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Glossary of Art Terms

Glossary of Art Terms

Welcome to Rex Art's Glossary of common Art Terms. Here we hope to give you a brief definition of various art terms which might be unfamiliar. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas please e-mail us.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A

ABSORBENT GROUND

A chalk ground which absorbs oil and is used in oil painting to achieve a matt effect and to speed up drying.

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ACRYLIC EMULSION

A water dispersion of polymers or co-polymers of acrylic acid, methacrylic acid, or acrylonitrile. Acrylic emulsions dry by evaporation of the water and film coalescence.

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ACRYLIC SOLUTION

A solution of acrylic resin in a volatile solvent. Paints made with an acrylic solution binder resemble oil paints more than those made with acrylic emulsion binders.

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ADDITIVE COLOR

Color that results from the mixture of two or more colored lights, the visual blending of separate spots of transmitted colored light.

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ALKYD

Synthetic resin 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. In Paints W&N Griffith paints are good example of alkyd paints.

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ALLA PRIMA

Technique in which the final surface of a painting is completed in one sitting, without under painting. Italian for "at the first".

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ANHYDROUS

Free from water.

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ARCHIVAL

Refers to materials that meet certain criteria for permanence such as lignin-free, pH neutral, alkaline-buffered, stable in light, etc.

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ASTM

The American Society for Testing and Materials. An independent standard for certain paint qualities, adopted by most manufacturers.

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B

BINDER

The nonvolatile adhesive liquid portion of a paint that attaches pigment particles and the paint film as a whole to the support.

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BISTRE

A brown, transparent pigment.

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BLEEDING

In artwork, the effect of a dark color seeping through a lighter color to the surface.

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BLENDING

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

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BLOOM

A dull, progressively opaque, white effect caused on varnished surfaces by damp conditions.

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BODY COLOR

Opaque paint, such as gouache, which has the covering power to obliterate underlying color.

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BRUSHWORK

The characteristic way each artist brushes paint onto a support..

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C

CANVAS

Closely woven cloth used as a support for paintings.

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CARTOON

Other than what we watch on TV it is a planning device in mural painting, often a full-scale line drawing of the design, without color and tone.

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CASEIN

A natural protein obtained from cow's milk. Produces a flat, water-resistant film.

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CHIAROSCURO

Term is used to describe the effect of light and shade in a painting or drawing, especially where strong tonal contrasts are used.

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CROSSHATCHING

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

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CHROMA

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

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COCKLING

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

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COLLAGE

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

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COMPOSITION

The arrangement of elements by an artist in a painting or drawing.

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CO-POLYMERS

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

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COPAL

A hard resin used in making varnishes and painting mediums.

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D

DAMAR

A resin from conifer trees, used in making oil mediums and varnishes.

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DEAD COLOR

A term for colors used in underpainting.

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DECKLE EDGE

The ragged edge found on handmade papers.

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DECOUPAGE

The act of cutting out paper designs and applying them to a surface to make an all over collage.

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DESIGNER COLORS

Best quality Gouache paints, often used in commercial art.

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DILUENTS

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

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DISPERSION

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

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DISTEMPER

A blend of glue, chalk and water-based paint, used mostly for murals and posters.

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DRIER

A material that accelerates or initiates the drying of an oil paint or oil by promoting oxidation.

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DRYING OIL

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

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E

EMULSION

A liquid in which small droplets of one liquid are immiscible in, but thoroughly and evenly dispersed throughout, a second liquid. eg. Acrylic Emulsion

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ENCAUSTIC

Literally, to burn in. A painting technique in which the binder is melted wax.

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F

FAT

A term used to describe paints which have a high oil content.

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FILLER

Inert pigment added to paint to increase its bulk, also called extender.

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FILM

A thin coating or layer of paint, ink, etc.

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FIXATIVE

A solution, usually of shellac and alcohol, sprayed onto drawings, to prevent their smudging or crumbling off the support.

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FRESCO

A painting technique in which the pigments are dispersed in plain water and applied to a damp plaster wall. The wall becomes the binder, as well as the support.

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FUGITIVE COLORS

Pigment or dye colors that fade when exposed to light.

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G

GESSO

A white ground material for preparing rigid supports for painting. made of a mixture of chalk, white pigment, and glue. Same name applied to acrylic bound chalk and pigment used on flexible supports as well as rigid.

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GLAZE

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

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GOUACHE

Opaque watercolors used for illustrations.

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GRISSAILLE

A monochromatic painting, usually in gray, which can be used under colored glazes.

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GROUND

coating material, usually white, applied to a support to make it ready for painting.

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GUM

A plant substance that is soluble in water.

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GUM ARABIC

A gum, extracted fro Acacia trees, used in solution as a medium for watercolor paints.

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H

HATCHING

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

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HUE

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

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HYGROSCOPIC

Absorbing or attracting moisture from the air.

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I

IMPASTO

A style of painting characterized by thick, juicy color application.

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IMPRIMATURA

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

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INTENSITY

The purity and brightness of a color. Also called saturation.

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J

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K

KEY

Used to describe the prevailing tone of a painting. A predominantly light painting is said to have a high key. In contemporary mural painting, the key is the result of scratching a walls surface to prepare for final layer of plaster - similar to "tooth"

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L

LAKE

A dye that has been chemically or electrically attached to a particle and does not bleed or migrate.

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LATEX

A dispersion in water of a solid polymeric material.

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LEACHING

The process of drawing out excess liquid through a porous substance.

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LEAN

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

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LEVIGATING

A method of water-washing pulverized pigments to clear the particles of dissolved salts or organic matter.

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LIGHTFAST

Resistant to fading or other changes due to light.

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LOCAL COLOR

The actual color of an object or surface, unaffected by shadow coloring, light quality or other factors.

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LOOM STATE

Canvas that has not been primed, sized or otherwise prepared beforehand for painting.

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LATEX

A dispersion in water of a solid polymeric material.

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M

MATIERE

Paint.

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MAROUFLAGE

A technique for attaching, with glue, mural size painting on paper or fabric to a wall.

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MASSTONE

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

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MAT

A stiff cardboard with a window cut out of the center, attached to a backboard.

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MATTE

Flat, nonglossy; having a dull surface appearance. Variant spelling - matt.

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MEDIUM

The liquid in which pigments are suspended. Also a material chosen by the artist for working. Plural is media.

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MIGRATION

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

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MIXED MEDIA

In drawing and painting this refers to the use of different media in the same picture.

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MONOMER

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

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MOSAIC

Picture making technique using small units of variously colored materials (glass, tile, stone) set in a mortar.

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MURAL

Also referred to as wall painting. this word describes any painting made directly on the wall.

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MUSEUM BOARD

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

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N

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O

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P

PALETTE

The surface which a painter will mix his colors. Also the range of colors used by an artist.

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PATINA

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

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PENTIMENTO

A condition of old paintings where lead-containing pigments have become more transparent over time, revealing earlier layers.

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PIGMENTS

particles with inherent color that can be mixed with adhesive binders to form paint.

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PLASTICIZER

Ingredients added to paint to either make it flow or be easily redissolved.

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PLEIN AIR

French for "open air". Term describing paintings done outside directly from the subject.

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POLYMER

A series of monomers strung together in a repeating chainlike form. That really makes it clear ;)

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PRECIPITATE

An inert particle to which dyes can be laked.

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PRESERVATIVE

A material that prevents or inhibits the growth of microorganisms in organic mixtures.

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PRIMER

Coating material, usually white, applied to a support to prepare it for painting.

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PVA

Polyvinyl acetate, a manmade resin used as a paint medium and in varnish.

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Q

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R

REFRACTION

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

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REFRACTIVE INDEX

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

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RESINS

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

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S

SANQUINE

A red-brown chalk.

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SAPONIFICATION

The process in which a paint binder, under moist and alkaline conditions, becomes transparent or discolored.

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SCUMBLING

The technique of applying a thin, semi-opaque or translucent coating of paint over a previously painted surface to alter the color or appearance of the surface without totally obscuring it.

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SECCO

Italian for "dry". A technique of wall-painting onto dry plaster, or lime plaster that is dampened shortly before paint is applied

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SFUMATO

Italian for "shaded off". Gradual, almost imperceptible transitions of color from light to dark.

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SGRAFFITO

Technique in which the surface layer is incised or cut away to reveal a contrasting color.

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SHADE

Term for a color darkened with black.

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SHELLAC

A yellow resin formed from secretions of the LAC insect, used in making varnish.

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SILICATE

Material, such as sand, that is composed of a metal, oxygen, and silicon.

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SILVERPOINT

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

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SINOPIA

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

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SIZE

Material applied to a surface as a penetrating sealer, to alter or lessen its absorbency and isolate it from subsequent coatings.

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SKETCH

A preliminary drawing of a composition.

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SQUARING UP

A method for transferring an image to a larger or smaller format. Return to top

STRAINER

A wooden chassis for textile supports that has rigid, immovable corners. Return to top

STRETCHER

A wooden chassis for textile supports that has expandable corners.

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SUBTRACTIVE COLOR

Color resulting from the absorption of light.

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STUDY

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

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SUPPORT

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

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T

TEMPERA

Technique of painting in which water and egg yolk or whole egg and oil mixture form the binder for the paint. Used also as a term for cheap opaque paints used in schools.

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THIXOTROPIC

Referring to materials that are thick and viscous while at rest but will flow if brushed, stirred, or shaken. Resumes its viscous state when the agitation stops.

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TINT

Term for a color lightened with white. Also, in a mixture of colors, the tint is the dominant color.

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TONER

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

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TOOTH

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

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TRACTION

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

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TRAGACANTH

A gum , extracted from certain Astragalus plants, used as a binding agent in watercolor paints and pastels.

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TROMPE L'OEIL

French for "deceive the eye". A painting with extreme naturalistic details, aiming to persuade the viewer that they are looking at an actual object, not a representation.

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U

UNDERPAINTING

The traditional stage in oil painting of using a monochrome or dead color as a base for composition. Also known as laying in.

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V

VALUE

The relative lightness or darkness of a hue. Black is low value. White is a high value.

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VARNISH

Generally, a more or less transparent film-forming liquid that dries into a solid film.

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VEDUTA

Italian for "view". An accurate representation of an urban landscape.

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VEHICLE

The entire liquid contents of a paint.

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VENICE TURPENTINE

An oleo resin - the semisolid mixture of a resin and an essential oil - derived from the larch and used primarily in making mediums and diluents for oil painting.

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VERDACCIO

Old term for green underpainting.

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VOLATILE

Evaporating rapidly or easily.

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VOLUME

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

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W

WASH

A thin, usually broadly applied, layer of transparent or heavily diluted paint or ink.

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WATERCOLOR

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

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WATER TENSION BREAKER

Substance added to water or to water-based paints in order to reduce surface tension. eg. Ox Gall.

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WAX PAINTING

See Encaustic. Return to top

WAX RESIST

The use of a waxy medium to make a design over which a colored wash is spread.

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WET ON WET

The application of fresh paint over an area on which the paint is still wet

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WETTING AGENT

See Water Tension Breaker.

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WHITE SPIRITS

A thinner used with oil paints replacing Turpentine.

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WHITING

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

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X

XYLOGRAPHY

Rarely used term for woodblock printing. Also the mechanical reproduction of wood grain for decorative purposes.

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Y

YELLOWING

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

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Z

ZOOMORPHIC

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

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