Art Terms and Definitions — P

art vocabularyAn art vocabulary reference that begins with the letter “P”. There are more than 50 art-related words in the list below. General terms commonly used in the art world every day from PAINT-BY-NUMBERS ART to PURE SYMMETRY.

Quick links to more listings of art vocabulary are located at the end of the list.

Paint-by-Numbers Art

art vocabulary
Paint-by-Numbers Kit

A painting process whereby the artist uses a canvas that has been previously imprinted with specified areas, and each area is numbered. Each number corresponds to a paint color that is to be painted in the specified area. Once each area is painted, the artist will have a complete painting. Paint-by-numbers art usually comes in a kit that consists of canvas, paint, and brushes. This process involves no originality of thought or creativity on the part of the artist. Click the image for a close-up view showing the numbered areas.


parts of art brush

An artist’s tool of the trade used to apply paint, watercolor, or ink to a surface. In fact, it’s the most important tool an artist uses. Paintbrushes come in various sizes, shapes, and materials. It’s hairs or bristles are held in place by a ferrule attached to a handle. Other parts of the brush are the toe, belly, heel, and crimp. The quality of the hair determines the brush’s quality and cost. Each type of brush has a specific purpose, and different fibers are used for different mediums. See “brush anatomy” for more information.

Painterly Art

art vocabularyA painting technique characterized by the openness of form in which shapes are defined by visible loose brushwork in light and dark color areas rather than by outline or contour. It can be created using oils, acrylics, watercolors, gouache, and any other medium where a brush is used.


The act or process of using a brush to apply paint or other medium to a surface, such as canvas, to create a picture or other artistic composition. It also refers to a painted representation or composition.

Painting Knife

art vocabularyA tool used by artists for applying paint to canvas. The painting knife comes in various styles and sizes. The most commonly used has a diamond-shaped head with a crooked handle. The bend in the handle is so the knife head can be held flat against the canvas without touching the wet surface with your fingers or knuckles. A painting knife may be used with any paint—acrylic, watercolor, or oils. However, oil paint lends itself best to this style of painting because of its thicker consistency. Some artists do entire paintings using a painting knife instead of a brush. Cleanup is much easier than using a brush. Simply wipe the knife clean using a paper towel or cloth.

Please note, a painting knife serves a different function than a palette knife, however, many painters use the two terms interchangeably, and this is ok. For more information, refer to “palette knife.”


A word in the English language that has more than one meaning. It can refer to a selection of colors used in a color scheme, or the tool used by an artist to mix colors.

In painting, an artist’s palette is the surface they use to mix paint. There are various types of palettes available made from various materials like wood, paper, and plastic, and come in various shapes and sizes. It’s a matter of personal preference which type, shape, and size to use.

wooden artist palette
Wooden palette

The wooden painting palette is the most traditional of the artist’s painting palettes and was the one used by the Old Masters. Wooden palettes today are manufactured and sealed with a varnish or lacquer. This is important as it helps to prevent the palette from absorbing all the oils from your paint.

plastic kidney shape palette
Plastic palette

Another popular material for an artist’s painting palette is plastic. Plastic palettes are durable enough to withstand solvents and work well with oil paint. They can be scraped clean and are more adaptable to soap and water than a wooden palette. Usually, these are made of non-staining, white plastic.

disposable Painting Palette
Disposable palettes

Disposable painting palettes are pads of waxy paper that come with or without a thumbhole. The top sheet is torn off and used for a painting session. When the session is over, the sheet is disposed of. This makes for a quick and easy cleanup. Some artists find this type of palette convenient, particularly for the classroom or Plein air painting.

Palette Knife

art vocabularyA blunt tool used by artists for mixing paints and scraping a palette clean when a painting session is over. It is not used for applying paint to canvas due to its straight blade and handle. The knife used for actual painting on canvas is called a “painting knife,” although many artists use the term palette knife when referring to both types of knives, which is perfectly acceptable. For more information, refer to “painting knife.”

Pantone Matching System (PMS)

An internationally recognized system of over 3000 pre-mixed colors representing shades on both coated and uncoated stock, along with the precise printing formulas to achieve each color. Each Pantone color has a specified CMYK equivalent that is numbered and 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 that means “chewed paper,” it was originated by the Chinese, who are 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 that was highly valued during the Middle Ages. Originally made from goat or sheepskin, parchment today is made from organic fibers and affords artists such as calligraphers a crisp, smooth, high-quality surface on which to write.

Partitive Color

See “optical mixing.”


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.


An effect related to iridescence where a surface seems to shimmer with different colors. In this case light is reflected back from structures with some or most of the light being white, giving the object a pearl-like luster. This effect is also used to describe specific paint finishes in the automobile industry.


(Pronounced pen-tap-tick). A work of art, often used as an altarpiece, consisting of five panels or sections (a centerpiece and double folding doors or wings) where each panel depicts a different but related composition. The term comes from the Greek word “penta” (meaning five) and “ptychos” (meaning “fold” or “layer”).


A term in art that refers to the visible evidence of changes made by an artist during the creation of a painting or other artwork. This can manifest in various ways, such as underpainting, layering, or composition modifications. Pentimento occurs when an artist makes alterations to their work, usually hidden beneath subsequent paint layers. These alterations can be seen through methods like X-rays, infrared reflectography, or careful inspection. The term “pentimento” comes from the Italian word “pentirsi,” meaning “to repent.”

Permanent Pigment

Refers to any pigment 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.


A technique used by artists in drawing or painting to create depth and distance in compositions on a flat surface. There are three basic types of perspective: one-point, two-point, and three-point. The one-, two-, and three-point refers to the number of vanishing points present when creating the illusion of depth and space. In addition to these, there is also zero-point perspective.


art vocabularyAlso known as hyperrealism, is an art style where the artwork appears as realistic as a photo, with the illusion of reality being so fine-tuned that the painting looks like a large, sharply focused photograph. This style involves meticulous attention to detail, from the last grain of sand on the beach to the pores and wrinkles on a person’s face.

Photorealism became an art movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s in America. For more information on this movement, click here.


A professional image editing and graphics creation software from Adobe. It provides a large library of effects, filters, and layers.

Picture Plane

The surface of a picture that is perceived as a translucent plane between the viewer and the scene. It is located between the viewer’s eye point and the object being viewed. A picture plane is typically connected with the visual aspects of a painting that are in the viewer’s direct line of sight, which is usually the foreground. It is used to create the illusion of depth and perspective in a painting, photography, and other visual arts.


oil paint pigment

Any coloring agent made from natural or synthetic substances that is used in paints or drawing materials. It is a substance in paint or anything that absorbs light and produces or reflects the same color as the pigment. Pigments are chemically unreactive and are either completely or nearly insoluble in water or another medium.

Pixel Art

A type of digital art where images are created and edited at the pixel level using graphics editing software. Pixels are the smallest unit of illumination on a digital screen, and everything on a screen, including text, is composed of pixels. Pixel art is typically linked with low-resolution graphics found on 8-bit and 16-bit computers, arcade machines, video game consoles, LED displays, and graphing calculators. Its unique visual style is characterized by individual pixels serving as the building blocks, resembling mosaic art, cross-stitch, and embroidery techniques. Pixel artists and game studios continue to use this art form in spite of technology limitations, displaying the distinct visual style of pixel art.

Plane (in art)

Any clearly defined flat surface found in artworks, such as paintings or sculptures.

Plein Air

French for “open-air,” referring to landscapes painted outdoors with the intention of catching the impression of the open air. Plein air is when an artist goes out on location to paint.

Pocket Art

An art movement that combines art and craftsmanship with small items. ACEOs and ATCs are examples of this. See “Art Cards, Editions and Originals (ACEO)” and “Artist Trading Cards (ATCs).”

Point of View

The position from which something is seen or considered, for instance, head-on, from overhead, ground level, etc.


A painting technique in which pure dots of color are dabbed onto the canvas surface. The viewer’s eye sees these dots merge as cohesive areas of different colors and color ranges when viewed from a distance.


Refers to having multiple colors, unlike monochromatic which means having only one hue or color. It is commonly used to describe decorated architectural elements, and sculptures, as well as full-color, gold-plated wood and stone carvings.


(Pronounced pol-ip-tick). Artwork, such as altarpieces in churches and cathedrals, created using multiple canvas, sections, or panels. The sections are attached or displayed next to each other to make one large image. A polyptych consists of five or more panels and is characterized by one larger central or main panel with attached side panels or wings. The term is derived from the Greek words “poly” (meaning “many”) and “ptychē” (meaning “fold” or “layer”).

Pop Art

example of pop artA modern art style that started back in the 1950s and drew inspiration from commercial and consumer aspects of everyday life, especially in American culture. Such imagery included advertising, mass media, comic books, celebrities, and elements of popular culture, like magazines, movies, and even bottles and cans. Specific works of art created by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are examples of pop art.


See “Artist Portfolio.”


Portrait Painting in oils on canvas
Portrait of Tera by Teresa Bernard

An artistic representation of a person, particularly their face. A portrait of an individual can be of just the face, the head and shoulders, or the entire body. In most portraits, the subject is shown in a motionless pose, usually looking directly at the painter. Aside from likeness, the essence of a portrait conveys the subject’s mood and personality. This genre includes group portraits (consisting of more than one person), and self-portraits (one in which the artist does an artwork of themself). For more on people and portraits, click here.

Positive Spaceart vocabulary

Refers to the “occupied” areas of a work of art that are filled with lines, colors, and shapes. In the example of the vase, positive space (the area in black) is the form itself, i.e., the vase, The white area around the vase is negative or empty space.


A French art movement from 1886-1905, emerged as a response to Impressionists’ naturalistic depiction of color and light. Led by artists like Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Seurat, it rejected naturalism and focused on expressive use of color and form, emphasizing volume, picture structure, and expressionism to create emotional experiences through symbolism and captivating forms.


A craftsman who shapes pottery on a potter’s wheel and bakes it in a kiln.

Potter’s Wheel

A flat disk revolving on a spindle and carrying the clay being shaped by the potter.


A form of ceramic technology where wet clays is shaped and dried, then fired to harden them and make them waterproof.

Pre-Columbian Art

Refers to the artworks of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, North, Central, and South America prior to the arrival of Columbus in America in 1492.

Prehistoric Art

Refers to any work of art created in prehistoric, preliterate cultures. It includes the artistic creations made by prehistoric people before writing or other record-keeping techniques were developed.

Primary Colors

primary colors on the color wheelRed, yellow, and blue colors used in painting. The primary colors are the most basic of hues and can only be made from natural pigments. There are only three primary colors, and they cannot be made by mixing any other hues. They are equally spaced apart on the color wheel and these colors, along with black and white, can be used to create of all other colors.

Primitive Art

Art that has imagery of folk art that places emphasis on form and expression and often looks childlike.

Principles of Design

The fundamental aesthetic principles that guide the organization of a work of art. The principles of design include balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, proportion, repetition, simplicity (visual economy), space, and unity. An artist’s understanding and application of these principles determines the strength or weakness of the composition.

Print (artist’s print)

An original work created with printmaking techniques such as lithography, etching, woodcut, and screen printing. It enables artists to create many versions of their work while ensuring uniformity and accessibility. The print is usually a limited edition, numbered and signed by the artist.


The process by which a work of art can be recreated in great quantity from a single image.

Prismatic Colors

The colors that can be seen when white light passes through a prism.

Process Color Printing

A type of printing method that uses four or more standard inks to create thousands of colors, commonly known as CMYK, four-color process, 4/c process, or just process. Also see “CYMK.”


A design principle in art that compares the relationship between the size of one element to another. It’s often not even noticed until something appears “off,” meaning it’s considered “out of proportion” when the relationship of sizes between the two elements appear incorrect.

Public Art

Art in any medium that has been planned and executed with the intent to be staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to everyone.

Pure Symmetry

An equilibrium that is created by identical parts equally distributed on either side of a real or imaginary central axis in mirror-like repetition.

Art Glossary Links

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Contributing to The Art Dictionary

This art dictionary is a work in progress. New terms and definitions are added on a regular basis. If you know of an art term and definition that isn’t already listed in it but you believe it should be, send it to us and we’ll consider adding it. We’ll let you know if we do. Thanks!

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