The Wet Canvas Art Glossary: S - Z

Article No. 129
Created: 08:37 AM 10.01.04
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sable - An animal of the mink family whose hairs are used to make soft brushes. See also Kolinsky.


sanguine - A type of red chalk used in drawing. See also conté.


saturation – A similar term to chroma but not exactly synonymous. More correctly it means the amount of colour in relation to its brightness.


school - In art, a group of artists whose work shares a similar influence or unifying style, often for geographic reasons, e.g. the Venetian school that included Titian, Bellini and Tintoretto.


scumble - A semi-opaque or opaque color brushed or drawn over another in such as way that the bottom color shows through irregularly.


secondary color - In paints or colored light, the three colors exactly midway between two primaries. In paints these are commonly thought of as orange, violet and green; more correctly, red-orange, blue-violet and green. In light the secondaries are cyan, magenta and yellow.


secondary palette - A six-color palette consisting of primaries and secondaries.


sfumato - A painting technique where changes in color or tone are so gradual that it is difficult to see where one ends and the next begins, intended to lessen the impression that an image is fixed and still. Most famously used by Leonardo da Vinci, who coined the term.


shade - A color mixed with black.


shading - In drawing and painting, the variations from light to dark in a work. Also the creation of this effect.


shellac - A resinous substance used in various varnishes and fixative, derived from the secretion of the lac insect native to Asia. Synthetic versions are also available. See also fixative.


short - A term for a type of paint rheology, often described colloquially as buttery.


siccative - An additive that accelerates the drying of oil paints by promoting oxidation. Also called a drier.


silverpoint – A drawing implement made using a tip of silver or silver alloy; also a drawing made using this, traditionally on a surface prepared with gesso.


simultaneous contrast – a visual effect where colors adjacent to each other appear to influence each other, appearing to shift their hues towards the opposing complement. An example is a red square within a larger square of neutral gray, where the gray will appear to be greenish


size - A thinned application, traditionally of glue or starch, intended to isolate a support from an acidic binder such as linseed oil, or reduce absorbency, such as in papers for watercolor. In oil painting, size also serves to stiffen a fabric support to make it less springy and more amenable to painting. PVA glue is often used in place of hide glues for sizing canvas today. See also hygroscopic.


spring - In brushes, the resiliency of the bristles. Good spring is valued highly in sable and Kolinsky brushes.


split complements - For a given color, the two others that are immediately adjacent to the opposite color on a color wheel. For example, the split complements of green are crimson and red-violet.


split-primary palette - A palette made up of two blues, two reds and two yellows. Also called a twin-primary palette. Generally widely-separated colours are chosen for each pair of primaries.


stabiliser - An additive (applies to pastels too) that helps prevent separation of pigment and binder. Sometimes erroneously thought of as adulterants, stabilisers are generally required in commercial paints for them to remain in workable consistency during storage.


staining - Generally used only in relation to watercolors, the tendency of some colors to leave a stain in the paper when attempting to remove it, due to very small pigment particles. Phthalocyanine blues and greens are particularly noted for this.


stencil - A stiff material (often paper or plastic) with a design cut out of it used as a template for repeated applications of a motif, usually by stippling with a brush.


stipple - Applying marks to a surface with a jabbing motion, usually with the brush or drawing tool held perpendicular to the surface, often to produce a regular, dotted field of color or tone.


stretcher - The bars, usually of wood, over which a canvas is stretched.


stump - A tight roll of paper used to blend pencil or other drawing material marks to create smooth transitions in tone and to soften hard lines. Also called a torchon.


subdue - To make less intense. Often used in discussions of color, where a complementary color or gray might be added to lower the chroma.


subtractive color - The effect seen when pigments or paints are mixed, where some of the reflected light is absorbed by the paint, subtracting it from the incident light.


support - The base material upon which a painting or drawing is made, e.g. paper, canvas, panel. See also ground.


swatch - A small sample, of paint or fabric for instance, used to give an accurate indication of color, texture etc.








telephoto lens - A lens of fixed focal length designed to produce close views of distant objects.


tempera - Paint made using egg yolk as the binder. Water-soluble when applied, relatively insoluble when dried. Traditionally, the artist makes tempera paint up fresh at the beginning of each painting session.


tertiary colour - A color mixed from a secondary and a primary, or the unequal blend of two primaries.


thixotropic - A characteristic of some fluids where they become temporarily less viscous when agitated; some mediums used in oil painting are thixotropic, including Maroger's medium.


three-quarter view - A viewpoint midway between straight on and profile.


tint - A color mixed with white. It can also refer to the shift in hue when one color is added to another, for example red tints yellow towards orange.  See also shade.


tinting strength - The relative ability of one color over another to dominate in a mixture. For example, phthalocyanine blues have high tinting strength, Cerulean Blue has low tinting strength.


tondo - a circular painting or relief sculpture.


tone - A color mixed with gray. To tone down a color is to lower its chroma, by mixing with it’s complement or with gray.


tooth - The microscopic surface texture that allows for mechanical bonding of paint or primer.


toptone - The raw color appearance of paint when used full strength or straight from the tube. Also called masstone.


torchon - A tight roll of paper used to blend pencil or other drawing material marks to create smooth transitions in tone and to soften hard lines. Also called a stump.


triad - Three colours equally spaced around a colour wheel.


trompe l'oei - Illusionistic technique that can deceive the viewing into thinking that part or all of a work is three-dimensional. From the French for 'fool the eye'.


turpentine - A thinner used in oil painting derived from resins exuded from various conifers. Also called oil of turpentine, pure gum spirits of turpentine, English distilled turpentine.


turps - A colloquial term for turpentine.











umbra - The core of a shadow. See also penumbra.


undercolor - The color appearance of paint when brushed out thinly, glazed or used in a wash. Sometimes directly related to the masstone/toptone, sometimes quite different. A color that exhibits a strong contrast in hue between the masstone and undercolor is said to be duotoned or duochrome. Also called undertone.


underpainting - The layer or layers of paint applied before the final coat or overpainting. See also verdaccio and grisaille.


undertone - See undercolor.


unsaturated - A term used to describe a color with low chroma or saturation, i.e. closer to gray.










value - One of the three colour attributes; the relative lightness or darkness of a color. High value is closer to white, low value is closer to black. See also hue and saturation.


value scale - a stepped sequence of shades of gray between white and black. The Munsell system utilizes an 11-step value scale with white at 10 and black at 0.  Also see grayscale.


vanishing point - A point on the horizon where parallel lines appear to converge in linear perspective.


varnish - A liquid, often a solution of resin in a solvent, applied to a surface to form a transparent protective coat. See copal, dammar and mastic.


vector graphic - A type of digital image where straight lines and curves are encoded mathematically so that they can be scaled indefinitely and remain sharp. Another major advantage over bitmapped images is much smaller file size. The industry-leading vector graphic software for print media is Adobe Illustrator and for web graphics Macromedia Flash.


vehicle - The fluid component of paint or ink. In oil paint, the vehicle and the binder are the same thing, a drying oil; in watercolor and tempera, the vehicle is water and the binder is gum Arabic and egg yolk respectively.


verdaccio - Italian term for a monochromatic underpainting, usually gray or greenish, often highly modeled and detailed. Color is added afterwards, principally by glazing. See also grisaille.


verso - The reverse or back side of a drawing or painting.


viewfinder - A small window cut in a piece of paper or card used by an artist to frame a scene and decide on the composition.


visual weight - The apparent importance of an object in a drawing or painting due to its size, position, contrasting value and/or hue.









wash - A thinned application of paint or ink.


watercolor - Paint made using a water-soluble gum as the binder, usually gum Arabic, sometimes with additions such as honey and glycerine. Watercolor remains soluble when dry. See also bodycolor and gouache.


wetting agent - Something that reduces or 'breaks' the surface tension of a liquid, allowing it to penetrate a surface or spread more easily. See ox gall.


white spirit - Another term for mineral spirits.


whiting - Ground calcium carbonate (chalk, marble) used in gesso and acrylic ‘gesso’ and as a mild abrasive.


wide-angle lens - A lens of fixed focal length designed to capture a large field of view.


woodcut - Relief printing where the design is cut into a wooden board, usually a softwood. Also called woodblock.


wood engraving - A relief printing method utilizing the end grain of hardwoods such as boxwood, allowing for much finer detail than woodcuts.


WYSIWYG - An abbreviation for What You See Is What You Get (often said as wisywig). A term coined in computer graphics for graphical displays that provide an impression of printed output.









zone system - A photographic technique developed by Ansel Adams designed to produce the best range of values possible in the finished print.


zoom lens - A lens of variable focal length

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