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QuikTip #18: An Art Glossary!

Author: Pierre Labeau, Contributing Editor

Hidy Ho! Time to reach into my mail bag and see what we can find to get into today!


I have soooo many questions! Chroma? "Alla Prima"? Emulsion? What the? Help me out!


KLP, it sounds like you need an art glossary, which just so happens to be my latest QuikTip! here it is, for all to enjoy. Hopefully, you'll find it useful, and insightful.

Pierre ([email protected])



Acrylic - A painting medium created by dispersing pigment in an acrylic emulsion. Dries quickly to a permanent, tough surface.

Alla prima - A technique in which the artist works directly without preliminary underpainting or drawing.

Abstract Art - A style of art that shows objects, people and/or places in simplified arrangements of shape, line, texture and color, often geometrical. Sometimes abstract refers to non-objective art.

Abstract Expressionism - A twentieth century painting style that expresses feelings and emotions through slashing, active brush strokes. Often called Action Painting.

Assemblage - A piece of art that contains various three-dimensional objects. It can be sculptural (to stand on the floor) or made for putting in a frame, on the wall.

Asymmetrical Balance - A type of visual balance in which one side of the composition appears different than the other side while remaining balanced with it. Visually equal without being identical.

Avant Garde Art - The style of contemporary art in any period of time. It is the newest form of visual expression, and farthest from the traditional ways of working.


Balance - A principle of design that refers to the equalization of elements. There are three kinds of balance: symmetrical (formal) asymmetrical (informal), and radial.

Baroque - A period of time and style of art (1600's) that stressed swirling action, large works of art and elaborate detail and richness, even in drawing.

Binder - Any medium which, when added to a pigment, forms what is commonly refereed to as "paint". The type of binder will determine the type of paint, for example, oil binders create oil paint, etc.

Block-in - An underpainting technique by which the artist roughly describes the forms and composition of the painting.

Broken color - When colors are used in their pure state rather then blending or mixing. When dragged across the surface, this allows previous layers to show through.

Byzatine Art - Refers to the style of Byzantium. Much gold and mosaic was used in decorating churches.


Chroma - An element of design that relates to the brightness and dullness of a color.

Chiaroscuro - Meaning "light-dark', this term is usually associated with oil paintings depicting a high contrast of highlight and shadow.

Complementary colors - The three primary colors - red, yellow, and blue - create what is known as complementary colors by a mixture of the other two. Thus, the complementary color of red is green, a mixture of yellow and blue. The Impressionists believed that shadows were created by a color's complement - i.e., a blue object would cast an orange shadow.

Crosshatching - The use of criss-crossing stroke to create depth and form.

Cityscape - A painting or drawing that uses elements of the city (buildings, streets, shops, etc.) as subject matter.

Combine painting - A type of painting begun in the twentieth century. The artist combines real objects (shirt, book, stuffed animal, etc.) with painted areas.

Collage - A technique in which the artist glues material such as paper, cloth or found materials to some type of background.

Color - An element of design that identifies natural manufactured things as being red, yellow, blue, orange or any other name that identifies their hue.

Composition - The arrangement of the parts in a work of art, usually according to the principles of design.

Conceptualized Art - A style of painting or sculpture. The artist communicates what is known of the subject (a general idea), not how the subject actually looks. An African tribal mask is a conceptualized face.

Contrast - A principle of design that refers to differences in values, colors, textures, and other elements in an artwork to achieve interest and emphasis.

Contour Drawing - A single line drawing which defines the outer and inner forms (contours) of people or objects.

Crafts - A form of art expression that more specifically relates to textiles, ceramics and jewelry.

Crayon Etching - A technique in which crayon is applied heavily to a ground, then covered with an opaque ink or paint. Designs are scratched (etched) through the covering material to the colored crayon below.

Cubism - A style of art in which the subject is broken apart and reassembled in an abstract form, emphasizing geometric shapes.


Dry brush - Mainly used in watercolor, this involves applying paint with a dry or slightly damp brush. The hairs are sometimes held with the fingers to give a feathering effect.


Emulsion - Commonly used in association with different tempera techniques, an emulsion is any mixture which involves the suspension of one material in another. For example, milk is an emulsion with particles of fat suspended in liquid; egg tempera is an emulsion of egg suspended in oil.

Emphasis - A principle of design by which the artist or designer may use opposing sizes or shapes, contrasting colors, or other means to place greater attention on certain areas or objects in a work of art.

Etching - A printmaking technique which transfers the inked image from lines cut in a metal (or plastic) plate to paper. The process needs a strong press.

expressionism - Any style of art in which the artist tries to communicate strong personal and emotional feelings. If written with a capital "E", it refers to a definite style of art begun in Germany early in the twentieth century.


Fauvism - A style of painting in which the artists communicate feelings through a personal use of color, usually bright and intense. It was started in France.

Fixative - A thin varnish sprayed onto drawings and pastels to adhere the chalk to the surface and prevent rubbing and blurring.

Form - An element of design, similar to shape which encloses area, but three-dimensional (cube, sphere, pyramid, cylinder and free flowing) and encloses volume.

Fresco - A painting technique in which artists apply wet colored plaster to a wet plaster wall. A type of mural painting.

Fugitive color - A phrase used to describe a pigment's impermanence and tendency to fade or change color, especially due to natural effects such as sunlight.


Gesso - A white, absorbent ground used for priming painting surfaces.

Glazing - A painting technique by which thin, transparent layers of paint are placed over an opaque layer to modify that layer's color.

Gouache - An opaque, water based paint also known as poster paint.

Grain - This generally refers to the texture of the surface to be painted or drawn upon. With canvas, it refers to the thickness and density of the weave and with papers, the amount of tooth or roughness of the surface.

Graphite - A form of carbon. When mixed with clay and compressed, makes the common pencil. The amount of graphite/ clay mixture will determine the pencil's hardness or darkness.

Ground - A ground is used to prevent the paint from being absorbed into the surface. In oil painting the ground is usually an oil based mixture or, more commonly, gesso. Grounds may be tinted to add color to a painting.

Geometric Art - Refers to a type of art that uses lines and shapes that recall geometry: triangles, squares, rectangles, straight lines, arcs, circles, etc.

Gothic Art - The art of Europe (1150 - 1400) which was mainly associated with building of churches. It centered in France, but spread over the continent. It is characterized by pointed arches, flying buttresses, stained glass windows, and overall utility of construction.

Graphic artist - A person who designs packages, advertisements for newspapers and magazines; illustrates for ads, books, magazines; draws cartoons; designs displays and signs; produces any kind of art for reproduction.


Hard edge painting - Refers to a style of art in which the artist used crisp, clean edges and applies the values or colors so that they are even and flat.

Half-tones - Those tones of color between the lightest and darkest shades.

Hatching - The placing of fine, parallel lines over one another to create darkness and density.

Horizontal line - An actual or imaginary line that runs across the work defining the place where sky and earth come together.


Icon - A painting or image, considered to be sacred. Usually it is a portrayal of Christ or one or more of the saints, done in enamel or egg tempera paint.

Impasto - A painting technique in which the paint is applied very thickly. When the paint is thick enough to create lumps or distinct brush strokes, it is said to be heavily impasted.

Impressionism - A style of drawing and painting (1875 and following) begun in France, which stresses an offhand (candid) glimpse of the subject, and an emphasis on the momentary effects of light on color.


Landscape - A work of art that shows the features of the natural environment (trees, lakes, mountains, flowers).

Line - An element of design that may be two-dimensional (pencil on paper), three-dimensional (wire or rope), or implied (the edge of a shape or form).

Local color - The inherent color hue of an object or surface without the influence of light, atmospheric conditions or nearby colors. For example, the local color of a lemon is yellow.

Linseed oil - The oil is derived from the flax plant and is chiefly used in the grinding of oil colors, as a painting medium, and in tempera emulsions. Linseed oil gives a smooth effect to the paint.


Medium - Any substance mixed with pigment to create paint. For example oil to make oil paint and gum arabic to make watercolor. Also refers to substances added to media while painting or drawing such as turpentine and linseed oil.

Mixed media - A two dimensional technique that uses more than one medium; a crayon and watercolor drawing.

movement - A principle of design that refers to the arrangement of parts in a drawing to create a slow to fast flow of your eye through the work.

Mosaics - Designs or pictures made with squarish cut shapes of glass or colored stone. Mosaics can also be made of paper, natural materials, wood or cardboard.

Mural - A large painting, made to be permanent on a wall.


Nature print - A print made by rolling ink on natural objects (leaves, flowers, grass) and pressing out on paper.

Negative space - The space surrounding the subject. For example, the background or the area around, say a model.

Neo-classic - a style of art (begun about 1850) in which artists worked in the styles of ancient Greece and Roman. A revival of classic styles.

Non-objective art - Art which has no recognizable subject matter, such as trees, flowers or people. The real subject matter is the composition of the drawing or painting itself.


Op Art (Optical Art) - A style of art (middle of 20th century) that uses optical (visual) illusions of many types. These works of art are composed to confuse, heighten or expand visual sensations.

Opaque - The quality of a material that will not let light pass through. The opposite of transparent.


Painterly quality - That quality of a work of art that allows brush strokes to show and lets us see that it is a painting.

Paper pulp - Modeling material made by mixing small bits of paper and wheat paste.

Perspective drawing - A method of drawing on a flat surface (which is two-dimensional) to give the illusion of depth, or the third dimension.

Picture plane - The region of the painting which lies directly behind the frame and separates the viewer's world from that of the picture.

Pigment - Any substance which, when mixed with a liquid, creates a color which, in this case, is used for painting. Pigments are generally organic (earth colors) or inorganic (minerals and chemicals).

Pop Art - A style of art that features the everyday, popular things around us. A drawing of a large Coke bottle might be considered Pop Art.

Post-Impressionism - Style of art that immediately followed the Impressionists in France. Cezanne was a leader of this style which stressed more substantial subjects and methods than those used by the Impressionists.

Preliminary sketch - A planning sketch, usually on a smaller scale, to determine the basic arrangement of a design or larger work of art.

Proportion - A comparative size relationship between several objects or between the parts of a single object or person. In drawing, for example, watch for the correct relationship of the size of the head and the body.


Radial balance - A design based on a circle with the features radiating from a central point.

Realism - A style of art that attempts to realistically show actual places, people or objects. It stresses actual colors, textures, shadows and arrangements.

Renaissance - A period of time (1400 - 1600) following the Middle Ages that featured an emphasis on human beings and their environment and on science and philosophy. A renewal of Greek and Roman thinking regarding art and humanity.

Resists - Drawing and painting techniques that rely on the fact that wax or oil will resist water, causing it to puddle in clean areas.

Rococo - A style of art (1700's) following the Baroque, which featured decorative and elegant themes and style.

Romanticism - A style of painting ( middle 19th century) that featured adventure, action, imagination and an interest in foreign happenings and people.

Rubbings - A technique that transfers the textural quality of a surface to paper by placing the paper over the textured surface and rubbing the top of the paper with a crayon, pencil, etc.


Seascape - A drawing or painting that features part of the sea as subject matter, often a coastal environment.

Serigraph - A print (same as a silk screen print) that is made by forcing ink through a stencil and silk screen to the paper below.

Set-up - A group of objects which are arranged to be drawn or painted. A still life grouping.

Scumbling - A painting technique in which dry, thickish paint is applied to a surface in a loose and direct manner often creating areas of broken color allowing previous layers to show through.

Shaped canvas - A twentieth century painting technique in which the canvas ground (surface) is not flat, but has objects placed behind it to form a relief surface.

Size - A mixture of pigment and hot glue applied to the painting surface to ensure against corrosion.

Stretcher - The wooden frame on which canvas is stretched. Stretched canvas is less apt to change with atmospheric variations and is less susceptible to damage.

Surrealism - A style of twentieth century painting in which the artists relate normally unrelated objects and situations. Often the scenes are dreamlike or set in unnatural surroundings.

Support - Used synonymously with "surface" meaning any material used to paint or draw upon.

Symmetrical balance - A design with identical halves.


Tempera - This word actually means a type of binder added to powered pigment but usually refers to egg tempera painting which was popular until the late fifteenth century. Tempera painting, being a quick drying media, is difficult to work with but dries to an almost impenetrable surface.

Three-dimensions - Height, weight and depth. A vase has three dimensions; a picture of it has only two dimensions.

Torchon - A rolled paper stump used in drawing with pencil and charcoal. Can be used for blending and toning. (Sometimes also called, Tortillion)

Transfer paper - Paper coated with a thin layer of powder used in transferring one drawing to another surface.

Transparency - In terms of painting this means the last opacity, in painting application. Transparency is usually acquired by the use of glazes which allow previous layers of paint to show through changing the color and creating depth in the paint surface.

Traditional Art - Any style of art that treats the subject in a natural (rather realistic) way. A style similar to those used for many years.

Turpentine - This is the most common diluent in oil painting. It has no binding properties and if too much is used, tends to absorb the colors creating a dusty, dull effect. If used in quantities, the rapid evaporation will cause deterioration of the paint surface.


Underpainting (underdrawing) - The technique of laying-in or blocking-in the drawing, composition, and often the tonal values of a painting. While color may be involved in underpainting, generally it is used to lay down the basic structure of the picture before the more complex aspects are worked on.

Unity - A principle of design that relates to the sense of oneness or wholeness in a work of art.


Value - An element of design that relates to the lightness and darkness of a color or shade.

Visual environment - Everything that surrounds you; usually divided into two groupings: the natural environment (trees, flowers, water, sky, rocks, etc.) and the manufactured or built environment (buildings, roads, bridges, automobiles, stadiums, etc.).


Wash - A technique generally used with water-based paints. Mixing a large amount of water with the paint and applying it loosely to a surface.

Wet-in-wet - A painting technique which involves the application of wet paint to an already wet surface creating a subtle blending of color and tone.

White space - The color of the surface when used as a color in addition to the paint color. Also refers to the area of the surface left uncovered or untouched.