Glossary of Terms: Paintings

Acrylic paint is made by suspending pigment in acrylic polymer emulsion. They can be diluted with water, but become water-resistant when dry. Acrylic paint is often used as a fast-drying alternative to oil paint.

Acrylic Paint
Acrylic paint is made from suspending pigment in acrylic polymer emulsion. Acrylics are mostly soluble in water, fast-drying, and less translucent than oils.

Archival Quality
A designation for paper or inks of high permanence and durability, “Archival” is a non-technical term used to denote material that will last over long periods of time with minimal deterioration because of its chemical stability and physical durability.

Canvas is a plain woven cloth of natural fibers (typically linen or cotton) usually stretched taut over a wooden frame called a stretcher and primed with gesso prior to use. The word canvas can also refer to a painting on canvas.

Italian for “lightdark”, chiaroscuro is defined as a bold contrast between both light and dark. A certain amount of chiaroscuro has the effect of light modeling in painting, where three-dimensional volume is suggested by highlights and shadow.
(printmaking)The term has also been applied since the later 18th century to a printmaking technique using aquatint, xylography or china ink drawing. This technique defines objects without a contouring line, but only by the contrast between the colors of the object and the background.

Cinnabar, sometimes written cinnabarite is a red mercury sulfide or native vermillion used as pigment.

(n) Collage, from the French word “coller”, meaning to stick, is a work of visual art made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole. Collage can include any material, such as newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of colored or hand-made papers, photographs, and other material which are glues to a solid support or canvas.
(v) to collage

Complementary Colors
The tern refers to colors that are opposite one another on the color wheel (ex. red and green, purple and yellow, blue and orange). These color combinations create the strongest possible contrast of color, and when placed in close proximity, intensify the appearance of the other.

The art or practice of combining, placing or arranging the different elements of a work of art so as to produce a harmonious whole. Also, composition can refer to a work of art considered as such.

Conté Crayon
The trade name of French sticks or crayons that are typically used as a drawing medium. Conté crayons are made by combining powdered graphite or charcoal with a wax or clay base. They are grease-free and very chalky in texture. Conté crayons are most commonly found in black, white, and sepia tones and are often used on rough paper that holds pigment well.

Classical Contrapposto
This Italian tern describes a human figure standing in such a way that one part of the body twists away from the other with the weight of the figure balanced on one leg instead of two, exemplified in Michelangelo’s “David” (1504). This has the effect of giving the figure a relaxed appearance, while at the same time emcompassing the tension created as a figure changes from a state of rest.

Literally, “crackle.” The term refers to the overall pattern of fine cracks on a painting’s surface resulting from age. Craquelere can also be artificially induced.

An artwork on two panels hung together. Historically, a diptych refers to a two-paneled painting or bas-relief attached at a hinge.

In painting, a suspension of small globules of one liquid in a second liquid with which the first will not mix or dissolve.

In linear perspective, the section of a painting that appears closest to the viewer. See also Perspective.

Found Object (Objet Trouvi)
A natural or manufactured object that is “found” by the artist and displayed as art or combined with other elements in a work of art. Found objects have gained increasing importance in art over the course of the twentieth century, with many art movements finding new freedoms of expression which had been stifled by the more stringent definitions of art previously used.

The word “fresco” comes from the Italian “affresco” meaning fresh. Fresco paintings can be done in two ways. “Buon fresco” paintings are done on wet plaster, while “a secco” paintings are completed on dried plaster. Fresco paintings are typically done as a mural.

(1)”Gesso” is the Italian word for chalk, and is a powdered form of the mineral calcium carbonate. Historically, gesso was mixed with animal glue, usually rabbit-skin glue to use as an absorbent primer coat for panel painting with tempera paints. However, this mixture is rather brittle and susceptible to cracking, thus making it unsuitable for use on canvas.
(2)Another mixture of gesso used for coating or priming raw canvas.
(3)A substance made of plaster and glue that may be molded into ornamental shapes that are usually painted or gilded.

An opaque paint, similar to watercolor. Gouache differs in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and it contains a white pigment such as chalk. Gouache is applied like watercolor, but reflects light due to its chalky finish.

A work done entirely in monochrome or a drawing executed in gray tones. A grisaille can be the first stage in building up an oil painting or it could be used as a model for an engraver to work from.

The surface to which paint is applied; or the coating material applied to a support to prepare it for painting.

The pure state of any color or a pure pigment that has not had white or black added to it.

(painting) The thick, uneven surface texture achieved by applying paint with a brush or palette knife. Paint can also be mixed directly on the canvas.

A composition in which line is the dominant element in defining form as opposed to mass. Linear is considered the opposite of painterly.

Most commonly, an artist’s method of expression, such as ceramics, painting or glass. Medium can also refer to a liquid added to a paint to increase its ability to be worked without affecting its essential properties. See also Vehicle.

Milk Paint
A non-toxic, fade-resistant paint made from milk protein (casein), clay, lime and earth pigments.

Museum Wrap
(painting) A finishing technique for artwork mounted on stretchers. The fabric is mounted onto stretcher bars with no visible staples on the edge of the frame. Edges are painted dark and no framing is necessary.

Neutral Color
In color theory, a color that is neither warm nor cool. Neutral colors result from the combination of two complementary colors (e.g., red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple). Neutral colors can also be mixed by other means.

A composition in which mass is the dominant element in defining form (as opposed to line). See also Painterly.

Nonrepresentational art refers to art that does not depict recognizable figures or elements of the natural world. Nonrepresentational art can be abstract, non-objective, and decorative.

(painting) Oil refers to a paint medium and its associated techniques or any work so produced. Oil paint is made from ground pigments suspended in a natural oil, typically linseed oil. Oil paint is the most flexible and luminous of all paint mediums.

Oil Paint
A type of slow-drying paint consisting of small pigment particles suspended in a natural oil, typically linseed oil. Oil paint is the most flexible and luminous of all paint mediums.

Not transparent. Opaque refers to that which does not transmit or reflect light.

Natural, or referring to nature in shape or form. Organic is the opposite of synthetic.

(painting) The term painterly was first introduced by Heinrich Wvlfflin to describe the sensuous traits of paint. The term refers to painting where the paint itself is loose, fluid or textured. Photographs and drawings where form is defined more by blocks of color than line are also often described as such.

Most commonly, the selected group of colors an artist chooses for a particular work or group of works. The term also refers to the board or surface on which a painter mixes his or her colors.

Palette Knife
(painting) A flexible metal spatula used for mixing paint or applying paint to a surface.

Any piece of parchment, canvas, panel or paper that has been reused, whether scraped clean, painted over or painted on the reverse side.

A panorama is any wide view of a physical space. It has also come to refer to a wide-angle representation of such a view. This term can be applied to painting, drawing, photography, film, video, or a three-dimensional model.

(1)In the context of visual perception, this term refers to the manner in which objects appear based on their special attributes, position and size.
(2)Linear perspective is a system for reduction of scale logically to present a single point of view within a painting.
(3)Aerial perspective reduces contrast and intensity as the illusion of space increases with distance.

Picture Plane
(painting) The actual working surface of a two-dimensional piece of art.

(painting) As used in common language, picturesque means “forming, or fitted to form, a good or pleasing picture.” Historically, Picturesque was a style of landscape painting that emphasized a sentimental aesthetic over the sublime. Picturesque can also refer to a style of landscape painting that reassures man of dominion over nature.

Plein Air
(painting) Literally, “open air.” The term refers to the practice of painting outdoors to capture optimal light and atmosphere.

A term describing the use of multiple colors within one object; polychromatic.

Refering to artwork on more than three panels. Historically, the term would refer to a painting or bas-relief set in an architectural frame or hinged together. This type of polyptych was typically used as an altarpiece.

Positive Space
The areas of an artwork occupied by forms or images; the opposite of negative space.

Primary Color
One of the three colors that are the basis for all other color combinations. In color theory, the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. The primary colors in light are red, green, and blue (RGB). In color printing, they are cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY).

(1)Refers to a self-taught artist having or affecting a direct, unschooled style, or any work produced by such an artist.
(2)The term also refers to the Primitivism art movement, which is characterized by a rough or manipulated application of paint invoking the idea of rawness, and flat or geometric designs. Primitive artists commonly abstract facial and bodily proportions. Notable Primitive artists include Paul Gauguin.

The depiction of figures, objects or scenes with minimal distortion or stylization. Realist artists depict subjects with objectivity and accuracy, rather than interpretation.

Characterized by bound or straight lines; the opposite of curvilinear.

The definition of replica is "a copy of a work of art produced by the person who made the original", though it is now commonly used to refer to any copy.

The term refers to art that depicts recognizable figures or elements of the natural world; unlike abstract art.

Scale refers to relative dimensions, without difference in proportion of parts, (especially the relative proportions of the linear dimensions of the parts of a drawing, map, model, etc.) to the dimensions of the corresponding parts of the object that is represented.

(painting) The technique of partially obscuring a work’s precision of line or brilliance of color by applying a semi-opaque layer of paint atop the underpainting. Also refers to the act of rubbing the surface of a work to smear lines and soften the image.

Secondary Color
One of three colors created by mixing equal parts of two primary colors (red, blue, and yellow); the secondary colors are violet, orange, and green.

(1)Refers to a rich, reddish-brown pigment produced from the ink sac of an octopus or cuttlefish ink, used in watercolor, drawing ink and oil paint.
(2)In photography, a gold toning bath can produce a color in the print referred to as sepia.
(3)Refering to the dark brown-grey color called sepia.

Still Life
A depiction of a group of inanimate objects, usually arranged for symbolic or aesthetic effect.

Stretched Canvas
(painting) A term referring to canvas stretched and secured to a wooden frame (also known as a stretcher bar) to be used for original paintings and print reproductions.

(1)A preliminary drawing or sketch for an artwork.
(2)An academic work done to "study" nature or a subject.

(painting) The structure or material on which a ground or paint layer is laid. Canvas, wooden panels and watercolor papers are examples of supports.

A vivid or striking scene, incidental or arranged.

An artist’s skillful manipulation or application of materials. Also describes an entire process associated with a particular method, such as watercolor.

(painting) The term comes from the Italian “tenebroso” meaning “gloomy” or “murky”. Tenebrism is a painting style using vivid contrasts of light and dark. A heightened form of chiaroscuro, this style creates the look of figures either engulfed in shadow or emerging from the dark. Any illumination in such a composition usually comes from a single intense source, such as a candle or ray of light. Best exemplified by Rembrandt.

A substance sufficiently transparent to allow light to pass through but not clear enough to reveal all form, line and color.

Refers to that which is clear or glasslike. Transparent materials can be seen through; that is, they allow clear images to pass.

Refers to a three-paneled artwork. Historically, triptychs were hinged together so that the two side wings could close over the central panel.

Trompe L'oeil
This French term literally means to "trick the eye". It comes from “tromper” meaning to deceive and “l'œil” meaning the eye. The term refers to an object or scene rendered so realistically that the viewer believes they are seeing the actual objects.

Refers to a volatile and fluid solvent obtained from the distillation of the resin of pine trees. Turpentine is typically used by artists to thin oil paints. Alternative names are wood turpentine, spirit of turpentine, oil of turpentine and gum turpentine.

The layer or layers of paint which an artist applys first. An underpainting typically serves as a guide for subsequent layers of paint. They are often monochromatic and help to define color values.

A solution of resinous matter in an oil or a volatile liquid. When applied to a surface, it dries transparent, hard and glossy, protecting the surface from air and moisture.

Refers to a liquid in which a pigment is dispersed. Also, that which is used as a means of communication, i.e., an artist’s medium is their vehicle of expression.

Warm Colors
In color theory, warm colors are those that contain a large amount of yellow, as opposed to cool colors, which contain more blue.

(painting) A thin, translucent layer of pigment, usually watercolor.
(ceramics) Coloring oxide mixed with water.

(painting) Watercolor paints are made by dispersing pigments in gum arabic, and are characterized by luminous transparency.