Art Terms — K

From “Kern” to “Kiln”

Used in typography to reduce or adjust the amount of space between letters or characters to give them the appearance of more even spacing so those characters appear better fitted together. Also referred to as kerning. Letters most often benefiting from kerning include the letters i, l, and t.
(Pronounced “kill”) refers to an oven or furnace burning, baking, or drying, especially one for firing pottery or ceramic.
Kinetic art
A form of art that has mechanical parts which can be set in motion. The moving parts are generally powered by wind, a motor, or hand pressure. Kinetic art was established as a major artistic movement in the 1950s.
A term of German origin used to categorize art or design considered to be in poor taste, lacking the sense of creativity and originality displayed in genuine art, because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.
Kneaded eraser
A tool used by artists to remove graphite and charcoal particles from a paper drawing. It is made from a pliable material that resembles putty or gum that can be manipulated (kneaded) by hand into any shape for precision erasing, creating highlights, or performing detailing work.

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UPDATED: 01 February 2017

Art Terms — M

From “Macramé” to “Mural”

 An old craft form of textile-making using knotting rather than weaving or knitting. Its primary knots are the square knot and forms of hitching (full hitch and double half hitches). It has been used by sailors, especially in elaborate or ornamental knotting forms to decorate anything from knife handles to bottles to parts of ships (see illustration).
M is for MagentaMagenta
One of the four process colors, or CMYK, the M is for magenta. A color also known as fuchsia and hot pink; a moderate to vivid purplish red or pink.
An artistic movement that developed in the sixteenth century as a reaction to the classical rationality and balanced harmony of the High Renaissance; characterized by the dramatic use of space and light, exaggerated color, elongation of figures, and distortions of perspective, scale, and proportion. El Greco was a major practitioner of this style.
The art or process of producing certain patterns of a veined or mottled appearance in imitation of marble by means of colors so prepared as to float on a mucilaginous liquid which possesses antagonistic properties to the colors prepared for the purpose.
Maritime art
Any art that gets its inspiration from the sea. It is a genre of art that often depicts ships and life out on the open sea.  Also referred to as marine art. Click for more information about maritime art or marine art.
A work done with extraordinary skill, especially a work of art, craft or intellect that is an exceptionally great achievement.
Material or technique an artist works in; also, the component of paint in which the pigment is dispersed.
Mineral spirits
An inexpensive paint thinner which cleans brushes, thins paint, cleans furniture, and removes wax often used as a substitute for turpentine.
A representational work of art made on a greatly reduced scale.
Minimal design
Omitting all non-essential or un-important elements and details which don’t really contribute to the essence of the overall composition in order to emphasize what is important.
A movement and style of art from the 20th century which attempts to reduce art to the basic geometric shapes with the fewest colors, lines, and textures. Minimal art does not seek to be representational of any object. Also known as ABC art.
Mixed media
The art technique where an artist employs different types of physical materials such as ink and pastel or painting and collage etc. and combines them in a single work.
A person who poses for an artist.
A color scheme limited to variations of one hue, a hue with its tints and/or shades.
Painting done in a range of tones of a single color.
montage imageAn artwork comprising of seemingly unrelated shots or scenes which, when combined of various existing images such as from photographs or prints and arranged so that they join, overlap or blend to create a new image which achieve meaning (as in, shot A and shot B together give rise to an third idea, which is then supported by shot C, and so on) (see illustration).
An art medium in which small pieces of colored glass, stone, or ceramic tile called tessera are embedded in a background material such as plaster or mortar. Also, works made using this technique.
muralAs it applies to art, the path that our eyes follow when we look at a work of art. One of the Good Design Principles. See more info.
A large wall painting, often executed in fresco (see illustration).

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UPDATED: 25 April 2016

Art Terms — L

From “Lacquer” to “Lowercase”

Refers to a clear or colored finish material that dries to a hard, glossy finish. Usually applied with a sprayer, lacquer dries too quickly for smooth application with a brush, unless it is specially formulated.
A painting, drawing or photograph which depicts outdoor scenery. They typically include trees, streams, buildings, crops, mountains, wildlife, rivers and forests. Click for more information on landscapes.
In typography, (rhymes with heading) the space between lines of type, often measured from the baseline of one line to the baseline of the next, and less frequently measured from ascender to ascender. Dates back to hot metal days when strips of lead were inserted between lines of type to provide line spacing.
Life drawing
Drawings of a human figure. Usually of nude figures so that the artist can understand how the muscles look and how light, tone and shadow reflect around the body.
Light table
Refers to a table made especially for working with negatives, viewing transparencies and slides, and pasting up artwork, that has a translucent top with a light shining up through it.
Refers to the similarity in appearance or character or nature between persons or things.
Limited edition
A limit placed on the number of prints produced in a particular edition, in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are signed and numbered by the artist. Once the prints in the edition have been sold out, the digital file is then destroyed by the Giclée Printmaker in order to maintain the integrity of the limited edition. The image will not be published again in the same form.
An actual or implied mark, path, mass, or edge, where length is dominant. Click for more information about line.
Linear perspective
A system for creating the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface. The system is based on a scientifically or mathematically derived series of actual or implied lines that intersect at a vanishing point on the horizon. Linear perspective determines the relative size of objects from the foreground of an image to the background.
Linseed oil
The most popular drying oil used as paint medium. The medium hardens over several weeks as components of the oil polymerize to form an insoluble matrix. Driers can be added to accelerate this process.
Uses the principle that oil and water don’t mix as the basis of the printing process; a method of printing using plates whose image areas attract ink and whose non image areas repel ink. Non image areas may be coated with water to repel the oily ink or may have a surface, such as silicon, that repels ink.
Local color
An objects true color; the actual color as distinguished from the apparent color of objects and surfaces; true color, without shadows or reflections.
In typography, small letters of a typeface, as opposed to the capital letters, or uppercase letters. Derived from the location of the type cases in which typographers used to store metal or wood letterforms.

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UPDATED: 25 April 2016

Art Terms — N

From “Naïve Art” to “Numbered Prints”

Naïve art
Art created by untrained artists. It is characterized by simplicity and a lack of the elements or qualities found in the art of formally trained artists. Click for more information about naïve art.
Narrative art
A type of visual art that tells a story or represents elements of a story. An example of this genre would be Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” or illustrations often found in children’s books.
Negative space
The unoccupied or empty space left after the positive shapes have been laid down by the artist; however, because these areas have boundaries, they also function as shapes in the total design.
Neutral color
Colors of very low saturation, approaching grays. Neutral colors include blacks, whites, grays and browns.
New media art
A genre of art that encompasses artworks created with new media technologies, including digital art, computer graphics, computer animation, virtual art, Internet art, interactive art, video games, computer robotics, 3D printing, and art as biotechnology.
A work of art (most often a painting or sculpture) depicting an individual without clothing or with very little clothing.
Numbered prints
A term used in printmaking to indicate the number of editions struck from one plate. The number is generally placed over the size of the edition. For example 24/100 shows the unique number of that impression and the total edition size. Modern artists produce only limited editions of their works, normally signed by the artist in pencil, and numbered.

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UPDATED: 02 February 2017

Art Terms — O

From “Oil Paint” to “Overpainting”

tubes of oil paintOil paint
A type of paint made from color particles (pigment) and linseed oil. Oil paint dries slowly, can be used thick or thin, and with glazes. Because it dries slowly, oil paint is easier to blend from dark to light creating the illusion of three-dimensions. Used by most artists since the Renaissance. Click for more information about the various grades of oil paints.
Old Master
A term that traditionally refers to a prominent and highly skilled European artist; especially a famous painter during the period roughly 1300-1830. Also refers to a painting by such an artist.
The term ‘original’ can imply exclusivity or the idea that the work is ‘one of a kind’ rather than a copy by any method including offset-lithography, digital printing or by forgery. Not all paintings can be considered original since the term also refers to the image being newly created, so a painted copy of another work is not an original.
Outsider art
Refers to works by those outside of mainstream society. Outsider art broadly includes folk art and ethnic art as well as by prisoners, the mentally ill and others neither trained in art nor making their works to sell them.
The final layer of paint that is applied over the under painting or under layer after it has dried. The idea behind layers of painting is that the under painting is used to define the basic shapes and design so that the overpainting can be used to fill in the details of the piece.

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UPDATED: 25 April 2016

Art Terms — P

From “Painterly” to “Pure Symmetry”

Painting technique characterized by openness of form, in which shapes are defined by loose brushwork in light and dark color areas rather than by outline or contour. Click for more information about the painterly art style.
The act or process of using a brush to apply pigment, color or other medium to a surface such as canvas, to make a picture or other artistic composition; also refers to a painted representation or composition.
A thin piece of glass, wood or other material, or pad of paper, which is used to hold the paint to be used in painting; also, the range of colors used by a particular painter. Click to learn more about the artist palette.
palette knife imagePalette knife
A tool originally used by artists for scraping up and mixing the paint from the palette, this implement has been adopted for the application of heavily impacted paint which is spread thickly like butter (see illustration). Click link for more information about palette knives.
Pantone Matching System (PMS)
An internationally recognized system of over 3000 pre-mixed colors representing shades on both coated or uncoated stock, along with the precise printing formulas to achieve each color. Each PANTONE color has a specified CMYK equivalent which is numbered and is listed in the swatch guide for quick reference when choosing colors for printing purposes. This system is highly accurate and produces consistent results.
Paper filigree
The craft of making decorative designs out of thin strips of paper. Also called quilling paper. See “Quilling“.
Paper mâché
A technique for creating forms by mixing wet paper pulp with glue or paste. The form hardens as it dries, and becomes suitable for painting. Although paper mâché is a French word which literally means “chewed paper”, it was originated by the Chinese – the inventors of paper.
The predecessor of modern paper made from the pith of the papyrus plant used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
An early paper material highly valued during the middle ages. Originally made from goat or sheep skin, parchment today is made from organic fibers and affords artists such as calligraphers a crisp, smooth, high quality surface on which to write.
A crayon made from pigment mixed with gum and water and pressed into a stick-shaped form; a work of art created from pastels; a pale color.
Permanent pigment
Refers to any pigment which is expected to last or remain without essential change and is not likely to deteriorate under certain atmospheric conditions, in normal light or in proximity to other colors.
The art of picturing objects on a flat surface so as to give the appearance of distance or depth. Click for information on perspective drawing.
A style of painting in which an image is created in such exact detail that it looks like a photograph; uses everyday subject matter, and often is larger than life. Click for more information about photorealism art.
A professional image-editing and graphics creation software from Adobe. It provides a large library of effects, filters and layers.
oil paint pigment


Any coloring agent, made from natural or synthetic substances, used in paints or drawing materials; the substance in paint or anything that absorbs light, producing (reflecting) the same color as the pigment.
A shape which is essentially two-dimensional in nature but who’s relationship with other shapes may give an illusion of the third dimension.
Plein air
French for “open air”, referring to landscapes painted out of doors with the intention of catching the impression of the open air. Plein air is when an artist goes out on location to paint.
Point of view
The position from which something is seen or considered; for instance, head-on, from overhead, from ground level, etc.
A painting technique in which pure dots of color are dabbed onto the canvas surface. The viewer’s eye, when at a distance, is then expected to see these dots merge as cohesive areas of different colors and color ranges.
example of pop art
Pop Art

Pop art

A style of art which seeks its inspiration from commercial art and items of mass culture (such as comic strips, popular foods and brand name packaging). Certain works of art created by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are examples of pop art. Click for more information about pop art.
A painting, photograph, or other artistic representation of a person.
Positive space
Space that is occupied by an element or a form.
A craftsman who shapes pottery on a potter’s wheel and bakes them it a kiln.
Potter’s wheel
A horizontal disk revolving on a spindle and carrying the clay being shaped by the potter.
A form of ceramic technology, where wet clays are shaped and dried, then fired to harden them and make them waterproof.
primary colors on the color wheelPrimary colors
Red, yellow, and blue. With these three colors (and black and white) all other colors can be made. The primary colors themselves can not be made by mixing other colors (see illustration).
Primitive art
Art that has imagery of folk art, it places emphasis on form and expression and often looks child like.
Principles of design
The basic aesthetic considerations that guide organization of a work of art. They include balance, movement, emphasis, contrast, proportion, space and unity. See the discussion on Good Design Principles in this website for more information.
The process by which a work of art can be recreated in great quantity from a single image usually prepared from a plate.
A sense of appropriateness in the size relationship of different parts of a work. For more information about proportion, see the article Principles of Good Design: Proportion.
Public art
Art in any media that has been planned and executed with the intention of being staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all.
Pure symmetry
An equilibrium created by identical parts that are equally distributed on either side of a real or imaginary central axis in mirror-like repetition.

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UPDATED: 25 April 2016

Art Terms — Q

From “Qajar art” to “Quilting”

Qajar art
The Qajar artistic style refers to the art, architecture, and art-forms of the late Persian Empire, most notably the Qajar dynasty, which lasted from 1781 to 1925. It is characterized by an exuberant style and flamboyant use of color.
A term that emerged during the Baroque period to describe a type of painting on a ceiling or a wall to create the illusion of limitless space; i.e. architectural features that seem to extend beyond the actual space of the room.
In geometry, a four-sided polygon; examples include squares, rectangles, parallelograms, trapezoids, etc.
A pen is made from a flight feather (preferably a primary) of a large bird, most often a goose. Quills were used as instruments for writing with ink before the metal dip pen, the fountain pen, and eventually the ball point pen came into use.
A form of art that involves the use paper strips that are rolled, curled, looped, shaped, twisted, and glued together to create decorative designs (a.k.a. paper filigree).
The process of making a quilt from beginning to end. Or the actual act of sewing the layers of a quilt together, either by hand or by machine. Also refers to the finished lines of sewn thread that make up the quilting design.

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UPDATED: 02 February 2017

Art Terms — R

From “Rabbet” to “Rule of Thirds”

rabbet graphicIn art, the “L” cut all around the perimeter of the frame, against which glass, mat, or picture panels are installed (see illustration).
Radial balance
The balance as the result of components that are distributed around a center point or spring out from a central line.
A style of painting which depicts subject matter (form, color, space) as it appears in actuality or ordinary visual experience without distortion or stylization. Click for more information about realism art.
Religious art
Artistic imagery or representation depicting religious motifs as a subject matter intending to uplift the mind to the spiritual. Click for information about religious or sacred art.
One of the principles of good design. It is a series of repeated elements having similarity. For more information see blog article titled “Good Design Principle: Movement“.
A copy of an original print or fine art piece. A reproduction could be in the form of a print, like an offset-lithographic print, or even reproduced in the same medium as the original, as in an oil painting.
Stands for Red, Green, Blue. In web design and design for computer monitors, colors are defined in terms of a combination of these three basic additive colors.
A continuance, a flow, or a feeling of movement achieved by the repetition or regulated visual units.
Right brain
Refers to a theory in which the right side of the brain is the creative side, responsible for art and spatial comprehension, while the left side is responsible for reading, verbal, and mathematical sorts of tasks.
Rule of odds
A principle of composition that states an odd number of elements in an image is more interesting to look at than an even number. Therefore, if there is more than one element in a painting, the composition should comprise a minimum of three elements. Click for more information about the composition technique rule of odds.
Rule of thirds
rule of thirds imageA composition rule that divides the scene into three rows and three columns. The rule states that the painting is much more interesting if the focal point is not in the center of the canvas but rather in one of the outlying regions, preferably at one of the intersection points (see illustration). Click for more information about the rule of thirds composition technique.

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UPDATED: 25 April 2016

Art Terms — S

From “Sable brush” to “Symmetrical Balance”

Sable brush
An artist’s brush made of sable hairs.
Sacred art
See “religious art.”
Sans serif
san serif graphic In typography, a typeface, such as Helvetica, that does not have a serif (crossline) decorating the main strokes of the characters. Sans is French for “without” (see illustration).
An artist who creates sculptures.
Any three-dimensional form created as an artistic expression. Sculpture is primarily concerned with space: occupying it, relating to it, and influencing the perception of it.
A painting or work of pictorial art that depicts the sea or a scene that includes the sea; a painting representing an expansive view of the ocean or sea; picture or painting depicting life around the sea. Click for more information about seascapes.
secondary colors on the color wheelSecondary colors
Green, purple, and orange. These three colors are derived from mixing equal amounts of two of the three primary colors (see illustration).
Self portrait
A portrait an artist makes using himself or herself as its subject, typically drawn or painted from a reflection in a mirror. Also a portrait taken by the photographer of himself, either in a mirror, by means of a remote release, or with a self timer.
A reddish-brown hue sometimes applied to black-and-white pictures which gives the finished print an antique appearance often associated with monochrome photographs of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In typography, serifs are the small features at the end of strokes within letters (see san serif illustration above).
A color produced by adding black to a pigment.
shading graphicShading
Showing change from light to dark or dark to light in a picture by darkening areas that would be shadowed and leaving other areas light. Shading is often used to produce illusions of dimension and depth (see illustration).
An area which stands out from the space next to it or around it because of a defined boundary or because of a difference of value, color, or texture.
A form of limonite clay most famous in the production of oil paint pigments. Its yellow-brown color comes from ferric oxides contained within. As a natural pigment, it (along with its chemical cousins ochre and umber) was one of the first pigments to be used by humans, and is found in many cave paintings.
A dark image outlined against a lighter background.
The understanding of what is and is not important in a design. Details that do not have a major impact to the design are omitted to keep it uncluttered.
A rough drawing used to capture the basic elements and structure of a situation often used as the basis for a more detailed work.
The interval or measurable distance between pre-established points.
Space art
A modern day art movement still in its infancy. Sometimes referred to as astronomical art. Space art strives to show the majesty of the universe by depicting interstellar and interplanetary elements as its subject matter.  Click for more information about space art.
stained glass graphicStained glass
Glass that has been colored or stained through different processes. This term is also used to refer to the art of cutting colored glass into different shapes and joining them together with lead strips to create a pictorial window design (see illustration).
A sculpture representing a human or animal.
Stiff paper (or other sheet material) with a design cut into it as a template for shapes meant to be copied. Also a method of applying a design by brushing ink or paint through a cut-out surface.
Still life
A painting or other two-dimensional work of art representing inanimate objects such as bottles, fruit, and flowers. Also, the arrangement of these objects from which a drawing, painting, or other art work is made. Click for more information about still life art.
A drawing technique consisting of many small dots or flecks to construct the image; technique of using small dots to simulate varying degrees of solidity or shading; to paint, engrave, or draw by means of dots or small touches of the brush, pen, or other tool.
A kind of pencil consisting of a tight roll of paper or soft leather, or of a cylindrical piece of rubber or other soft material used for rubbing down hard lines in pencil or crayon drawing, for blending the lines of shading so as to produce a uniform tint.
stretcher bars graphicStretcher frame
A wooden frame over which the canvas of a painting is stretched (see illustration). For information about stretcher bar frames click on link.
Subject matter
The topic dealt with or the subject represented in a work of art. The subject matter is what the artist has chosen to paint, draw or sculpt.
The material providing a surface upon which an artist applies color, collage, etc.
surrealism artSurrealism
An art style developed in Europe in the 1920’s, characterized by using the subconscious as a source of creativity to liberate pictorial subjects and ideas. Surrealist paintings often depict unexpected or irrational objects in an atmosphere of fantasy, creating a dreamlike scenario; An art movement in which one’s dreams, nightmares, sub consciousness and fantasy inspired the final works. Click for more information about the surrealism art style.
Symmetrical balance
The placing of identical forms to either side of the central axis of a work to stabilize it visually.

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UPDATED: 25 April 2016

Art Terms — T

From “T-square” to “Typography”

T square graphicT-square
A guide for drawing horizontal lines on a drafting table. It is also used to guide the triangle that draws vertical lines. Its name comes from the general shape of the instrument where the horizontal member of the T slides on the side of the drafting table (see illustration).
The tactile surface characteristics of a work of art that are either felt or perceived visually.
tertiary colors on the color wheelTertiary colors
Also called intermediate colors, these are blends of primary and secondary colors. Colors such as red-orange and blue-green are tertiary colors.
Occupying or giving the illusion of three dimensions (height, width, depth).
Three-dimensional space
A sensation of space which seems to have thickness or depth as well as height and width.
Three-quarter view
A view of a face or any other subject which is half-way between a full and a profile view.
Thumbnail sketch
Crude, small pencil drawings used to develop the initial concept for a design.
Acronym for Tagged Image File Format, a standard graphic image file format usually generated by scanners. Developed by Aldus and Microsoft.
A hue with white added. Pink is a tint of red.
An oxide used as a white pigment of great permanence and covering power. Usually extended with other whites to improve its brushing and drying properties.
Decorative painting on tin objects.
The change or passing from one condition, place, thing, or activity to another; the passage linking one subject, section, or other part of a composition with another.
Trompe l’oeil
French for “fool the eye.” A two-dimensional representation that is so naturalistic that it looks actual or real (three-dimensional.) This form of painting was first used by the Romans thousands of years ago in frescoes and murals.
A high quality oil paint thinner and solvent.
Having two dimensions (height and width); referring to something that is flat.
Two-dimensional space
A measurable distance on a surface which show height and width but lack any illusion of thickness or depth.
The study and process of typefaces; how to select, size, arrange, and use them in general. In modern terms. typography includes computer display and output. Traditionally, typography was the use of metal types with raised letterforms that were inked and then pressed onto paper.

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UPDATED: 02 February 2017