Art Glossary

A glossary of important art terms. Useful definitions and descriptions of terms, phrases and words related to painting, sculpture, mediums, styles, periods, and more.

AB  | C |  D |  E |  F G |  H |  I J | K  | L  | M  | N  | O  | P  | Q  | R  | S  | T  | U  | V | W  | X  | Y  | Z

A

Abstract Expressionism - Abstract style originating in the United States in the 1940’s emphasizing spontaneity and energy.

Acrylic paint-  Acrylic is a water-based "plastic" paint. Synthetic painting colors made by distributing pigments in a vehicle made of a polymethyl methacrylate solution in mineral spirits.. They are valued for their versatility and clean up can be done with soap and water.

Appliqué - French meaning “applied” and pronounced “ap-li-kay”. A cutout attached to a background. 

Aquarelle - (pronounced “ak-we-rell”) A transparent watercolour. 

Aquatint - a process in which spaces rather than lines are acid-etched onto a metal plate. Prints pulled from an aquatint plate show a tonal effect similar to a wash drawing or a watercolour.

Art - a form of human activity created primarily as an aesthetic expression, especially, but not limited to drawing, painting and sculpture.

Art Deco - Style in decoration and architecture, originating in the 1920’s characterized by streamlined, rhythmic patterns. 

Art Nouveau - Ornamental style from the 1890’s, influential in design, employing sinuous lines and simplified forms. 

Artist Proof - (abbreviation: A.P.) A print outside of the numbered series, usually one tenth of the edition. Hand signed or approved by the artist for quality control and colour correctness. Most often sought after by collectors. May or may not be a numbered series. 

Artist Signed Stamp - A stamp signed by the artist and framed in combination with a stamp print. 

Assemblage - Sculpture formed by joining individual pieces, sometimes “found objects”.

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B

Bas-Relief - (French meaning “low relief” and pronounced “Bah relief”) Sculpture in which figure projects only slightly from background.

Batik -  a method of dyeing textiles. Wax is applied to sections of material which are to remain uncolored; the dyes do not penetrate wax. Once dyed, the wax can be removed by various methods, one of which is boiling. Repeated waxing and dyeing results in colorful patterns. The lines typically found in batiks are produced by cracking the hardened wax before applying the dye.

Bon-a-Tirer - (French meaning “good to pull”—Pronounced “bone-ah-ti-ray”. The first impression of a print run acceptable to the artist and used as the standard with which each subsequent impression is compared.

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C

Canvas - Fabrics that are prepared for painting. Available in panels, stretched on frames, or obtained by the yard.

Casein paint - Derived from milk, is a fast-drying, water-soluble medium used by artists. It generally has a glue-like consistency, but can be thinned with water to the degree that fits a particular artist's style and desired result. It can be used on canvas panels, illustration boards, paper, wood and masonite.

Catalogue Raisonne - (French meaning “ raised catalogue” and pronounced “catalog re-zo-Nay”) Complete descriptive listing of an artist’s work.                   

Certificate of Authenticity - Certificates that identify the authenticity of the limited edition print or canvas print.                       

CPF (Certified Picture Framer) - One who has passed the Professional Picture Framers Association’s certification examination.

ClassArt - is a Giclee printing reproduction on a lightweight, acid free and extremely resilient and durable archival material. This new material will not chip, fade, scratch or smear and can be framed without a glass.   ClasArt is the mix  of the giclee printing method with a hard archival surface. The result is an exquisite reproduction, true to the original work of art, that will always retain its luster and vivid color and is virtually indestructible.

Clayboard - Archival particle board, coated with acid-free porcelain onto which a giclée or serigraph is printed.

Coated Paper - Paper manufactured with a thin surface coating of clay. This coating produces a sharp, finely detailed image because it prevents ink from absorbing into the fibers. 

Collage - (pronounced “co-LAZH”) a work made by gluing pieces of paper, fabric, etc. onto a flat surface. 

Commission Print - Also called “ time-limited edition” print, or “subscription edition”. The edition size is determined by the number of orders received as of an established deadline date.  

Commission – To order an original work from an artist. 

Computer Art - Images electronically produced and generated by a computer. 

Condition - A print’s physical condition influences its market value. Condition typically is described as ranging from “mint”- completely undamaged and original, to “poor”. A poor condition print may be creased, torn, water or tape blemished, trimmed smaller than its original size, or otherwise damaged.

Conservation framing - is the careful maintenance and protection of works of art.
In conservation (preservation) framing, using materials and procedures that will have no adverse effects on a piece of artwork and will protect the artwork.

Charcoal - A drawing medium (pencil or crayon) made from a porous carbonaceous material. 

Chromolithography - A colour-printing process in which separate printing plates are used to apply each component colour. Often called “four colour” printing because the full range of colour tones are achieved with only four plates- red, blue, yellow, and black. 

Cubism - Style inaugurated by Picasso and Braque in the early 20th century featuring fragmentation and re-arrangement of natural forms.

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D

Dadaism - Movement originating during and after World War One emphasizing the incongruous and accidental while mocking the traditions of art. 

Diptych - A two-part painting often of attached panels. 

Dry Mount - Framing method in which a print is fastened to a stiff backing with non-liquid adhesive. Dry–mounting is not recommended for prints of any value. 

Dry Point - An intaglio technique like engraving in which the image is drawn on a metal plate with a needle, raising a ridge which prints a soft line.

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E

Easel - a  freestanding structure designed to hold an artist’s canvas or panel during painting. Also may be decorative for display.

Edition - The authorized number of impressions made from a single image, including all numbered prints and proofs; a limited edition has a specified number noted on the impression. Edition size: number of prints in the edition. 

Egg Tempera - This painting medium combines pigment with egg yolk and distilled water. 

Embossed Print - Un-inked relief print in which dampened paper is pressed into recessed areas of a plate to produce a three-dimensional impression. 

Encaustic - style of painting using pigments mixed with hot wax, which are burned-in as an inlay. 

Engraving - An intaglio process in which lines are cut into a metal plate and then filled with ink to transfer the image onto paper. 

Etching - An intaglio process in which an image is scratched through an acid resistant coating on a metal plate. The plate is then dipped in acid, which eats into the exposed surface. Prints are then made from the etched surface.

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F

Fauvism - ( French meaning “ wild beast” and pronounced “FOHV-ism”) An early 20th century French style employing thick outlines and bold, often clashing colours unrelated to the subjects in nature.

Fillet - a small molding that may be used as an edging on a mat, liner or frame lip. Profiles may differ somewhat.

Frame - the decorative or functional element which surrounds an item, providing protection and display functions. Typically made of wood or metal, a frame generally provides the architectural support element for a work of art.

Fitting - The process of assembling glass, mats, artwork and filler board into a picture frame, including the addition of a dust cover and hangers.

Foreshortening - Alteration of scale of an image to suggest perspective. 

Found Object - A natural object incorporated in a work of art, such as a leaf, feather, etc.

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G

Giclee:   a French word meaning “to spray”. Ink-jet technology specifically for fine art reproduction. The ink-jet printer produces over four million droplets of ink, each second, that combine to form more than two thousand shades of color.  The information controlling the jets comes directly from a computer - no printing film or plates are required. The computer's information is scanned directly from the artist's original work. This modern method of creating reproductions is gaining in popularity because of  it’s ability to closely resemble the original.

Gouache - an opaque watercolor paint. A painting done with such a medium.

Graphic - Any work printed from a plate or block. 

Ground - The surface upon which a painting is done- canvas, masonite, and so on.

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H

Haute Relief - (French for “high relief” and pronounced “O relief”) High sculpture relief in which figures project from a background at least half of their depth. 

Hors De Commerce - French meaning “outside of sale” and pronounced “Or de com-airce.” A designation for prints not in the numbered series pulled for the use of the publisher, normally limited to 5 or 6.

Hyperrealism is a genre of painting and sculpture resembling a high resolution digital photograph.   In painting and sculpture the phrase "Hyperrealism" is used to describe a photorealistic rendering of people, landscapes and scenes.

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I

Image - 1) The printed or colored portion of a print. 2) A physical likeness or representation of a person, animal or thing; photographed, painted, sculpted or otherwise made visible.

Impasto - Thick applications of paint creating a textured surface. 

Impressionism - Loose spontaneous style developed in the late 19th century in France, in which artists tried to capture their impressions of light and shade.

Intaglio: In this method of printing reproductions, the area of the image to be printed is recessed into the surface of the printing plate and the recessed areas are filled with ink. The incised image may be etched, engraved with chemicals or tools. An example of Intaglio printing is paper currency, money. The image to be printed is incised into the plates, the incisions filled with ink, and excess ink wiped from the plates. Heavy pressure is applied to transfer the ink from the plates to the paper, leaving the surface slightly raised and the back side slightly indented.

Issue Price - The original price of a limited edition print when first offered for retail sale.

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J

Joining - in framing, the operation of gluing and nailing the corners of a frame together.

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K

Kiln - is a thermally insulated chamber in which a controlled temperature regime is produced. Kilns are also used for the firing of materials, such as clay and raw materials to form ceramics.

L

Limited edition print

A reproduction of an original work of art that is signed and sequentially numbered by the artist and is limited to a certain quantity of numbered copies. The first number indicates the number of the piece; the second number indicates the total quantity of the edition, e.g., 135/250.

Linocut - A process in which an image is cut in relief on a linoleum block.

Lithography -  uses the principle that oil and water don't mix as the basis of the printing process. A flat stone such as limestone or a metal plate is treated so that the image area attracts oil-based inks and the wet non-image areas repel the oil-based inks. In lithography, the printing surface is flat with both image and non-image areas at the same level on the printing plate.

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M

Margin - The white, unprinted area surrounding a printed image. 

Matrix - A printing surface on which an image is drawn or incised. The matrix may be made of wood, stone, metal, plastic, linoleum, or any other substance that will print images on paper. 

Medallion - Cast metal medallions sometimes are issued in conjunction with the publication of prints, especially stamp prints. Design of the medallion artwork usually duplicates some portion of the print.

Medium - is the materials that an artist uses in creating a work and can be oil paint, acrylic, watercolor, pencil, or pastel to name a few of the popular mediums. What the work is “painted on” or “applied to” is also part of the medium. For example: oil paintings can be on canvas or prepared board. Watercolors are usually painted on paper of various thicknesses. Describing more then one art medium is referred to as media. Any substance added to color to facilitate application or to achieve a desired effect.

Mezzotint - An intaglio process in which the plate surface is roughened and then an image is created by smoothing the areas to be printed. 

Minimalism - Style emerging in the mid 20th century in which the elements are the simplest possible forms. 

Mint Stamp - An unsigned stamp framed with a copy of the print from which the stamp was made. 

Mixed Media - The use of different materials in the same work.

Mobile - A sculpture that permits motion.

Molding - wood or metal which has been refined and shaped and which includes a rabbet for use in the framing industry as frame stock to frame pictures.

Monotype - A unique print made from an inked, painted glass or metal plate.

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N

Numbered - Each copy of a limited edition print is marked with two numbers, separated by a slash mark. The first number identifies the particular copy, and the second indicates edition size. 35/950, for instance identifies print number 35 of a 950-copy edition.

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O

Offset Lithography - is one of the most commonly used printing process’ to create reproductions. How this process works is first transferring an image photographically to thin metal, paper, or plastic plates. Rollers apply ink and water to the plates. Since oil and water don't mix, the oil-based ink doesn't adhere to the non-image areas. Only the inked image portion is then transferred to a rubber blanket (cylinder) that then transfers the image onto the paper as it passes between it and another cylinder beneath the paper. The term offset refers to the fact that the image isn't printed directly to the paper from the plates, but is offset or transferred to another surface that then makes contact with the paper.

Oil painting - developed over time during the 15th and 16th centuries, the technique or result of using paints made from pigments mixed with oil on a canvas.

Op Art - Name coined in the 1970’s for a style popular in 1947 employing optical illusion by juxtaposing colour and line in geometric patterns that seem to vibrate.

Open edition - An edition having an unlimited number of prints in it.

Original - as defined by the dictionaries:  Preceding all others in time; first. Any work considered to be an authentic creation by an artist, rather than a copy, reproduction or imitation. Original comes from the word Origin.

Origin: the place where something begins, where it springs into being.

Overall Print Size - The physical dimensions of the paper upon which a print is made.

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 P

Papier en Metal
A unique process combining layers of metallic foil. opaque white ink, process inks and touch colors onto fine art paper to reproduce the radiant halo effects of gold, silver, and bronze in the original art.

Pastel - a crayon made from pigment mixed with gum and water and pressed into a stick-shaped form. A work of art created from these crayons is also called a pastel. Pastel can also indicate a pale color.

Pencil - A drawing implement made of graphite, crayon, or a similar substance enclosed in wood or a hand-held mechanism made of plastic or metal.

Picture frame - A structure, usually of wood or metal in which a painting, print or other object is enclosed to improve or enhance its appearance, to isolate it from a wall or to link it to a decor, as well as to support and protect it. 

Planography - Any process of printing from a surface level with the plate, as in lithography. 

Pointillism - Late 19th century French style using small dots of pure colour to produce images. 

Pop Art - comes from the words Popular Art and is a genre of art that uses elements of popular culture with techniques from commercial art and advertising along with bold and bright colours to attract attention. Pop art can be paintings, sculptures, and graphics that use the imagery of popular or mass culture such as newspapers, comics, advertising, and famous people, places, food or material things. A witty and ironic art, it emerged in New York in the 1960s after having it’s start in London during the 1950s.One of the most notable pop artists of all time was the artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987). One of his most famous paintings was that of a Campbell's soup can which was considered iconic to the pop culture of the 60's.Think of pop art as being fun, colorful with child-like playfulness and simplicity.

Poster -  An inexpensive printed reproduction of a piece of artwork in unlimited quantities. Four-color lithographic reproductions of a painting, usually with colored borders and wording on or around the image to advertise an artist, show or event. This art medium comes from the ancient practice of "posting" messages in public places.

Proof - A publisher’s sample of a future limited edition release. Not for sale. Usually has the word “ PROOF” or “SAMPLE” stamped on or in the image.

Provenance - A record of previous ownership and previous locations for a work of art.

Publisher - A company whose business is to produce and market prints.

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Q

R

Rag Paper - Paper used for prints, which contains a certain proportion of cotton fiber in its physical structure. The higher the cotton content, the higher the quality of paper.

Refit -To remove an artwork from a frame and reinstall in the same or different frame.

Relief - A technique in which the portions of a plate intended to print are raised above the surface, as in woodcut, linocut, etc. 

Remarque - A small original drawing or sketch made by an artist in the margin of a print. An artist personalization.

Reproduction - a copy.

Restoration -  repair of an object to recreate its original appearance.

Rice paper - a common misnomer for Japanese paper. A smooth, white material favored by Chinese painters; cut off, in a spiral manner, from the pith of the Fatsia papyrifera tree. Not a paper, similar to papyrus and tapa in that regard.

Rigiclée - A giclee process on archival porcelain coated Masonite board for supreme longevity.

Roman Numbered Edition - A smaller edition numbered with Roman numerals, usually a deluxe edition on higher quality paper.

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S

Scratchboard - Cardboard coated with chalk forms a smooth, glossy surface, which is used as a ground for drawing or painting in ink. Parts of the image may then be scratched off with a pointed tool to create a variety of effects.

Screw eye - A screw with a head shaped into a loop to which the hanging wire on the back of a picture frame is attached.

Secondary Market Value - The value of a print, determined by supply and demand, after all copies have been sold out at original issue price.

Security hanger - A type of hanger with one section attached to the back of the frame and the other to the wall. When positioned together, the frame is held securely and requires a special tool to separate the hanger parts. Used to help avoid theft of artwork.

Serigraphs:  Also commonly known as silk-screening, serigraphy is a time-honored technique, based on stenciling, for creating prints by hand. Ink or paint is carefully brushed through a fine fabric screen, portions of which have been masked for impermeability. For each color, a different portion of the screen must be masked, and each color must be allowed to dry before the next is applied.

Shadow box - a frame made from a deep molding or material in which three-dimensional objects may be displayed.

Signature: on an artwork establishes the identity of its maker and is important in determining the authenticity of a painting. It is a person's name as written by that person, as distinguished from how anyone else would sign either that person's name or their own name. Signatures have been placed in many locations on works. Most commonly on drawings and paintings, signatures have been placed just inside one of the bottom edge corners of the picture. Typically artists sign works only when they've been finished. Signing a work is frequently the gesture marking a work's completion -- the moment, as Picasso put it, that it is ready to be "abandoned."

Signed and Numbered - A print bearing an original signature and copy/edition number. 

Signed Only - A print signed by the artist but not numbered. (See open edition) 

Signed in the Plate - Refers to the artist’s signature on an original work, as it appears in a print. 

Sold Out - Said of a limited edition print once it is no longer available at issue price and is being sold instead at secondary market prices. 

Stamp Print - Limited edition print made from a work originally created as the design for a conservation group. Print and stamp customarily are framed together.

Still life - a painting or drawing of a group of inanimate objects contrived by the artist according to some theme, either symbolic or merely aesthetic.

Stretch - To pull a fabric taut over a rigid support and secure; e.g., a canvas over a stretched frame or a needle art over foam board.

Stretcher bar - A strip of wood with tongue-and-groove ends. Bars are joined to form an expandable frame over which canvas is stretched.

Subscription Edition - A size of edition determined by the number of orders received before a pre-determined deadline. 

Surrealism - Style using imagery from dreams and the subconscious, often distorting forms of ordinary objects or placing them in new contexts.

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T

Tempera - Pigments mixed with a water-soluble base such as casein, size, or egg yolk. Tempera dries with a flat, dull finish. 

Tetraptych - (pronounced “te-TRAP-tick”) A four part painting. 

Triptych - (pronounced “trip-tick”) A three-part painting. Three panels. 

Trompe L’oeil - French meaning “fool the eye” and pronounced “trom-LOY” Style in painting so naturalistic that the eye is deceived into flat surfaces as three dimensional.

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U

Ultraviolet (UV) light - short, high energy invisible light waves beyond violet in the spectrum with a length of 250 to 400 nanometers.

United inches - In framing, the combined inches of one length and one width of a frame; e.g., an 8x10 frame is 18 united inches.

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V

W

Watercolors - a paint that uses water as its base usually painted on heavy paper.

Watermark - a design, pattern or mark on paper, usually produced by a raised area on which the paper is made. Watermarks on handmade papers are made by very low relief molds or designs of fine wire set on the screen on which the moist pulp collects.

Woodcut - A process in which the image is cut in a relief on a wood block.

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X

Y

Z

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We are constantly adding to this art glossary.
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