what did that artist say? there is no need to wonder about the art terms

This glossary of art terms for painting artists will answer many of your questions. Here are the terms used by many of today's painting artists.


Color makes our paintings sing. It attracts people to our paintings. Color is the reason many of us paint.

primary colors

All colors are made from the primary colors of red, yellow and blue. Primary colors cannot be mixed from any other colors.

secondary colors

The three secondary colors, orange, purple and green each are a mixture of two primary colors.

tertiary colors

The six tertiary colors are a mix of a secondary color and a primary color.

analogous colors

Analogous colors are three or more colors next to each other on the color wheel.

complimentary colors

Complimentary colors are located directly across the color wheel from each other; yellow and violet, red and green, then blue and orange.

warm colors

Red, yellow and orange are warm colors.

cool colors

Blue, green and sometimes violet are considered cool colors.


Hue is the color group of a colors. For example a 'Blue Hue' is a blue color, 'Red Hues' are red, etc.

saturation, chroma or intensity

This is getting into real technical stuff for this art dictionary. It just means the color is more intense, brighter.


Mixing any color with black makes it a darker shade.


Any color mixed with white makes a color tint.


Tone is the purity of a color. Adding grey to a color lowers its tone.

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paints and art supplies

All paints are made with the same color pigments. The vehicle used to carry the pigments gives us the paint names.

Professional paints have more pigment in them. They cover better and have more brilliant color than the student paints.

acrylic paint

The pigments of acrylic paints are suspended in acrylic polymer. Acrylics are thinned with water and they dry very fast.

oil paint

The pigments of oil paints are suspended in linseed oil. They are slow drying. Thin them with mineral spirits or turpentine.

alkyd paint

Alkyd paint have their pigments suspended in alkyd resin.

They dry overnight and use the same thinners as oil paints.

watercolor paint

Watercolor paints have their pigments suspended in gum Arabic. They are thinned and cleaned up with water.

paint palette

The palette is the place to lay out your paints with space for mixing colors.

Oil painters use a wood, glass or disposable paper palette. Watercolor artists use ceramic, plastic or disposable plates. Acrylic artists often use a disposable paper palette over a moisture retaining base.

Many artists place their palette into a covered container between painting sessions to keep the paint moist.

art terms for brushes

The different painting medias use different brushes. Select the brushes for the painting media you are using.

  • Don't use the same brushes for watercolor, acrylic and oil painting. You will run into cleaning problems because oil does not mix with water.

oil painting brushes

Brushes for oil painting can be either stiff or soft.

The traditional hog bristle brushes are stiffer. They produce a painterly effect that is good for landscape painting.

Animal hair brushes, like sable and synthetic brushes are softer. They are good for smoother work like portrait painting.

watercolor brushes

Watercolor brushes are softer. They may be made out of sable or soft synthetic fibers.

acrylic brushes

Acrylic brushes are made from synthetic materials because water will make the natural hair bristles swell.

rounds, flats, filberts and brights

Round brushes have their bristles inserted into a round metal ferrule.

Rigger and script liner brushes are rounds with extra-long bristles that make flexible, fine lines such as tree branches.

The bristles are arranged in a flat ferrule for flats, filberts and brights. Flats have longer bristles. Brights have short bristles. Flats and brights leave brush strokes when painting.

Filbert brushes have rounded corners and leave a softer stroke.

art terms for painting supports


Canvas is the traditional support for oil or acrylic painting. There are also, watercolor canvases available now-a-days.

The linen or cotton canvas may be stretched around a wooden frame. Stretched canvas paintings last for years.

Canvas boards have the canvas attached to a hard paper support. These are good for practice and student paintings, but they tend to warp with age.


There are a number of hardwood and pressed wood panels available for paintings.

Why do I use art panels for my watercolor paintings?

watercolor paper

Watercolor paper is normally made out of cotton. It is sized with rabbit glue to prevent the paint from soaking down into the paper.

There are different weights. 140# paper is common in tablets. It will buckle from a lot of water, so it will need to be stretched.

300# paper is heavier, it resists buckling and it does not need stretching.

other papers

Drawing papers are usually made from wood pulp. Water will make them fall apart. But they are great for drawing.

Newsprint is just like it sounds. It is recycled from newspapers. Use it for sketching out ideas and student work.

Graphite paper has graphite on the backside. It can be used for transferring your drawing to the painting support.

Carbon paper is not suitable for transferring drawings. It will not erase well. It can show thru in your final painting.

painting art terms

hard and soft edges

A hard edge occurs in painting when the change from one color to another is abrupt and sharp.

Hard edges attract the viewer's eye and are good in the focal area.

  • See the hard edge on the hummingbird's head.

Soft edges are created by blending the juncture of two different paint applications together.

Soft edges attract less attention, so they don't draw the eye away from the focal point.

  • See the soft edge on the cactus leaf.


The art term values refers to how light or dark a color is.

Yellow is the lightest value. Purple is considered the darkest value paint color.

focal point or focal area

The focal point of a painting is the area that grabs the viewer's attention. It is the main subject of the painting.

Read about how to paint a focal point.


Composition is the arrangement of the elements in a painting.

Good composition attracts the viewer into your painting. It makes them stand out from other paintings.

The Rule of Thirds is the easiest way to a good composition.

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oil painting art terms

painting alla prima

Alla prima is an art term for artwork that is painted 'wet into wet' paint.

As opposed to waiting for a paint layer to dry before you add the next layer of paint.

This is my favorite way to paint oils.

Alla prima painting gives you the chance to blend colors and edges while the paint is still workable.


Traditional oil painting is done with an underpainting. After the underpainting is dry, more layers are painted.


After one layer of paint is dry, a thin color is painted over the previous color. The bottom layer shows thru. The two colors combine visually to produce a new color.

The art term glazing is also used with watercolor.


Scumbling is also done over a previous dry layer of paint. Paint is used on a dry brush and rubbed on with the side of the brush. Normally opaque colors are used for scumbling.


Splattering may also be done with oils or acrylic to produce the effect of sand, for example.

Use your finger to splatter paint off of a toothbrush. Or knock the paint off of a paint brush by knocking the brush handle against the forefinger of the opposite hand.

Splattering is often done with watercolor.

watercolor art terms

wet wash

A wet wash in watercolor is smooth color covering a large area such as a sky.

Mix your color ahead of time. Dampen the paper before you apply the color. Apply with smooth even strokes. The water moves the paint.

dry wash

A watercolor wash on dry paper will give you a crisper effect. You have more control over the paint. You move the paint with your brush.

dry brush on dry paper

Applying watercolor with a somewhat dry brush onto dry paper - gives you the effect of a scumble in oil painting. It produces a lot of texture.

watercolor blossoms - back-runs

When you apply more paint to a painted area that is not completely dry, the paint will run to the edge. Where it collects on the edge of the new paint application is called a back-run.


When one layer of paint is dry, a layer of transparent paint is painted over the dry layer.


Liquid frisket is a rubbery type substance that can be applied to your watercolor support. The art term masking fluid is another name for frisket.

Watercolor paint does not penetrate the areas covered with frisket. After the paint is dry, remove the frisket.

I hope this glossary of art terms gives you a better understanding the common terms of today's painting artists.

It is my pleasure to share with you.

You can find more art information on Wikipedia.

go and create beautiful paintings

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