Glossary

Every artist needs an art glossary so we can talk to each other using the right terms and knowing the particulars of the media and techniques we use. Here is the Artist Daily art glossary, a list of art terms and definitions to help you learn more about your chosen painting or drawing practice.

A

Alla Prima

An alla prima painting by Al Gury, as featured in Courtney Jordan's art blog about direct painting. What is alla prima painting? Also known as ‘direct painting’, ‘au premier coup’ or occasionally mistakenly as ‘wet-on-wet’, alla prima is a one-layer painting technique in which the painting (usually painted from life) is completed in one sitting or…

B

Binder (in paint)

Gesso is a common acrylic binder for homemade paint. What is binder in paint? Binder refers to substances that hold the particles of pigment together in a paint substance. All paint includes a binder of some sort, as the binder is what keeps the pigment in place after the paint dries. Sometimes the term is…

Burin

The Three Trees by Rembrandt, 1643, etching with burin drypoint in black ink on cream laid paper, 8 x 11. Burin definition A burin is a short steel rod cut to a diamond point that is used as a tool in etching and engraving. The tool is usually used to incise engravings in metal plates, which…

C

0611caseoe3_591x600.jpg

Casein Paint

William Barnes was a finalist in the January 2007 issue of the American Artist's casein art competition with this 9.25 x 9 inch casein painting. What is casein paint? Casein is a type of aqueous paint made from the protein of milk, which can be applied to any rigid, non-oily surface such as wood, plaster,…

061002color3_600x306.gif

Chroma (color)

Hue, value, chroma: Here we see two different hues of violet with different levels of chroma. What is the chroma color theory? In color theory, chroma refers to the degree of vividness of a color, or how pure it is compared to its representative on the color wheel. It can also be called saturation, or…

061002color2_600x444.gif

Color Hue

Hue, value, chroma are demonstrated in this illustration, which shows hues next to their corresponding values. Hue definition in art Also called a spectral color, the hue is the traditional color name given to a specific wavelength of light in the light spectrum. In painting color theory, the term color encapsulates several factors, including hue, chroma and…

Color Value

To understand a hue's value on a color mixing chart, imagine what shade it would be if it were turned into a black-and-white photograph. Color value definition Color values describe the degree of lightness and darkness of a color. Determining the hue value of the color you will paint is one of the first steps…

Conte Art Crayon

Conte art is often created in conjunction with graphite or charcoal, as pictured above. What is conte? Frequently used for sketching and outlines, conte crayons, or conte sticks, are a mix of graphite or charcoal and wax or clay. This makes the medium waxier than soft pastels, and makes them suitable for more detailed work…

D

Drawing Cast Shadows

Darrell Brown used oil paints in this still life to produce core and cast shadows as well as highlights and reflected light. What is a cast shadow? An object’s cast shadow is the object’s adjacent shadow in which its outline is distorted. Cast shadow is distinguished from core shadow in that it is slightly brighter,…

Dry Brush Painting

Lee Phillips won the February 2011 Watercolor Artist Creativity Workshop challenge with this watercolor landscape. “This is a painting done with drybrush with the exception of the sky, which was built up with three washes," he said. "After the sky was completed, I next went to the mountains in the distance, the green trees, then…

E

0607wessel1_300x450.jpg

Egg Tempera

La Mia Gioia, Fred Wessel, 1996, egg tempera, 25 x 19.  What is egg tempera painting? Egg tempera was a common painting medium during the 14th and 15th centuries, but has since fallen out of popularity. It is traditionally made from egg yolks and pigments, with the yolks serving as an organic binder. Egg tempera…

Encaustic

The Crossing by Lauren MacLeod, 2010, encaustic painting,  11.5 x 11.5 Encaustic definition Encaustic painting is a mixed media technique that involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments have been added. The liquid/paste is then applied to a surface — usually prepared wood, although canvas and other materials are often used. The term is derived…

F

Focal Point

This piece by Richard McKinley, Minnesota Morning, 9 x 12, has three focal points as marked. Focal point art definition The focal point of a painting is the area in the composition to which the viewer’s eye is naturally drawn. It is essential to classic art, although abstract artists may deliberately create compositions without focal…

G

4135.Acrylic_2D00_gesso.jpg_2D00_550x0.jpg

Gesso

A tub of acrylic gesso What is gesso paint? Gesso is a mixture of chalk, glue, and white pigment that serves as a ground for paintings. Its most common variety is white, but it also comes in clear and tinted versions. If you intend to create an oil piece that will last a long time,…

Glaze

It's important to know the different effects of glazing vs scumbling paint. What is glazing paint? A thin layer of paint applied over a ground or another paint layer of a different color. Oil painting artists use transparent glazes to make colors appear more radiant and vivid. How to glaze paint Glazing uses a darker,…

0805ocon2_439x600.jpg

Gouache

Sacred Stones by Carla O'Connor 2006, gouache, 30 x 22. Gouche meaning Gouache is an opaque water-based medium that drives to a matte finish and can be rewetted. Painting with gouache Gouache pairs well with watercolor, since they’re both water-based and use gum Arabic as a binder. It it good for providing saturation where watercolors…

Grisaille Underpainting

This painting en grisaille demonstrates how an understanding of light value is just as important as color for a successful result. Grisaille definition Grisaille (pronounced like Versailles) underpainting is an oil painting technique in which a composition is constructed completely in tones of gray. It is often used for underpainting, since it establishes light values underneath…

H

0611shadows1_489x600.jpg

Highlight

The highlight of this drawing is marked HL, in the brightest part of the image. Highlights and shadows In painting light theory, highlights are the brightest part of the artwork. They are usually added toward the end of the artwork’s completion, since whites can be easily muddied.

Horizon Line (in art)

The horizon line of this painting is marked in blue. Horizon line definition The horizon line art theory is a horizontal line that runs across the paper or canvas to represent the viewer’s eye level, or delineate where the sky meets the ground. It should rarely be in the center of the composition, but ideally placed…

I

Impasto

Impasto can be seen in this close-up of an oil painting. What is impasto? Impasto refers to the texture produced by the thickness of pigment in a painting. Impasto is created when paint is thickly laid onto the surface so heavily that it leaves a visible texture. Impasto cannot be created with charcoal or pastel…

Imprimatura

Imprimatura underpainting is evident in this self-portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci, red chalk drawing, 1510-1515. What is imprimatura painting? With its roots in the great Italian artists, the term derives from an Italian phrase meaning 'first layer of paint'. When the drawing and painting technique is applied, it always comes as the first step. It…

L

Lightfastness

Because J M W Turner used non-lightfast red pigments, the reds in this painting have faded significantly. By 1859, staff at the National Gallery of London had already noted that the vivid scarlets in this sunset had were dulled. We will never know what this famous piece originally looked like. (The Fighting Temeraire tugged to…

0612perspective2_600x229.jpg

Linear Perspective (Drawing)

Understanding linear perspective begins with one-point, two-point and finally three-point perspective. Linear perspective definition Linear perspective art theory is a method of representing a three-dimensional object or volume of space on a flat surface using real or suggested lines that converge at points at the horizon or eye level. See also: How to draw linear…

M

Mahlstick

What is a mahlstick? A long stick, one end of which the painter holds in one hand, to support and steady his/her brush-holding hand. The other end of the stick is padded and rests on the panel. Mahl sticks are relatively cheap, but they can also be handmade with a stick of wood or metal,…

O

P

Paper Tooth

As you can see from the evident texture, this paper has a good amount of tooth. What is paper tooth in art? A slight roughness or coarseness in the surface of the painting ground that assists in the application and bonding of subsequent coats of paint. How to choose paper with the right tooth There…

Plein Air Painting

En plein air painting is simply creating your painting outdoors. What is plein air painting? En plein air is a French phrase that simply means "in the open air" – and it succinctly sums up the technique. Many artists paint exclusively this way because they produce better lit results than they would in the studio.…

0611mcgudemo5_600x450.jpg

Plumb Line (art)

This step-by-step demonstration of drawing proportions shows how using a plumb line can help keep lines at the right angles. Plumb lines in art In art, plumb lines are undeviating vertical lines used as a reference when determining alignment. They are often used in drawing the human figure. This can be achieved by hanging a…

R

0707jack10_600x394.jpg

Reflected Color

This still life oil painting by Philip R Jackson demonstrates reflected color on the table in the reds of the tomato's mirror image. (Tension Series: Goodbye Goldfish, 2004, 8 x 10 inches. Private collection.) What is reflected color? In art reflected color is a change of hue caused when one color is reflected onto another.…

0611capo4_600x400.jpg

Rembrandt Lighting

This portrait drawing tutorial demonstrates how to create the lighting technique. What is Rembrandt lighting? In art Rembrandt lighting is a lighting technique often used in portraiture. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face uses the interaction of shadows and light to…

Resin (paint varnish)

For centuries, oil varnishes have been commonly made from resin. What is resin? In the context of art resin is a hard, amorphous substance used in varnishes and binding mediums for paints such as acrylics. Resins can be found in the secretions of trees or made synthetically. They are used to create sculptures in mixed…

S

Scumbling (technique)

Scumbling is sometimes confused with washing and glazing by oil painting beginners. What is scumbling painting? A scumble glaze is a painting technique in which semi-opaque or thin opaque colors are lightly brushed over an underpainted area so that patches of the previous color show through.  Also a method of mixing two colors on the…

Shellac (paint varnish)

In its raw form, shellac comes in flakes that you can dissolve in alcohol. What is shellac? Often confused with tree resin and lacquer, shellac is an excretion gathered from the lac insect that is useful as a sizing or an isolating varnish between paint layers. Because of its origins, it is not vegan, but…

Silverpoint/Goldpoint

Silverpoint styluses abound in various types, and can often also be used with gold tips for goldpoint. What is silverpoint drawing? Also known as metalpoint, silverpoint is an ancient technique in which silver wire is applied to paper with a stylus in the same manner as a pencil. The gauge of wire used is somewhat determined…

T

Tinting Color

This artist has used tint in art to create light shades of blue appropriate for the sky. Tinting color To tint art is is the process of adding white pigment to a color to lighten it. It is the opposite of shading, or adding black pigment to a color to darken it. How to create…

0801tear1_447x600.jpg

Trompe- lOeil

Today, trompe-l'oeil has expanded in a new direction from the classical tendencies of days gone by. (Everything Nice by Debra Teare, 2007, oil, 13 x 10. Collection Christine E. Lynn.) What is trompe-l’oeil? A type of painting, usually a still life, which by means of illusionist devices persuades the viewer that he/she is looking at actual objects…

U

0708liliedemo3_488x600_2.jpg

Underpainting

Grisaille is a common underpainting technique that establishes values before color is applied. (Stage two of the Lady in White oil painting demo by Johnnie Lilliedahl, 2005, oil, 30 x 24 inches.) What is underpainting? An initial layer of paint applied to a ground, which serves as a base for subsequent layers of paint and helps…

V

Vanishing Point (perspective)

The above image demonstrates a vanishing point in one-point perspective, the simplest form of drawing perspective. What is a vanishing point in art? In drawing, vanishing points are the points at which lines appear to converge. It is a fundamental concept of composition and perspective drawing. How to draw vanishing point perspective Start by establishing…

W

Wash (painting)

The above image compares three related painting techniques that often get confused: washing, scumbling and glazing. What is a paint wash? Put simply, wash painting is a hue or tint applied in a thin transparent layer. Color wash painting Washes should be applied loosely in the very beginning stages of painting. To create a wash,…

0705kutcdemocomp_405x324.jpg

Wet-on-Wet

The above wet-on-wet painting tutorial demonstrates how the technique works as a watercolor pencil technique. (Farmers’ Market Peonies, Kristy Ann Kutch, 2002, watercolor pencil on hot-pressed watercolor paper, 15 x 20 inches.) What is wet on wet painting? Also known as wet-in-wet or direct painting, it is a technique in which wet color is applied…