Art Terms and Definitions — P

art terms vocabulary list


Quick links to more art terms and definitions are located at the end of the list.

Paint-by-Numbers Art

art terms vocabulary list
Paint-by-Numbers Kit

A painting method where the artist paints on a pre-labeled canvas, with each section marked by a number. These numbers match specific paint colors designated for those areas. By painting each section with the corresponding color, the artist gradually completes the entire 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 or tap 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

An art style that celebrates the specific medium it was created with, such as oil paint, acrylics, pastels, or watercolor. In painterly works, artists embrace the texture and movement of these materials, resulting in visible brushstrokes. The focus is on expressive color, bold strokes, and a more textured appearance.


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 onomasticon

A 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 vocabulary

A blunt tool used by artists for mixing paints and scraping a palette clean when a painting session is over. Its design, featuring a straight blade and handle, makes it unsuitable for applying paint to canvas. The tool used for actual painting on canvas is called a “painting knife.” However, it’s common for artists to use the term “palette knife” to refer to both types of knives, which is perfectly acceptable. For more information, refer to “painting knife.”

Pantone Matching System (PMS)

A standardized color system that catalogues nearly 5,000 subtle color shades and variations. Designers and printing manufacturers use this detailed color numbering system to standardize and accurately match colors. It helps overcome the common variation of printed colors when using CMYK. The system assigns unique identification numbers to specific colors, ensuring precise color reproduction across different media and materials.

Paper Filigree

The craft of making decorative designs out of thin strips of paper. Also called quilling paper. See “Quilling.”

Paper Mâché

A versatile crafting technique that uses paper and adhesive to create a variety of objects. The process involves layering moistened paper strips (or other materials) onto a blank surface, such as a balloon or cardboard. The adhesive acts as a binding agent, and as the paper dries, the outer shell hardens.


The predecessor of modern paper made from the pith of the papyrus plant used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

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 reflects off structures, with a significant portion of the light being white, endowing the object with a pearly sheen. In the automotive industry, pearlescence also refers to specific types of paint finishes.


(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 detected using methods such as X-rays, infrared reflectography, or meticulous 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.


A genre of art that encompasses painting, drawing, and other graphic media. Artists in this movement meticulously study photographs and then painstakingly reproduce the images as realistically as possible in another medium. 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 in a work of art that appears as a transparent layer between the observer and the depicted scene. The picture plane, positioned between the observer and the subject, is typically associated with the elements of a painting that lie directly in the line of sight, often constituting the foreground. This concept is instrumental in generating an illusion of three-dimensionality and perspective within the realms of painting, photography, and other visual arts.


oil paint pigment

The coloring agents derived from either natural or synthetic substances, used in paints and 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, the tiniest units of light on a digital display, compose all screen elements, including text. Pixel art often recalls the low-resolution graphics of 8-bit and 16-bit computers, arcade systems, video game consoles, LED screens, and graphing calculators. Its distinctive aesthetic features individual pixels as fundamental components, evoking the appearance of mosaic art, cross-stitching, and embroidery. 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

In art, point of view refers to the position from which an observer views the subject matter. It significantly influences how we perceive and understand the artwork. There are three main viewpoints: low, normal, and high. A low viewpoint shows subjects from below, while a high viewpoint presents them from above.


A painting technique that emerged in the late 19th century as a response to traditional methods. Instead of using brushstrokes to blend colors on a canvas, Pointillist artists apply small, distinct dots of pure color. These dots optically blend together when viewed from a distance, creating vibrant and textured compositions. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac pioneered this technique, which is especially effective for capturing light and movement in artworks.


Refers to the use of many colors in art, unlike monochromatic which means having only one hue or color. It describes decorative elements, sculptures, or architectural features adorned with a variety of hues.


(Pronounced pol-ip-tick)
A type of artwork often seen as altarpieces in churches and cathedrals, composed of multiple canvases, sections, or panels. These sections are joined or presented side by side to form a single large image. Typically, a polyptych includes five or more panels, featuring a prominent central or main panel flanked by smaller side panels or wings. The word ‘polyptych’ originates from the Greek ‘poly,’ meaning ‘many,’ and ‘ptychē,’ meaning ‘fold’ or ‘layer.’

Pop Art

example of pop art

A 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 a traditional portrait, the subject is often depicted in a still pose, typically gazing directly towards the artist. 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 Space

art terms vocabulary list

Refers to the areas of interest and focus within a piece of artwork. It often includes the main subject, such as a person, landscape, or an object. In the example of the vase, positive space (the area in black) is the form itself, i.e., the vase, The opposite is negative space, which surrounds the subject and points of interest, often appearing empty or lacking detail.


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 machine used in shaping clay into round ceramic ware. As a potter works, the wheel’s circular plinth or wheel head rotates, allowing them to apply pressure against the centrifugal force of the clay. This shaping process is known as throwing. The wheel can be operated manually or with an electric motor. It’s a fundamental tool for creating symmetrical and evenly shaped pottery.


One of the oldest and most widespread forms of decorative art. It involves creating objects from clay, which are then hardened through firing. These objects can be both functional (such as vessels for holding liquids) and aesthetic (like plates or bowls). The process of pottery allows artists to mold and shape clay into various forms, from simple vessels to intricate sculptures.

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

All artwork created in preliterate, prehistoric cultures. Originating in the Stone Age, it covers both the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. This ancient art consists of cave paintings, figurines, engravings, and sculptures, and is significant for predating the invention of written language.

Primary Colors

primary colors on the color wheel

Red, yellow, and blue colors used in painting and other fine arts. The primary colors, derived solely from natural pigments, are the purest and most essential forms of color that cannot be created by mixing any other colors. The color wheel displays these three primary colors at evenly spaced intervals. They serve as the foundational elements for mixing all other colors on an artist’s palette.

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.


An art form that involves transferring images from a template to another surface, usually paper or fabric. Traditional techniques include woodcut, etching, engraving, and lithography. Modern artists have expanded the repertoire to include screen printing as well. Templates made from wood, metal, or glass are processed to create the intended design. Once inked, the design is transferred onto a surface using controlled pressure, typically from a printing press. The final print usually appears as a reverse of the original template design. A notable feature of printmaking is the ability to produce multiple impressions from a single template, enabling the creation of editions of the artwork.

Prismatic Colors

The pure, transparent colors of sunlight refracted through a prism. Imagine the vibrant hues you see when light passes through a crystal or glass prism—those are the prismatic colors!

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. Often, it goes unnoticed until something seems “off,” which usually means it’s “out of proportion” when the size relationship between two elements looks incorrect.

Public Art

Refers to art created for the general public, often installed in outdoor or indoor public spaces. It is available to all and can manifest in different forms such as sculptures, murals, and site-specific installations. Public art has several objectives: it enhances spaces, provides education, commemorates events, and reflects the spirit of the community.

Pure Symmetry

A type of formal balance where elements of a design are exact mirror images across a symmetry line, whether this line is visible or not. Symmetry is a prevalent feature in both geometric patterns and natural forms, as seen in the symmetrical shapes of leaves, flowers, and the wings of butterflies.

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This list vocabulary of art terms and definitions is provided as a valuable resource for art enthusiasts. If you like the information here and find it helpful, please consider purchasing a painting. Your support helps to cover the cost of keeping this art onomasticon online. Simply click or tap the thumbnail link of any Teresa Bernard oil painting to view additional details.

desert artwork
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Path of The Comet
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Contributing to The Art Dictionary

The art terms vocabulary list 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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