what do the art terms mean? Did you ever wonder what the artist said?

This art glossary has art terms commonly used by today’s painting artists.

color art terms

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 are a mixture of two primary colors.

tertiary colors

The six tertiary colors are a mix of a secondary color with 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.

Use complimentary colors to mix paint colors in neutral tones such as grey, brown or black.

warm and cool colors

Red, yellow and orange are warm colors. Blue, green and sometimes violet are considered cool colors.


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

However, if we see the term "hue" on a paint. It means the manufacturer mixed colors to get the 'hue'.

Manufactured mixed hues produce muddy colors when they are mixed with other colors.

Mix clean colors by using single pigment paints. Selecting your palette colors

saturation, chroma or intensity

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


Mix any color with black to get its shade. Adding black makes the original color darker.


Any color mixed with white makes a color tint. Adding white makes the color lighter and a bit cooler. It also makes a transparent color opaque because white is opaque.


A tone in painting is how light or dark a color is.


Value is the light and darkness of a color.
Yellow is the lightest value and violet is the darkest value.

paint art terms

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

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

There are many good brands of artist paints. Winsor Newton paints are the hallmark of quality.

acrylic paint

The pigments of acrylic paints are suspended in acrylic polymer. They dry very fast. There are acrylic mediums available to extend their painting time.

alkyd paint

Alkyd paint uses the same paint pigments as any other types of paint. It has the pigment suspended in alkyd resin. It dries much faster than traditional oil paints. It will dry overnight or sooner depending on the temperature.

I have been using alkyd paints in place of oil paints for many years.

oil paint

The pigments of oil paints are suspended in linseed oil. They take longer to dry, sometimes a week to months for complete drying. Also, some of the colors dry faster and others dry slower.

watercolor paint

Watercolor paints have their pigments suspended in gum Arabic. They are water soluble.

art terms for supplies

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.

brushes art terms

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.

Watercolor artists use a variety of round and flats brushes.

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 the metal ferrule in a round arrangement.

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 manner 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 without edges.

art terms for the supports you paint on


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. They take up less space in storage. They do however lack the spring of painting on a stretched canvas.

Why I use art panels for my watercolor paintings.

paper art terms

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 normally 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

what is a hard edge in painting?

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.

what is a soft edge?

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

  • See the soft edge on the cactus leaf.
The painting technique of using hard edges verses soft edges - art by Carol MayHummingbird Paintings


Yes, our paintings certainly have value. The art term, values refers to how light or dark paint is.

The color yellow has the lightest value. Purple is considered the darkest value paint color.

Using values in our paintings is an important aspect of successful painting.

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.

More color and values contrast in the focal area draws the viewer's eye. The focal areas often are also painted with hard edges for more definition.

Read more about how to paint a focal point.


An art dictionary would not be complete without composition.

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.

Composition is probably the most important aspect of painting.

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

Artist Carol May shares painting composition made easyEasy Composition

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.


Traditional oil painting is done with an underpainting. The underpainting often is done with a color that will predominate in the painting. The predominant color will tie the whole painting together.

Conversely the underpainting may be done in a complimentary color to make a lively painting.


When one layer of paint is dry, an additional color can be painted over the previous color to adjust the 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.


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

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, another layer is painted over the dry layer.

Glazing is a common technique used with watercolors.


Liquid frisket is a rubbery type substance that can be applied to your watercolor support. It takes about an hour to dry.

When watercolor paint is applied, the paint does not penetrate the areas covered with frisket.

After the watercolor paint is dry, remove the frisket with a rubber cement pick-up tool or your fingers.

The art term masking fluid is another name for frisket.

Frisket in the Artist DictionaryRemoving Frisket with a Rubber Cement Pick-up

I hope this glossary of art terms has given you an understanding the common terms of today's painting artists.

It is my pleasure to share my art experience and my art dictionary with you.

You can find more art information on Wikipedia.

now - go and create beautiful paintings

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