glossary of art terms used by today's artists

This glossary of art terms are things artists say when they are talking about painting.

Do you wonder: What is alla prima, glazing, scumbling, underpainting and so on? What are complimentary colors? What do values have to do with painting?

5 sections of the glossary of art terms

Painting in General including color terms, Types of Art Paints, other Art Supplies and specific terms used for Oil Painting or Watercolor.

Dictionary of painting art termsPainting Art Lingo

painting in general

These art terms are used across the spectrum of mediums.

Fine Art is the art term for beautiful art, as opposed to functional art such as illustrations.

Medium is the type of painting material or a substance mixed into paint to thicken, thin or otherwise alter the paint. Medium is also used for the type of art, such watercolor, sculpture, drawing, etc.

Media is the plural of medium. Mediums is another plural form of medium.

Mixed Media is two or more types of mediums used in one artwork.

Sketch is a simple drawing without much detail.

Foreground is the part of the painting that looks the closest to the viewer.

Background looks the farthest away, usually toward the top of the painting.

The painting technique of using hard edges verses soft edges - art by Carol MaySee the hard and soft Edges.

Hard and Soft Edges occur during the painting process.

A hard edge is 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 more gradual, softer transitions. They 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.

Composition is the arrangement of the elements in a painting. Good composition attracts the viewer into your painting. It makes a painting stand out from others.

Focal Point or Focal Area of a painting is the area that grabs the viewer's attention. It is the main subject of the painting. How do we paint a focal point?

Values refer to how light or dark a color is. Yellow is the lightest color value. Purple is the color with the darkest value.

color glossary of art terms

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

Glossary-of-Art-TermsColor is the joy of painting.

Color Wheel is a circular illustration of twelve colors and their relationship to each other.

Primary Colors are red, yellow and blue. Primary colors cannot be mixed from any other colors.

Secondary Colors are three colors, orange, purple and green each are a mixture of two primary colors.

Tertiary Colors are six colors mixed from a secondary color and a primary color.

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

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

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

Shade is obtained by mixing a color with black to make darker.

Tints are obtained by mixing any color with white.

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

Warm Colors are red, yellow and orange.

Cool Colors are blue and green. Some violets are considered cool colors.

Saturation, Chroma and Intensity are getting into real technical stuff for this art dictionary. It just means the color is more intense, brighter and pure.

Get tips on mixing colors.

types of paints: glossary of art terms

Art paints are made using color pigments. The vehicle used to carry the pigments gives us the name of the paint types.

Acrylic Paint pigments are suspended in acrylic polymer. Acrylics are thinned with water and they dry very fast.

Oil Paint pigments are suspended in linseed oil. They are slow drying. Thin them with mineral spirits or turpentine.

Alkyd Paint has its pigments suspended in alkyd resin. They dry overnight and use the same solvents as oil paints.

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

Tempera (also called egg tempura) paint pigments are mixed with egg yolks. It is a fast-drying paint often used in grade schools.

Casein is another fast-drying paint, similar to egg tempura. It is manufactured with milk.

Gouache is an opaque, water-based, fast drying medium often used for design work.

Pastels come in a stick or pan form. There are soft pastels and hard pastels depending upon how they are manufactured.

Encaustic paintings are created with melted wax. The medium is made with paint pigments mixed with beeswax and damar varnish.

What is the best painting medium?

Artist, professional paints cover well because they contain more color pigments.

Student paints are less expensive because they contain less color pigment.

art supplies: glossary of art terms

Paint 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 used by painting artistsMixed media on Aquabord panel

Support is what we paint on; it's called a painting support. It can be made of paper, a panel, canvas, wood, plastic, glass or even metal.

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.

Art Panels are hardwood and pressed wood panels available for paintings.

Why do I use art panels for watercolor?

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.

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.

brushes, The different painting mediums 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.
  • We don't use natural hair brushes for acrylics.

Oil Painting Brushes can be either stiff or soft.

The traditional hog bristle brushes are stiff. 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 are soft. They may be made out of sable or soft synthetic fibers.

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

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

Rigger/Script Liner brushes are round brushes with extra-long bristles that make flexible. They are good for painting fine lines such as tree branches.

Flat Brushes, brights and filbert brushes have their bristles secured in a flat metal ferrule, normally on a wooden handle.

Flats have long bristles. They carry a good amount of paint.

Brights are like a flat with short bristles. The stroke of a bright brush tends to leave raised areas on the edge of the stroke.

Filbert Brushes are a flat brush with rounded corners. They make a softer stroke without raised edges.

What does Wikipedia say about painting?

oil painting - glossary of art terms

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.

Underpainting is done in traditional oil painting where the painting is done in several layers.

The first layer of painting is painted thin to establish the color and value of each area of the painting. After the underpainting is dry, more layers are painted to complete the painting.

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

Glazing may be done in either watercolor or oil paintings.

Scumbling is 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. The original, dry layer still shows thru.

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

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.

Small droplets or pieces of paint fly onto the painting surface to create the desired effect.

watercolor - glossary of art terms

Watercolor Wash is paint and water mixed together and then applied over a large area.

Wet Wash is paint applied to a wet surface. The paint moves smoothly 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 on dry paper will gives a crisper effect. It gives us more control over the paint. The paint is moved with our brush.

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

Watercolor Blossoms or Back-runs occur when we 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.

Glazing is a layer of transparent paint painted over a previous dry layer of paint. Our eyes see a combination of the two layers of color.

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. Use frisket while painting a beautiful butterfly painting.



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

It is my pleasure sharing with you.

go and create beautiful paintings


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