Art Terms and Definitions — T

art lexis

An art lexis with terms beginning with the letter “T”. The list below begins with T-SQUARE and ends with TYPOGRAPHY. It has more than 20 definitions.

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

Art Lexis: “T” Words


art lexis

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).

Tactile Texture

The actual way a surface feels when it is felt or touched, such as rough, smooth, soft, hard, silky, slimy, sticky, etc. 3-D art, such as sculpture and architectural structures, are tactile because it can be felt.


Also called “egg tempera,” is a method of painting using pigments (color) bound in a water-soluble emulsion, such as water and egg yolk (plus sometimes glue or milk), or an oil-in-water emulsion, such as oil and a whole egg. It is traditionally applied to rigid supports like wood panel or fresco, and the paint dries quickly to a hard film. This technique was the primary method of applying paint to panels in Italian art until after 1500, when the invention of oil painting superseded it. Tempera paintings are very long-lasting, and their colors do not deteriorate over time.

Tertiary Colors

tertiary colors on the color wheel

Also called intermediate colors; red-purple, red-orange, blue-green, blue-purple, yellow-green, and yellow-orange are colors used in painting. There are six tertiary (third in order or level) colors, and they are the result of mixing equal parts of a primary color with a secondary color. The proper way to refer to tertiary colors is by listing the primary color first and then the secondary color.

Tertiary colors are called by their two-word name:

    • Red + violet (purple) = red-violet (red-purple)
    • Red + orange = red-orange
    • Blue + green = blue-green
    • Blue + violet (purple) = blue-violet (blue-purple)
    • Yellow + orange = yellow-orange
    • Yellow + green = yellow-green


(Pronounced tet-rap-tych) an artwork, usually a painting, divided into four sections or panels, which is commonly used for altarpieces. The panels can be attached together using a hinge or displayed next to each other. The term “tetraptych” comes from the Greek words “tetra” (meaning “four”) and “ptychos” (meaning “fold” or “layer”). Not to be confused with the term “triptych” which consists of only three panels. Also see, “Quadriptych.”


showing texture of tractor tire closeup
Tractor Tire by Teresa Bernard is a good example showing texture in art.

The way a surface feels or is perceived to feel. It is a key component in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional designs and is characterized by its visual and physical properties. Texture is perceived through touch (tactile) and sight (visual), and is essential in creating intrigue, contrast, and mood in art. Texture adds depth, complexity, and visual interest, to an image, making it seem more real. When used with other design elements, texture can convey a wide range of messages and evoke various emotions. Also see “tactile texture” and “visual texture.

Three-dimensional Art

A type of visual art that exists in physical space and can be seen from all sides and touched since it is represented in the dimensions of height, breadth, and depth. Three-dimensional objects include sculpture, architecture, installation art and many decorative art forms. Also called “3D art.”

Three-dimensional (3D) Space

art lexis

A sensation of space that seems to have thickness, width, height, and depth. This perception is created by visual signals that create the illusion of three-dimensional shapes and areas. These 3D signals are common in nature but often go unnoticed. However, when skilled artists use these cues, they can create the illusion of three-dimensionality on a flat canvas surface.

The techniques used to create the illusion of three-dimensional space are:

Three-point Perspective

example of three point perspective

A drawing or painting technique that is a little trickier than one- and two-point perspectives because this type involves three vanishing points. It includes two vanishing points somewhere on the horizon line and also a vanishing point either above or below the horizon that all vertical lines lead to. Three-point perspective is ideal for rendering objects, such as buildings and cityscapes when seen from an aerial or ground view. When the third vanishing point is above the horizon, an image is created from a worm’s-eye view, looking up toward the image from below. When it is below the horizon, a bird’s-eye view is created, where it feels like you are looking down on the object from above.

Three-quarter View

A face or any other subject halfway 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.


The folk art of decorative painting on tin and wooden utensils, objects, and furniture. Typical metal objects include utensils, coffee pots, and similar household items. Wooden objects include tables, chairs, and chests, including hope chests, toy boxes, and jewelry boxes.


A term that describes the quality of color. It has to do with whether a color is perceived as warm or cold, bright or dull, light or dark, and pure or “dirty.” It also refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color, its shade, or how dark or light a color appears.


The change or passing from one condition, place, thing, or activity to another; the passage linking one subject, section, or part of a composition with another.

Triadic (Triad) Colors

triadic color scheme indicated on the color wheel

A triadic color scheme comprises three colors that are equally spaced from one another on the color wheel, forming an equilateral triangle. Thus, every fourth color on the color wheel will make up part of a triad.

Examples of triadic color schemes could be:

    • Red, Yellow, and Blue (primary colors)
    • Orange, Green, and Violet (secondary colors)
    • Yellow-Orange, Blue-Green, and Red-Violet (tertiary colors)
    • Yellow-Green, Blue-Violet, and Red-Orange (tertiary colors)

Tribal Art

An artform or artifact created by indigenous people that embraces the traditional art of tribal societies in the Americas, Africa, India, the South Pacific, and Australasia. The most common examples of tribal art are masks, paintings, and carved sculptures, many of which are spiritual or religious. Tribal arts have historically been collected by Western anthropologists, private collectors, and museums, particularly ethnographic and natural history museums.


(Pronounced trip-tick). Artwork that is divided into three painted panels or three relief-carved sections. The imagery in the three panels may flow together to form a single unified scene, or they may each function as a separate painting yet be related to create a strong sense of visual unity and cohesion. The panels can be attached using a hinge or displayed side-by-side. The term “triptych” comes from the Greek word “triptychos”, which means “having three folds” with “tri” (meaning “three”) and “ptychos” (meaning “fold” or “layer”).

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.

Two-dimensional Art

A type of art that can only be experienced in height and breadth since it is created on flat surfaces. Two-dimensional art is flat and without depth. Paintings, sketches, pictures, and prints all fall under the category of two-dimensional art. Also called “2D art.”

Two-dimensional (2D) Space

art glossary

A measurable distance on a flat surface such as a canvas or paper. 2D space shows height and width but lacks any illusion of thickness or depth. It can consist of straight or curved lines or both.

In the example, the two-dimensional image appears flat because all the objects and forms lie on the same plane. It has no feeling of depth.

Two-point Perspective

example of two point perspective

A technique where two vanishing points are positioned along the horizon line in a drawing. This perspective places the object where the viewer can look at it from an angle and see two sides at once. Two-point perspective is commonly used to create the illusion of 3D in geometric objects like boxes, cubes, or buildings. When looking at the object from the corner, one side recedes towards one vanishing point, while the other recedes toward the opposite vanishing point. Each set of parallel lines has its own vanishing point.


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 involved the use of metal types with raised letterforms that were inked and then pressed onto paper.

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Trees at Dusk
12″ w x 9″ h
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20″ w x 16″ h

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The art lexis 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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