Discover more with our A to Z guide to art terms.

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Abrasion - A process where paint is removed to reveal layers beneath the surface.

Abstract art - Art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality.

Accelerated perspective - The deliberate exaggeration of perspective, often used to make a shallow surfaces appear deeper.

Acrylic paint - A type of paint where the pigment is suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion.

Acrylic ink - An extremely fluid acrylic paint made from super-fine pigments suspended in an acrylic emlusion.

Airbrushing - A painting technique which uses an airbrush to give an even and consistent surface.

Alkyd - A resin binder added to oil paints for faster drying times.

Alla prima - A technique whereby wet paint is applied to previous layers of still-wet paint,usually in a single sitting.

Ambient light - The light which is present in a scene.

Aquatint - A printmaking technique that produces tonal effects by using acid to eat into the printing plate.

Atelier  - Often used to denote a group of artists, designers or architects working collectively.

Axis lines - Straight lines, either implied or visible, which run through an object in its dominant direction.


Background - The area of a painting that appears to be furthest from the viewer.

Balance - The arrangement of elements which create a sense of visual equilibrium.

Binder - A paint substance which holds together the pigment and ensures that it sticks to surfaces.

Blending - A technique whereby different colours are slightly mixed together, allowing a smooth transition from one colour to the next.

Blocking in - Roughly establishing the composition and structure of the subject.

Body colour - An opaque paint that can completely obliterate an underlying colour.

Brush pen - A pen with a brush tip offering the benefits of a paintbrush with the convenience of a pen.

Brushwork - The way in which an artist applies paint to a support with a brush.


Canvas - A closely woven cloth that acts as a support for paintings.

Chalk - A soft powdery white or off-white writing or drawing material in crayon form.

Charcoal - A black crumbly drawing material made of carbon, often used for sketching.

Chiaroscuro - Refers to a strong contrast between light and dark in drawings.

Chinese brush painting - Art created using the same techniques as calligraphy, done with a brush dipped in black ink or coloured pigments.

Cityscape - A painting or drawing where an urban scene or buildings are the main focus.

Collage - A piece of art created by fixing a variety of materials to a support using glue.

Collective - An art collective is a group of artists working together to achieve a common objective

Colour - The perceived hue of an object or substance. Also refers to a dye, pigment, or paint that imparts a hue.

Coloured pencils - Pencils made of pigment bound in wax (sometimes with a little oil too) and encased in wood.

Colour wheel - A circular diagram showing the spectrum of colours and relationships between primary, secondary and tertiary colours.

Complementary colours - A pair of colours, situated opposite one another on the colour wheel, which cancel each other out when mixed together.

Composition - The way the elements in a painting are arranged as distinct from the subject.

Conceptual art - Art for which the idea (or concept) behind the work is more important than the finished art.

Contour - A  line that defines a form or edge.

Convergence - In perspective, this is the phenomena whereby all parallel lines converge together as they run along to a point at a person’s eye level.

Cross-hatching - A mark-making process where lines that run in different directions are layered on top of each other to provide the illusion of shade.


Décollage - The opposite of collage. Art created by cutting, tearing away or otherwise removing, pieces of an original image.

Depth - The apparent distance from the foreground to background.

Digital art - Art that is made or presented using digital technology.

Diptych - A piece of art consisiting of two panels.

Drawing - A technique of depicting images by making lines, most commonly using ink, pencil, crayon, charcoal and chalk.

Drybrush - A painting technique in which a paint brush that is relatively dry, but still holds paint, is used.

Drypoint - A printmaking process in which a design is drawn on a plate with a sharp, pointed needle-like instrument.


Edition - A copy or replica of a work of art made from a master.

Egg tempera - A permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium such as egg yolk.

Embossed - A raised or depressed surface created during printmaking processes.

Encaustic - An ancient painting method in which wax and pigment are fused onto a surface with heat.

Engraving - A printmaking technique that involves making incisions into a metal plate which retain the ink.

En plein air - The act of painting outdoors.

Etching - A printmaking technique that uses chemical action to produce incised lines in a metal printing plate.

Expressive - Art which is representative of the artist's feelings and emotions.


Fat over lean - The principle in oil painting of applying paint with a higher oil to pigment ratio ('fat') over paint with a lower oil to pigment ratio ('lean') to ensure a stable paint film

Figure drawing - The depiction of the human body in art.

Figurative - Representation of the human form.

Focal point - The area of a painting or drawing which is designed draw the viewer’s attention.

Foreground - The elements in a drawing or painting that are positioned nearest to the viewer.

Foreshortening - A technique used to create the illusion that parts of an object recede strongly into the distance or background.

Format - The shape or proportions of the support, for example canvas, used for a painting.

Frottage - A technique where textures are obtained by rubbing pencils, chalk or charcoal over a textured surface.

Fumage - Painting with smoke from a lighted candle into a ground of wet paint.


Gesso - Gesso is very similar to white acrylic paint, only thinner, and is used for making a painting surface stiffer prior to painting.

Gestural - Used to describe the application of paint in free sweeping gestures.

Glaze - A thin transparent or semi-transparent layer on a painting which modifies the appearance of the underlying paint.

Gouache - A water-soluble paint that appears opaque, so the white of the support does not show through.

Graffiti art - A term referring to images or text painted, usually onto buildings, using spray paints.

Graphite - A metallic grey writing and drawing material most commonly used in pencil form.

Grattage - A technique involving laying a canvas prepared with a layer of oil paint over a textured object and then scraping the paint off.

Grid method - The process of drawing a grid over a reference photo, and then drawing a grid of equal, or scaled-up, ratio on your work surface.


Hardboard - A wooden surface without grain which is easy to prime.

Hard-edge - An abrupt transition between colours in a painting. The opposite of blending.

Horizon line - The horizontal line in a painting representing the viewers eye-level or showing where the land meets the sky.

Hue - The actual colour of something.

Hyper-realism - A style of painting or sculpting where the subject is represented in a completely realistic way.


Illusion - A piece of art which tricks the viewer into perceiving a particular effect.

Impasto - Laying down paint on the support in very thick layers, leaving brush or palette knife marks visible.

Ink - An ancient writing and drawing medium in liquid or paste form.

Intaglio  - Any printmaking technique in which the image is produced by incising into a printing plate.

Interactive art - Art that relies on the participation of the viewer.


Juxtaposition - The act of placing things closer together or side by side for comparison or contrast


Kinaesthetic art - Art that deals with the body in motion.

Kinetic art - Art that depends on motion for its effects.


Landscape - A piece of art that is focused on natural scenery.

Line drawing - Straight or curved lines made by pencil, pen or brush, to represent shape and form.

Linear perspective - A technique used to create the illusion of depth.

Linocut - A form of printmaking using linoleum as the surface into which the design is cut.

Lithography - A printing process that uses a flat stone or metal plate.

Loose - Painting with lines and marks which suggest the subject rather than depicting it in every detail.


Mannequin - A poseable wooden figure to assist with figure drawing and painting.

Marker pens - Pens consisting of a container with a core of an absorbent material, which serves as a carrier for ink, and a nib for applying the ink to the surface.

Medium - The materials used to create a piece of art.

Middle ground - The central elements of a piece of art in terms of depth.

Miniature - A small painting, often a portrait.

Mixed media - Art made up of a variety of different media.

Monochrome - Art made up of just one colour or hue.

Monoprint - A form of printmaking where the image can only be made once.

Montage - An assembly of images that all relate to each other and create a single piece of art.

Mosaic - A picture made up of small pieces of tile or glass.

Motif - A recurring theme or pattern that occurs in a piece of art.

Mural - A painting which is created on a wall.


Narrative - Art that tells a story.

Negative space - The empty space between objects and structures in a piece of art.


Oil paint - A slow-drying paint where the pigment is held in a drying oil binder.

Oil pastel - A painting and drawing medium formed into a stick which consists of pigment mixed with a binder mixture of non-drying oil and wax.

Oil sticks/bars - Traditional oil paint compressed into a stick and encased in wax.

Opaque - Paints through which light cannot pass, therefore hiding the underlayers or paper.


Painterly - Referring to the application of paint in a 'loose' or less than controlled manner.

Palette - The surface on which an artist mixes colours.

Palette knife - A blunt plastic or metal blade used to mix colours and apply paint to the surface.

Pastel - A coloured drawing medium made from pure coloured pigment mixed with a binder to form a stick.

Pastel pencil - Wood encased sticks of soft pastel. They are ideal for adding fine detail to soft pastel paintings.

Pen & ink - A drawing technique involving the use of black and other coloured inks, applied to a support with either a dip pen or a reservoir pen.

Pen & wash - A drawing marked out by pen or some similar instrument and then tinted with diluted ink or watercolour.

Perspective - A technique for creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.

Pigment - The colouring component of paints and pastels.

Plane - A flat surface within a painting.

Portrait - Any art where facial features are the primary subject. Also used to descibe vertical orientation rather than horizontal, or landscape, format.

Pose - The position of the subject in a piece of art.

Printmaking - An artistic process based on the principle of transferring images from a matrix onto another surface, most often paper or fabric.

Profile - A side view, normally of a head.

Proportion - A harmonious relationship of individual parts to each other or to the whole piece.

Proportional divider - A tool which allows distances measured between the points at one end to be laid off in the same proportion by the points at the opposite end.




Relief - A wall-mounted sculpture in which the three-dimensional elements are raised from a flat base

Representational - A term used for art that represents some aspect of reality in a straightforward way.

Resin - A usually transparent solid or semi-solid substance sometimes used as a medium by sculptors.


Scale - The ratio between the size of the subject and its artistic representation.

Scratchboard - An illustrative technique using sharp knives and tools for engraving into a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with dark, often black India ink.

Screenprint - A form of printing using a screen made from fabric (silk or synthetic) stretched tightly over a frame.

Sculpture - Three-dimensional art made by one of four basic processes: carving, modelling, casting, constructing.

Scumble - A thin, opaque coat of paint or layer of shading applied to give a softer or duller effect.

Sfumato - A painting technique that softens the transition between two colours and tones.

Silk painting - The application of paints or dyes directly onto silk fabric using an array of watercolour techniques.

Sketch - A rough or unfinished drawing or painting of a subject.

Soft edge - Where the boundaries of a subject in a painting appear to fade into the background. The opposite of a hard edge.

Still life - Art where the subject is anything that does not move or is dead.

Spray painting - Spray paint art uses spray painting from a can or aerosol on a non-porous material, such as wood, metal, glass, ceramic or plastic. Often associated with street art, in large cities.

Stylised - A way of representing something using a style other than a natural depiction.

Subject - The primary focus of a piece of art.


Tempera - A paint in which the pigment is held in a water-soluble binder, such as water and egg yolk.

Tint - The use of white to make a colour appear brighter.

Tone - The intensity and strength of colours in a painting.

Translucent - Paints which allow light to pass through them.

Triptych - A painting completed on three separate panels.

Trompe L'Oiel - Paintings that create the illusion of a real object or scene.


Unity - The visual quality of wholeness achieved through effective use of the elements within the painting.


Value - The relative lightness or darkness of colour.

Vantage point - The position of the viewer in relation to the subject they are representing.

Vanishing point - The point of disappearance in perspective drawings.

Varnish - Varnish can be used on a finished oil painting to protect the surface and create a more uniform appearance.

Vignette - An illustration or painting which fades into its background with no clearly defined edge.

Volume - The representation of mass in a piece of art.


Watercolour - A medium where the pigment is held in a water-soluble solution. Also used to refer to pictures completed with these substances.

Watermark - An image or mark in a sheet of paper (usually the papermaker's trademark) visible when viewed by transmitted light.

Water-soluble coloured pencil - Pencils you draw with and then run a wet brush over to disperse the colour into a wash.

Water-soluble oil - Oil paints that can be diluted and cleaned with water, rather than solvents.

Wet-in-wet - In watercolour painting where wet paint is laid on to a wet, or damp, surface.

Wet-on-dry - In watercolour painting where wet paint is laid on to a dry surface.

Wet-on-wet - In oil painting this means painting directly on top of wet paint without allowing the lower layer to dry.

Wood engraving - A method of printmaking where the line is cut into the woodblock, rather than the background being cut away.

Woodcut - A method of relief printing from a block of wood cut along the grain.