering power to obliterate underlying color.

BRUSHWORK.- The particular manner in which an artist applies paint with a brush.


CANVAS.- Closely woven cloth used as a support for paintings.

CARTOON.- It is a planning device in mural painting, often a full-scale line drawing of the design, without color and tone.

CASEIN.- A natural protein made of cow's milk. Produces a flat, water-resistant film.

CHIAROSCURO.- A word used to describe the effect of light and shade in a painting or drawing.

CROSSHATCHING.- More than one set of close parallel lines that crisscross each other at angles, to model and indicate tone.

CHROMA.- The relative intensity or purity of a hue when compared to grayness or lack of hue.

COCKLING.- Wrinkling in paper supports, caused by applying washes onto a flimsy or improperly stretched surface.

COLLAGE.- A technique of picture making in which are used materials other than the traditional paint, such as cut paper, wood, sand, and so on.

COMPOSITION.- It is the arrangement of all the elements by an artist in a painting or drawing.

CO-POLYMERS.- A polymer in which the molecule is of more than one type of structural unit.

COPAL.- A hard resin that is used in making varnishes and painting mediums.


DAMAR.- A resin from conifer trees, used to make oil mediums and varnishes.

DEAD COLOR.- A word used to name colors used in underpainting.

DECKLE EDGE.- The ragged edge found on handmade papers.

DECOUPAGE.- Cut out paper designs and apply them to a surface to make an all over collage.

DESIGNER COLORS.- Best quality Gouache paints, commonly used in commercial art.

DILUENTS.- Liquids, such as turpentine, used to dilute oil paint, the diluent for waterbased media is water.

DISPERSION.- Applied to paint, a smooth, homogeneous mixture of ingredients; the process of dispersal, in which pigment particles are evenly distributed throughout the vehicle.

DISTEMPER.- A blend of glue, a paint made of chalk and water, commonly used for murals and posters.

DRIER.- It is a material used to accelerate or initiate the drying of an oil paint or oil by promoting oxidation.

DRYING OIL.- An oil that, when spread into a thin layer and exposed to air, absorbs oxygen and converts into a tough film.


EMULSION.- A suspension of small globules of one liquid in a second liquid with which the first will not mix.

ENCAUSTIC.- It is a painting technique in which the binder is melted wax.


FAT.- That is a word used to describe paints that have a high oil content.

FILLER.- Inert pigment that is added to paint in order to increase its bulk, it is also called extender.

FILM.- A thin coating or layer of paint, ink or other similar material.

FIXATIVE.- It is a solution sprayed onto drawings, to prevent their smudging or crumbling off the support.

FRESCO.- A painting technique in which the pigments are dispersed in plain water and applied to a damp plaster wall.

FUGITIVE COLORS.- Pigment or dye colors that fade when exposed to light.


GESSO.- A white ground material used to prepare rigid supports for painting. It is made of a mixture of chalk, white pigment, and glue.

GLAZE.- A thin, transparent colored paint applied over a previously painted surface used to alter the appearance and color of the surface.

GOUACHE.- Opaque watercolors that are used for illustrations.

GRISSAILLE.- A monochromatic painting, often gray, which can be used under colored glazes.

GROUND.- coating material applied to a support to make it ready for painting.

GUM.- A substance based of plants that is soluble in water.

GUM ARABIC.- A gum, extracted from Acacia trees, used in solution as a medium for watercolor paints.


HATCHING.- A technique of modeling, indicating tone and suggesting light and shade in drawing or tempera panting, using closely set parallel line.

HUE.- The perceived color of an object that is identified by a common name such as blue, red, orange.

HYGROSCOPIC.- Absorbing or attracting moisture from the air.


IMPASTO.- A style of painting that is characterized by thick, juicy color application.

IMPRIMATURA.- A thin, veil of paint applied to a ground to lessen the ground's absorbency or to tint the ground to a middle value.

INTENSITY.- The purity and brightness of a color. It is also called saturation.


JAGGIES.- In digital imaging, picture elements that are so large that the viewer becomes aware of them as small squares.

JOINNT.- A connection between two pieces of material.


KAKEMONO.- In the Japanese art tradition is a painting mounted for hanging vertically.

KARAT.- A unit of weight for gemstone, it is equal to one fifth of a gram (200 milligrams).

KEY.- It is used to describe the prevailing tone of a painting. In contemporary mural painting, the key is the result of scratching a walls surface to prepare for final layer of plaster.


LAKE.- A dye chemically or electrically attached to a particle, it does not bleed or migrate.

LATEX.- A dispersion in water of a solid polymeric material.

LEACHING.- It is the process of drawing out excess liquid through a porous substance.

LEAN.- Used as an adjective to describe paint thinned with a spirit, therefore, it has a low oil content.

LEVIGATING.- It is a method of water-washing pulverized pigments that is used to clear the particles of dissolved salts or organic matter.

LIGHTFAST.- Resistant to fading or other changes due to light.

LOCAL COLOR.- The color of an object or a surface, unaffected by shadow coloring, light quality or other factors.

LOOM STATE.- Canvas that has not been primed, sized or prepared beforehand for painting.

LATEX.- A dispersion in water of a solid polymeric material.


MATIERE.- Paint.

MAROUFLAGE.- A technique for attaching mural size painting on paper or fabric to a wall.

MASSTONE.- The top tone or body color of a paint seen only by reflected light.

MAT.- A stiff cardboard that has a window cut out of the center, attached to a backboard.

MATTE.- Flat, nonglossy; having a dull surface appearance.

MEDIUM.- It is the liquid in which pigments are suspended. Also a material chosen by the artist for working.

MIGRATION.- The action of a pigment or dye moving through a dried film above or below it.

MIXED MEDIA.- It is the use of different media in the same picture.

MONOMER.- A material with low molecular weight that can react with similar or dissimilar materials to form a polymer.

MOSAIC.- Picture making technique that uses small units of variously colored materials such as glass, tile, stone.

MURAL.- This term describes any painting made directly on the wall.

MUSEUM BOARD.- Multi ply board made of cotton rags or buffered cellulose to ensure chemical stability and neutrality.


NAMBAN.- In Japanese art, a picture of foreigners.

NAPHTHALENE.- A toxic and crystalline material used as a fumigant.

NAPLES YELLOW.- Particular yellow pigment.


OBLONG.- A shape stretched out from a circle or square shape so that it is longer than it is wide.

OBVERSE.- The principal side of any object, especially any two-sided object, such as a coin or a panel which has a painting on each side.

OPAQUE.- Something that cannot be seen through; the opposite of transparent.


PALETTE.- The surface used to mix his colors, it is also the range of colors used by an artist.

PATINA.- Originally the green brown encrustation on bronze, now includes natural effects of age or exposure on a surface.

PENTIMENTO.- It's the condition of old paintings the where lead-containing pigments have become more transparent over the pass of time, revealing earlier layers.

PIGMENTS.- They are the particles with inherent color that can be mixed with adhesive binders to form paint.

PLASTICIZER.- Ingredients that are added to paints, in order make it flow or to redissolve them faster.

PLEIN AIR.- French for "open air". This term is used to describe paintings that are made outside, directly from the subject.

POLYMER.- A series of monomers strung together in a repeating chainlike form.

PRECIPITATE.- An inert particle to which dyes can be laked.

PRESERVATIVE.- A material used to prevent or inhibit the growth of microorganisms in organic mixtures.

PRIMER.- A coating material, usually white, which is applied to a support to prepare it for painting.

PVA.- Polyvinyl acetate, a manmade resin that is used as a paint medium and in varnish.


QUICKLIME.- Lime, burnt lime, caustic lime, made by burning calcium carbonate.

QUILL.- In drawing and calligraphy, a pen made from a goose's feather.


REFRACTION.- The bending of light from one course in one medium to a different course through another another medium of different refractive index.

REFRACTIVE INDEX.- The numerical ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to its speed in a substance.

RESINS.- A term used for a wide variety of more or less transparent, fusible materials, it is used to designate any polymer that is a basic material for paints and plastics.


SANQUINE.- A red-brown chalk.

SAPONIFICATION.- It is the process by which a paint binder, under moist and alkaline conditions, becomes transparent or discolored.

SCUMBLING.- A technique that consists on applying a thin, semi-opaque or translucent coating of paint over a previously painted surface in order to alter the color or appearance of the surface without totally obscuring it.

SECCO.- It is a technique of wall-painting onto dry plaster, or lime plaster that is dampened shortly before paint is applied.

SFUMATO.- Gradual, almost imperceptible transitions of color from light to dark.

SGRAFFITO.- A technique in which the surface layer is incised or cut away to reveal a contrasting color.

SHADE.- A term for a color darkened with black.

SHELLAC.- A yellow resin made of secretions of the LAC insect, it is used in making varnish.

SILICATE.- A material, sand for example, that is composed of a metal, oxygen, and silicon.

SILVERPOINT.- A drawing method using a piece of metal, drawn on a ground prepared with Chinese white, sometimes with pigment added.

SINOPIA.- A red-brown chalk that is used for marking-out frescoes; also the preliminary drawing itself.

SIZE.- A material which is applied to a surface as a penetrating sealer, to alter or lessen its absorbency and isolate it from subsequent coatings.

SKETCH.- A preliminary drawing of a composition.

SQUARING UP.- A method used to transfer an image to a larger or smaller format.

STRAINER.- A wooden chassis for textile supports that has rigid, immovable corners.

STRETCHER.- A wooden chassis for textile supports that has expandable corners.

SUBTRACTIVE COLOR.- Color that results from the absorption of light.

STUDY.- A drawing or painting made of one or more parts of a final composition, but not the whole work.

SUPPORT.- The basic substrata of the painting; paper, cotton, linen, wall, etc.


TEMPERA.- A technique of painting in which water and egg yolk or whole egg and oil mixture form the binder for the paint. Cheap opaque paints used in schools.

THIXOTROPIC.- Materials that are thick and viscous while at rest but will flow if brushed, stirred, or shaken.

TINT.- Term used for a color lightened with white.

TONER.- An unlaked dye that can bleed or migrate through dried paint films.

TOOTH.- Small grained but even texture. Tooth provides for the attachment of succeeding layers of paint.

TRACTION.- In oils, the movement of one paint layer over another.

TRAGACANTH.- A gum that is extracted from certain Astragalus plants and which is used as a binding agent in watercolor paints and pastels.

TROMPE L'OEIL.- A painting realistic and naturalistic details, aiming to persuade the viewer that they are looking at an actual object, not a representation.


UNDERPAINTING.- The traditional stage in oil painting of using a monochrome or dead color as a base for composition.

UKI-E.- Perspective picture in Japanese art.

ULTRAMARINE.- Blue pigment originally made from ground lapis lazuli.


VALUE.- The relative lightness or darkness of a hue. Black is low value and white is a high value.

VARNISH.- A more or less transparent film-forming liquid that dries into a solid film.

VEDUTA.- An accurate representation of an urban landscape.

VEHICLE.- The entire liquid contents of a paint.

VENICE TURPENTINE.- An oleo resin derived from the larch and used primarily in making mediums and diluents for oil painting.

VERDACCIO.- Old term for green underpainting.

VOLATILE.- Evaporating easily or rapidly.

VOLUME.- The space that a object or figure fills in a drawing or painting.


WASH.- A thin layer of transparent or heavily diluted paint or ink.

WATERCOLOR.- A technique of painting that uses a binder made from a water-soluble gum. Watercolors can be transparent or opaque.

WATER TENSION BREAKER.- Substance added to water or to water-based paints in order to reduce surface tension.

WAX RESIST.- The use of a waxy medium in order to make a design over which a colored wash is spread.

WET ON WET.- The application of fresh paint over an area on which the paint is still wet.

WHITE SPIRITS.- A thinner that is used with oil paints replacing Turpentine.

WHITING.- Chalk which is purified, ground with water and dried to form an inert pigment.


XYLOGRAPHY.- Rarely used term for woodblock printing.

XEROGRAPHY.- A photocopying process in which a negative image formed by a resinous powder on an electrically charged plate is electrically transferred to and thermally fixed as positive on a paper or other copying surface.


YARD.- A unit of distance measurement equal to three feet, or equal to 36 inches.

YELLOWING.- This effect on oil paintings is caused by one of these reasons: excessive use of linseed oil medium; applying any of the varnishes that are prone to yellow with age; or an accumulation of dirt embedded into the varnish.


ZINCOGRAPHY.- A lithographic process that uses zinc plates instead of stone ones.

ZONE SYSTEM.- A photographic technique for producing photos with an optimum range of value.

ZOOMORPHIC.- Describes the forms of works of art and ornaments based on animal shapes.