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