Art Terms and Definitions — A

art terms and definitionsA dictionary of art terms and definitions that begin with the letter “A”. In the list below, you’ll find over 50 words that will help you understand general concepts about art. Words ranging from ABC ART to AUTOMOTIVE ARTIST.

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

ABC Art

A 1960s art movement and style that attempted to use a minimal number of textures, colors, shapes, and lines to create simple three-dimensional structures. Also known as minimalism.

Abstract Art

art terms and definitionsA genre of art that doesn’t resemble anything from “real life.” It’s an art style that is intentionally non-representational and seeks to achieve its point or subject using shapes, forms, colors, and textures. Every object on the canvas is represented by either colors or shapes. For example, colors can represent emotions, and shapes can symbolize objects. The purpose of an abstract is to let the audience interpret its meaning for themselves. At its worst, abstract art looks like an accidental mess of paint. At its best, it has an impact that strikes you from the moment you see it.

Abstract Expressionism

Art that rejects true visual representation. It has few recognizable images with great emphasis on line, color, shape, texture, and value, putting the expression of the feelings or emotions of the artist above all else.

Academic Art

A style of painting and sculpture heavily influenced by nineteenth-century European academies of art. The academies were very conservative, resisting avant-garde innovations and expressions of modern art.

Accent

To stress, single out as important. As applied to art, it is the emphasis given to some aspects of a painting that allows them to attract more attention. Details that define an object or piece of art.

Accented Analogous

An accented analogous scheme, also known as analogous complementary, is a color scheme that combines analogous and complementary colors. It involves colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel and the color opposite them. The direct complement becomes the accent color, creating a dynamic contrast against the dominant color grouping. This is a great way to add warmth to a cool analogous color pallet or a cool accent color to an otherwise warm color scheme.

Accession

A process of increasing an art collection by addition; something added to what you already have (“the art collection grew through accession”).

Achromatic

Colors having zero saturation (free from stain; lacking hue), such as neutral grays, from white to black, or colorless to black. (See illustration below.)

art terms and definitions

Acrylic Paint

A fast-drying synthetic paint made from acrylic resin. Acrylic is a water-based “plastic” paint valued for its versatility and clean-up with soap and water. Even though they are water-soluble, acrylics become water-resistant after they have dried. Depending on how thickly the paint is applied to the canvas, an acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor or an oil painting.

Action Painting

A technique or style of abstract painting where the paint is randomly splashed, thrown, or poured on the canvas rather than being carefully applied. The artwork of artists who utilized bold gestures that incorporated more body movement than traditional easel painting. Made famous by Jackson Pollock. Some critics use the terms “action painting” and “abstract expressionism” interchangeably.

Advancing Colors

Warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows tend to visibly come towards you. Advancing colors are opposite of “retreating colors.”

Aerial Perspective

Refers to creating a sense of depth in a painting by imitating how the atmosphere makes distant objects appear less distinct and more bluish than they would be if nearby. Artists attempt to mimic this effect to create depth or distance (three dimensions) on an otherwise two-dimensional (flat) surface. Also see “atmospheric perspective.”

Aerial View

Refers to viewing a subject from above, looking downward. Also called a “birds-eye view.”

Aerographics

See “airbrushing.”

Airbrush

A small, air-operated tool used by artists to apply color to surfaces. The hand-held device is connected to a canister of compressed air and sprays liquid paint, ink, dye, or foundation in a controlled manner. The airbrush works by breaking the liquid into tiny droplets through a process called atomization and distributes it across the painting surface. Airbrushes are known for their ability in making it possible for artists to create intricate details and beautiful color gradients in their art.

Airbrush Artist

A creative individual who uses airbrushes to create airbrushed art. Airbrush artists are versatile painters who create unique and intricate designs on a wide range of surfaces, including canvases, automobiles, clothing, helmets, handbags, skin and fingernails, and even cakes and pastries. With practice and dedication, airbrush artists can create incredible works of art that resemble actual photographs.

Airbrushing

Airbrushing is a painting technique that uses an airbrush to create an even surface, allowing artists to achieve high levels of realism. It involves seamless color blending and softly defined edges between colors. Skilled airbrush artists can produce photographic realism or simulate various painting mediums, and it is commonly used in various fields like cars, motorcycles, models, textile design, printing, toys, glass, and ceramics. Also referred to as “Aerographics.”

Alla Prima

Aso known as ‘wet-on-wet’ oil painting, or direct painting. Alla prima is a technique of oil painting in which the desired effects of the final painting are achieved in the first application of paint as opposed to the technique of covering the canvas in layers with the final painting being achieved at the end. Alla prima is an Italian term that means “first attempt.”

Allover Painting

A composition with no focal point where all parts of the canvas are painted with equal care and significance, ensuring that each area of the composition is equally important.

Altarpiece

A work of art, such as a painting, sculpture, or relief, depicting a religious subject (holy personages, saints, and biblical subjects) that decorates the space above and behind the altar in a Christian church.

Analogous Colors

art terms and definitionsAny set of three or five colors that are closely related in hue(s). They are usually adjacent (next) to each other on the color wheel. One is the dominant color with two supporting colors. The effect of this color scheme can be pretty dramatic as these hues usually work very well together in creating a sense of unity or harmony within the composition. Using this color scheme, choose one as the dominant color (usually a primary or secondary color), a second color to support, and a third as an accent.

Animalier

A sculptor or painter who specializes in the realistic portrayal of animals.

Applied Art

The application of design and decoration to everyday, practical objects to enhance their aesthetic appeal. Applied art includes a wide range of artistic fields, including industrial, graphic, and interior design as well as architectural and fashion design.

Approximate Symmetry

The use of forms that are similar on either side of a central axis. They may give a feeling of exactness or equal relationship, but they are sufficiently varied to prevent visual monotony.

Art

The completed work of an artist that is the expression of creativity, imagination, or both that portrays a mood, feeling, or tells a story; works of art collectively.

Art Appreciation

An understanding of the qualities that identify all great art. It involves having a knowledge of art movements, art history, and art styles or techniques. For more information on this topic, see blog article “What is art appreciation?”

Art Brut

French for “raw art,” the art of children and outsiders (naïve artists and the mentally ill); actually, anyone not producing art for profit or recognition.

Art Buyer

A professional responsible for purchasing artwork on behalf of an organization, company, or individual. Art buyers must have a high degree of art knowledge and understanding to appraise the quality and value of the artwork.

Art Cards, Editions, and Originals (ACEO) Cards

ACEOs are tiny handmade original paintings measuring 2.5 in x 3.5 in, the size of a sports trading card. They are created to sell on eBay and other venues and are highly collectible. Also see, “artist trading cards” for additional information.

Art Collector

A person who buys original and rare works of fine art with an interest in the history or story behind those pieces. They often buy in one or more genres, such as artists, art movements, or subject matter. In addition to appreciating and enjoying great work, art collectors also contribute to the financial support of the artists who produce it.

Art Collection

An accumulation of artwork by a private individual or a public institution. Art collecting has its roots in history. Most of the world’s art museums originated from large private collections that affluent individuals, royalty, aristocrats, or monarchs acquired.

Art Conservation

The maintenance and preservation of artworks and their protection from future damage and deterioration. Art conservation focuses on preventive measures and maintaining the original condition of artworks.

Art Deco

A style of design and decoration popular in the 1920s and 1930s that was characterized by geometric designs and used highly intense colors to reflect the rise of commerce, industry, and mass production.

Art History

The study of the evolution of visual arts, including painting, sculpture, drawing, and architecture, from the earliest cave drawings to present day. Its primary objectives are to identify the creators of a particular work, their time and stylistic approach, and to understand their creative process.

Art Media

The materials and tools used by an artist to create a work of art. Materials like paint and canvas, and tools like a brush or palette knife are examples of art media. Art media is the plural of art medium.

Art Medium

The substance the artist uses to create a piece of artwork. Some examples of mediums used in art include (but are not limited to) charcoal, graphite, pastels, oil paint, colored pencils, ink, and etc.

Art Movement

A distinct style of art defined by a group of artists who practice or adhere to the same creative concept, philosophy, goal, style, or method across a specific time period or place. Each art movement is subtly or distinctly different from another. Some movements share similarities with others, while others defy them.

Art Museum

A public or private place that collects and exhibits art from the museum’s own collection. They usually specialize in artworks like paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs. Art museums also offer educational programs to enhance appreciation and understanding of diverse works of art from different historical and cultural periods.

Art Nouveau

A decorative art movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century, art characterized by dense asymmetrical ornamentation in sinuous forms, is often symbolic and of an erotic nature.

Art Period

A distinct phase, stage, or juncture in the development of the creative work of an artist, groups of artists, or art movement.

Art Restoration

The repair of damaged or deteriorating artworks. Art restoration strives to restore items to a condition similar to their original appearance while preserving their artistic and historical value.

Artist

An individual who practices in the creation of visual arts, such as sculptures, paintings, or drawings, either as a profession or a hobby.

Artist Brush

The primary tool used by artists to apply paint to canvas. They come in various types, sizes, and shapes. Also see “Brush.”

Artist Portfolio

A collection of an artist’s best works that demonstrates their style, artistic skills, creativity, personality, abilities, and commitment. Artists need a portfolio because it shows potential clients or employers what they are capable of and what they have to offer.

Artist’s Bridge

See “Mahl Stick.”

Artistic

Describes a person who possesses an innate creative talent for art or artistry.

Artistic License

Refers to the creative process where artists manipulate details to make their work more interesting or beautiful. It allows them some latitude in how they perceive a subject and is not strictly required to be accurate. Artistic license is sometimes used as a euphemism to describe the distortion or alterations made by an artist to improve a piece of art.

Artistic Style

The specific style or technique of a particular artist, or art movement. It’s that thing that makes you recognize a specific painting as being by a particular artist before you’re close enough to see a signature or to read the image label.

For more information, see the Artist Blog article titled Developing an Artistic Style of Your Own.

Artist Trading Cards (ATCs)

ATCs are tiny-sized original paintings created by artists strictly for handing out, swapping, or trading with other artists and are not intended for selling. They may be in any medium (oils, acrylics, pencil, ink, etc.) using any technique, whether painting, drawing, or collage. There is only one rule and that is the cards must adhere to a specific size, 2.5 in. x 3.5 in. 

Arts and Crafts Movement

An international trend in the decorative and fine arts originated in the British Isles and subsequently spread across the British Empire and to the rest of Europe and America. It stressed the unity of the arts, individual craftsperson experiences, materials, and construction qualities, emphasizing simple, functional forms, local materials, and time-tested construction traditions.

ASCII Art

Text-based visual art created from 95 printable characters that use computers for presentation. ASCII art is created using any text editor program and requires a fixed-width font, such as Courier, for presentation. For more info.

Ashcan School

A realist art movement in early twentieth-century America that was best known for depicting everyday life in the poorer neighborhoods of New York City.

Assemblage Art

A form of sculptured art, either three-dimensional or two-dimensional, composed of “found” objects and arranged in such a way as to create a work of art. These objects can be anything organic or man-made. The origin of this particular art form dates back to Pablo Picasso, a well-known cubist artist.

Astronomical Art

See “Space Art.”

Asymmetrical

Refers to two sides or halves that do not match in size or shape, indicating a lack of symmetry. The opposite of “symmetrical.”

Asymmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical Balance

A composition technique where non-identical forms are arranged on opposite sides of a balancing point (central axis). By varying their size, value, or distance from the center, both sides will appear to have the same visual weight.

A skilled artist can create visually appealing compositions by balancing elements and weight, utilizing asymmetrical balance for greater creativity and unlimited arrangements, allowing for a wider range of artistic possibilities.

Atmospheric Perspective

A technique used by painters to represent three-dimensional space on a flat, two-dimensional surface by creating the illusion of depth or recession within a painting or drawing. Atmospheric perspective suggests that objects closer to the viewer are sharper in detail, color intensity, and value contrast than those farther away. As objects move closer to the horizon, they gradually fade to a bluish-gray, and details blur, imitating how distant objects appear to the human eye. Also see “aerial perspective.”

Automotive Artist

automotive art vintage V8 car painting
Forgotten Roads of Bygone Days by Teresa Bernard

A skilled artist who specializes in drawing cars, capturing the beauty and essence of automobiles in their artwork. Using their artistic talent, they create various forms of art, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures, showcasing classic (vintage) cars, muscle cars, and sports cars. Their passion for cars often leads them to create art for car manufacturers, advertising agencies, and other businesses in the automotive industry.

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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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Art Terms and Definitions — B

art vocabulary terms and definitionsA list of art vocabulary, terms and definitions that begin with the letter “B”. The list below begins with BACKGROUND and ends with BUST. In it, you’ll find 30 art-related terms that will give you a better understanding of art concepts.

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

Background

The area in a painting that visually appears far away in the distance at or near the horizon. It is usually located on a higher plane of the canvas.

Balance (in art)

A basic principle of design. Balance in art is the sense of equilibrium created when the visual weight, attention, or attraction of all objects within a composition is distributed evenly and no single aspect of the design may dominate or appear heavier than another section of the same composition.

Barbizon School

An art movement of the 19th century that was formed by a group of French landscape painters who sought to promote a more realistic and informal approach in their nature paintings. They were heavily influenced by 17th-century Dutch genre painting and proponents of outdoor painting.

Baroque

An art movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe whose artworks, music, and architecture were characterized by exaggerated ornate detail. The style, which was popular with and supported by the Catholic Church, began around 1600 in Rome, Italy, and spread throughout most of Europe.

Basic Art Elements

See “Elements of Art

Ben-Day Dots

art vocabulary terms and definitions

Tiny colored dots (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) used in the commercial printing industry to create shading and secondary colors in images. Benjamin Henry Day, an illustrator and printer, invented this method in 1879.

Binder

A component in paint, such as linseed oil or acrylic polymer, that holds pigment particles together ensuring consistent uniformity or cohesiveness.

Biomorphic Art

An abstract art style first introduced in the mid-1930s that evokes the form and shape of natural and living organisms. It focuses on the power of natural life and uses shapeless, vaguely spherical hints of biology. Drawing inspiration from patterns and forms found in the natural world and living organisms, biomorphic art creates aesthetically pleasing and harmonious designs, blending Surrealism and Cubism. Also called “biomorphism” or “biomorphist” art.

Birds-Eye View

Seeing from the point of view from an altitude or a distance; a comprehensive view in a downward direction; also called an “aerial view.”

Bitmap Image

A pixel-based image (.BMP) with one bit of color information per pixel, also known as a bitmapped image. The only colors displayed in a bitmapped image are black and white. Its quality decreases when the image is enlarged.

Black

An achromatic color, without hue, results from the absence or complete absorption of any visible light. The darkest of all colors and the opposite or complement of white. It is often argued that black is not a color because it lacks any hue or wavelength of light. However, since color is the result of human perception, many commonly perceive black as a color. One of four primary ink colors used in the printing industry (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

Blending

A technique used in painting to soften lines and create a gradual transition between two or more colors or tones. Blending ensures that most surfaces appear smooth and have fewer hard edges.

Blending Brush

A type of paintbrush used for smoothing out brushstrokes and spreading and blending colors smoothly. Blending brushes are very soft and are not used for applying paint. Use them to gently stroke the wet paint that you have already applied to the canvas to remove brushstrokes and blend paint. These art brushes are usually the most expensive in your paintbox, so you will want to take good care of them to make them last a long time.

Blue

art vocabulary terms and definitions

One of the three primary colors of pigments used in painting, and the complement or opposite of the color orange. In painting, blue is used to create a multitude of colors when mixed with other hues.

Body Art

A type of contemporary art that uses the human body as the “canvas.” The most common forms of body art are tattoos and body piercings.

Botanical Art

poppy pods wall art
Poppy Pods by Teresa Bernard

A scientifically accurate portrayal of a plant, fungi, or lichen, but may not be a comprehensive scientific record. It encompasses a variety of genres, including scientific illustration, realistic drawing, and painting of botanical subjects. The goal of botanical painters is to comprehend plant structure and visually express this information to their audience. For more on botanicals, click here.

Botanical Artist

A skilled artist who creates precise illustrations of plants, often used in scientific records and printed alongside descriptions in books and media. Their goal is to accurately document the shapes, structures, colors, life cycle, and habits of unique plant species while providing a visually appealing image.

Bright Art Brush

bright oil painting art brush

A brush with a flat ferrule and short-length hairs set in a long handle. The hairs curve inward at the tip and are virtually the same breadth and length as the brush head. This brush works well for applying heavy color in short, controlled strokes; however, if overworked, a Bright will remove as much paint as it applies. Use this brush when you want the brush strokes to show. These brush types are better for working up close rather than holding the brush at a distance from the canvas.

Bristle Brushes

bristle hair brushA natural hair paintbrush used by artists. Bristle brushes are stiff and springy brushes made from the hairs from the back of a pig. They have natural “split ends,” which make them ideal for oil painting because they can withstand heavy oil paint, textured canvas, and harsh solvents like turpentine. The stiff bristles will leave a strong mark on the canvas. In addition, Bristle brushes are easy to clean.

Bristle brushes are best in sizes of a half-inch wide or larger. They are best when used on large areas of canvas, to begin a painting, or for very large paintings. Entire paintings may be painted using only bristle brushes. However, for finer detail in smaller areas, sable brushes should be used.

Bristles

Sometimes referred to as hairs or filaments, bristles make up the head of the brush, called the “brush head.” This is the part of the brush that holds the paint. They are made from natural hair, synthetic fibers, or a combination of both. Natural bristles are animal hair, while synthetic bristles are nylon or polyester.

Bristles are formed into different shapes, which dictate the type of brush: bright, fan, filbert, flat, and round. The quality of the bristles determines the cost of the brush. The tip of the bristles is called the toe, while the heel is where the strands go into the ferrule at the tip of the handle. The belly is the fattest part of the bristle head.

Bristol Board

A high-quality heavyweight drawing paper, sometimes made with cotton fiber prepared or glued together, usually with a caliper thickness of 0.006″ and up, used for many types of two-dimensional artwork, including lettering.

Brush Anatomy

art vocabulary terms and definitions

The anatomy of an artist’s paintbrush consists of three main components: the head, the ferrule, and the handle.

Brush Head: The hairs or bristles of the brush. The strands are made from either natural or synthetic fibers. This is what an artist uses to apply and push paint around on the canvas. The head has three parts: the very tip of the head is called the toe. The fattest part is called the belly, and the point where the head meets the ferrule is called the heel.

Ferrule: The metal cylinder or band that attaches the head to the handle and helps hold the hairs in shape. Ferrules can be made from tin, aluminum, brass, copper alloys, nickel, or chrome plated. High-quality brushes have a brass or copper alloy ferrule that won’t rust or come loose. These types have the best adhesion to the handle and a double or triple crimp. The crimp is the part of the ferrule that secures it to the handle. This is important because if the ferrule does not fit properly, the bristles will fall out, or the ferrule could come off the handle.

Handle: The long stem of the brush that is held when in use. It is usually made of wood, acrylic, or bone. Most are made of hardwoods, like beech. They can be either short or long; however, lengths do differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Short handles fit into the palm, allowing different paint applications and movement. Oil painting brushes are made with longer handles, which provide better balance. The paintbrush’s size is typically indicated by a number printed on the handle, starting from 000 (triple ought) the smallest size), then 0, 1, 2, up to #12 or larger. A quality brush will balance on your finger, regardless of its size.

See “paintbrush” for more information about brushes.

Brush Drawing

A technique in visual arts that uses a round and pointed brush to produce linear images using India ink or watercolor. This style is very useful for illustrating nature objects since it produces a linear feel rather than a painterly finish. Brush drawing is ideal for generating delicate and detailed images.

Brushstroke

The mark left by a loaded (filled) brush on a surface. Brushstrokes can be distinguished by their direction, thickness, texture, and quality. Some artists purposefully obscure individual brushstrokes to achieve a smooth surface. Other artists make their brushstrokes obvious to reveal the process of painting or to express movement or emotion.

Brushwork

A technique where paint is applied to a surface using a brush, characterized by its size, texture, and accuracy. It is a fundamental element in oil painting, allowing artists to convey textures, emotions, and visual interest. Every painter has a different brush technique that adds to an artist’s style and distinguishes their work.

Built Environment

Man-made surroundings created to fulfill human desires and needs. Structures, features, and facilities viewed collectively as a setting for human activity in which people live, work, and play.

Bust

In sculpture, a representation of the upper part of the human figure, including the head, neck, and part of the shoulders and breast. The bust is a portrait intended to record the appearance of an individual and is usually (but not always) mounted on a base or column.

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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Art Terms and Definitions — C

art dictionaryAn art dictionary of terms and definitions that begin with the letter “C”. Art words are used by artists every day to describe art and were created for that sole purpose. This list has over 50 words from CALLIGRAPHER to CYCLORAMA.

Quick links to more art dictionary words are located at the end of the list.

Calligrapher

A skilled artist who uses a special pen or brush to make decorative handwriting, often referred to as calligraphy.

Calligraphy

art dictionary
Calligraphy

A distinctive style of artistic handwriting that is created by using special pen nibs or brushes that allow a calligrapher to vary the thickness of a letter’s line elements. An elegant, decorative writing style developed as an art form itself and used to enhance the artistic appeal and visual beauty of handwritten papers and manuscripts.

Canvas

A term used by artists to describe the surface they create their paintings on. It also refers to a heavy, closely woven fabric that is affixed to a piece of thin cardboard (see canvas board) or that is stretched onto stretcher bars (see stretched canvas). Canvas material is typically made of linen or cotton.

Canvas Board

art dictionaryA rigid surface covered with primed canvas glued onto lightweight cardboard, approximately 1/8″ thick. They are durable, resistant to warping, and less fragile than stretched canvas. Canvas boards are preferred by artists for smaller paintings and are easy to frame. They are ideal for on-location painting because their lightweight, and the sunlight will not shine through the back. Also called “canvas panel,” which is a term that is interchangeable with “canvas board.”

Canvas Paper

canvas paperA textured, coated paper with a flexible surface resembling a canvas, used for small sketches and color notes. It comes in pads or single sheets and is not recommended for painting due to its fragility and lack of longevity. Works painted on canvas paper require extreme restorative and conservative treatments, usually within a few decades.

Caricature

A rendering, usually a portrait, of a real person showing the features of the subject in a simplified or exaggerated way, but still retaining a likeness.

Center of Interest

An emphasized area of the composition. Also called the focal point.

Ceramics

The art of making objects with clay and firing them in a kiln. Wares of earthenware and porcelain, as well as sculpture, are made by ceramists. Enamel is also a ceramic technique. Ceramic materials may be decorated with slip, engobe, or glaze, applied by several methods, including resist, mishima, and snag gam. Pots can be made by the coil, slab, some other manual technique, or a potter’s wheel.

Charcoal

A stick made from compressed burned wood used for drawing and for preliminary sketch work on canvases. Compressed charcoal is available in a variety of forms, including stick, wood-encased pencils, and peel-as-you-go paper wrapped pencils, that range from extra soft to hard.

Chiaroscuro

An artistic technique that employs strong contrast between areas of light and shade in a composition to define three-dimensional objects.

Christian Art

Christian art
Calvary At Sunset painting by Teresa Bernard.

A genre of art that depicts important Christian themes and stands as a testimony to faith. Images of Jesus Christ, as well as scenes from His life and ministry are the most common subjects of Christian art. It is significant because it deepens our understanding of Christianity and the Bible. Also called “sacred art.” See also, “religious art.”

Chroma

The brightness or saturation of a color describing its intensity or how pure it is. High-chroma colors are more saturated, while low-chroma colors are less pure and more pastel in tone.

Chromatic

Pertaining to colors or color; being or having or characterized by hue. A color perceived to have a hue saturation greater than zero.

Cityscape

cityscape urban landscapeA city landscape; a painting of a city. Paintings that capture the physical features of a city, urban life, and specific locations of a town (such as a city block, street corner, outdoor café, rooftops, etc.), or other metropolitan areas. Similar to cityscapes are “townscapes,” only a township has a smaller population and maybe less modern architecture.

Classicism

A form of art derived from the study of Greek and Roman styles characterized by harmony, balance, and serenity. In contrast, the Romantic Movement gave free rein to the artist’s imagination and the love of the exotic.

Closed Composition

closed composition
A good example of closed composition. “Snail #1: Last Leaf” painting by Teresa Bernard

A type of composition in painting or photography where all the elements are contained within the borders or framework of the canvas or image. The main subject is usually located near the center drawing the viewer’s eye to it. All the other compositional elements help guide the viewer’s attention to the subject matter and away from the edges. Such a composition often results in static, consistent, stable images that feel complete, finished, and calm. Still life‘s and portraits are good examples of closed composition.

A closed composition is the exact opposite of “open composition.”

CMYK

CMYKThe abbreviation for cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K). These are the four primary colors used in process printing that are combined in varying amounts to produce a wide range of colors.

Collage

Introduced by the Cubists, the technique of creating a work of art by adhering flat articles such as paper, fabrics, string, or other materials to a flat surface such as a canvas whereby a three-dimensional result is achieved.

Color

A basic element of art that involves light. It is produced when light waves (wavelengths) strike an object and are reflected into our eyes. Each light wave has a distinct color. Objects appear to be different colors because some wavelengths are absorbed while others are reflected or transmitted back to our eyes resulting in the colors we see.

Color Field Painting

A style of abstract painting that emerged as an art movement in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. It is mostly distinguished by broad expanses of solid, flat color that lack sharp tones or contrasts and spread across the canvas, creating flat picture planes and sections of uninterrupted surface. There’s no clear focal point of interest. The primary focus and theme is color, which is heavily emphasized.

Color Groups

Groupings of colors of a particular hue; sometimes called color families.

Color Harmony

The relationship of colors that work well together side-by-side, as opposed to colors that clash with one another. It can be a simple relationship involving only one color with several shades (monochromatic) or two complementary colors, or it can be a more complex relationship involving multiple colors.

Color Opposites

See “Complimentary Colors.”

Color Permanence

Refers to a pigment’s lasting power. Tubes and other paint containers are sometimes labeled with a code indicating a color’s degree of permanence.

Letter Code
Degree of color permanence
AA Highest
A Standard
C Less than permanent, though fairly durable
CC Fugitive

Color Properties

The three primary qualities of color are: hue (the name of the color), chroma (the purity and strength of the color), and value (the lightness or darkness of the color). Also called hue, saturation or intensity, and lightness.

Color Saturation

Refers to a color’s purity of hue, or its intensity.

Color Scheme

The overall selection of colors used in a design or artwork.

Color Separation

A traditional photographic process of separating artwork into component films of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black in preparation for printing to ultimately create a full-color printed product. Recent computer innovations have obviated the need for separated film negatives in specific applications.

Color Temperature

art dictionaryThe temperature of color is how a particular color is perceived, either cool or warm. Cool colors range from green to violet on the color wheel, whereas warm colors range from yellow to red. Each temperature takes up one-half of the color wheel. Somewhere in the green and violet spectrums, the temperature changes between cool and warm. Also reference “cool colors” and “warm colors.”

Color Theory

Practical guidelines that govern the ideas, principles, and applications of color in art and design. Color theory consists of three components: the color wheel, color harmony, and color application or context, which can all be used by visual artists to create logical structures in their designs and compositions.

Color Wheel

basic color wheelA circular diagram, developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, that visually represents the placement of colors in relation to each other. It is divided into 12 sections, each showing a distinct color, and categorizes colors into primary, secondary, and tertiary (third) categories. Artists and interior designers use this as a visual aid to understand color relationships and define color schemes.

Colored Pencil

A drawing tool with a pigmented core, used by art students and professionals. Can be wax- or oil-based, water-soluble, or pastel.

Colorimeter

A tool used in colorimetry for measuring the intensity of color.

Colorimetry

A field of science and technology that studies how the human eye perceives color. Colorimetry uses numbers to describe colors and is used in various industries like chemistry, color printing, textile manufacturing, and paint manufacturing.

Commercial Art

Refers to art that is made for commerce. The term is somewhat obsolete and is currently being replaced in many colleges with the term “Visual Communication.”

Commission

Refers to the act of hiring someone to execute a specific work of art or set of artworks. For more information on this topic, see “How to Commission a Painting.” The term may also refer to the fee charged by a gallery or agent when selling works to a third party.

Complementary Colors

color opposites
Complementary Colors

Two colors that are directly opposite one another on the color wheel. When placed next to one another, complementary colors are intensified and often appear to vibrate. When mixed together, brown or gray is created. Also referred to as “color opposites.”

The complementary or color opposites are:

Primary Color
and Opposite
Secondary Color
and Opposite
Tertiary Color
and Opposite
Red and Green Yellow-orange and
Blue-violet
Red-violet and
Yellow-green
Yellow and Violet Yellow-green and
Red-purple
Red-orange and
Blue-green
Blue and Orange Red-orange and
Blue-green
Blue-violet and
Yellow-orange

Composition

The arrangement of the elements of art within a design area in accordance with the principles of design, ensuring unity and consistency in a piece of art, allowing the observer to comprehend its meaning.

Computer Art

Refers to visual images made with the assistance of computers. Computer art is often made with drawing, painting, illustrating, and photographic programs or applications like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

Concept Art

A type of visual art created during the preproduction stage of a movie, video game, or other complex visual work, primarily aimed at explaining and evaluating various concepts before advancing to the final product.

Concept Artist

A creative professional who develops visual concepts for media such as films, video games, and animation. They design characters, environments, and props, working with directors and producers to establish the visual style.

Conté

A drawing medium made from compressed powdered graphite or charcoal mixed with a clay base. It is a firm pastel used for detailed work and is known for its classic earth colors, including sanguine, bister, black, whites, and grays. Also known as Conté sticks or Conté crayons.

Contour

An outline of something, especially one that defines its shape or form.

Contrast

art dictionaryA design principle that emphasizes the difference between two or opposing elements, forming a unified composition. It adds variety to a design, preventing monotony and confusion. Contrast also adds visual interest by comparing light and dark areas, lines, forms, and spaces. It creates unity by drawing the viewer’s eye into the artwork, guiding them around the piece. Too much contrast can lead to confusion and monotony.

Converging Lines

Sets of parallel lines that appear to converge as they recede into the distance and meet at a single vanishing point. These lines can represent the edges of objects, and some can have multiple sets. An example is a box or cube, which can have one, two, or three sets of convergence lines, also known as orthogonal lines. Also see, “Linear Perspective.”

Cool Color

cool colors on the color wheelColors whose relative visual temperatures make them seem cool. Cool colors generally include yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, and violet.

The characteristics of cool colors include:

      • are made with blue, green, or violet, and combinations of them.
      • tend to feel cool, reminding us of water and sky.
      • tend to recede into the background, i.e., move away from the viewer.
      • are more calming and soothing.

Copyright

The legal right granted to the creator or assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical works and authorize others to do the same. The copyright symbol ©️ (a circled capital letter C for copyright) is utilized in copyright notices.

Critique

An in-depth and analytical evaluation of a work of art, theory, or argument, aiming to provide feedback, broaden knowledge, or express opinions. It can be positive or negative, depending on the subject’s strengths and weaknesses. A good critique should be constructive and objective and focused on improving the artist’s work.

Cropping

cropping
A good example of cropping is present in this painting by Teresa Bernard, “The Broadside of a Barn.”

The removal of extraneous or unwanted parts of an image, usually a photograph. It involves excluding part of a photo or illustration to show only the portion desired to fit a given space requirement. Cropping is often used to improve or redefine the composition or focal point of an artwork.

Cubism

A 20th-century French art movement that uses two-dimensional geometric shapes to depict three-dimensional organic forms. A style of painting created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in which the artist breaks down the natural forms of the subjects into geometric shapes and creates a new kind of pictorial space.

Curator

A person responsible for overseeing and managing collections in cultural institutions like museums, galleries, and libraries. Their responsibilities include the research, interpretation, and building of collections. As well as exhibition planning, educational outreach, and the preservation of collections. The term “curator” originates from the Latin word “cura” meaning “to take care.”

CyanC is for Cyan

One of the four process colors used in printing, or CMYK, the C stands for cyan. Cyan is also a primary color, along with magenta, yellow, and black.

Cyclorama

A large-scale panoramic painting that covers the interior walls of a circular room, providing a 360-degree view of a continuous scene, typically a landscape. The goal is to give viewers the sensation of actually standing in the midst of the location that is depicted in the image. Real objects were frequently positioned in the foreground to heighten the senses. In the late 1800s, cycloramas became increasingly popular as a kind of entertainment that drew large crowds of people.

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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Art Terms and Definitions — D

art terminologyA list of art terminology that begins with the letter “D”. It includes definitions for more than 20 terms commonly used in the art world to describe art. Words from DADA to DPI.

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

Dada

An avant-garde art movement that emerged during World War I in Europe in negative reaction to the atrocities and folly of war. Dada artists poked fun at all the established traditions and tastes in art with works that were deliberately satirical and nonsensical.

Damar

A resin used in varnishes and inks, derived from timber trees in Malaya and Indonesia, as well as coniferous and hardwood trees in Southeast and East Asia.

DayGlo Colors

Also called fluorescent colors and neon colors, are bright, clean materials with a unique “glowing” effect under ultraviolet or black light. They are widely used to attract attention, focus attention on objects, warn people of hazardous situations, and get an object or situation noticed. They are commonly used in traffic cones, detergent packaging, tennis balls, and fishing lures, and can be found in various media including oil and acrylic paints, inks, dyes, markers, and crayons. See also, “fluorescent colors.”

Dead Color Layer

A crucial stage in painting, consisting of a monochrome underpainting as the base layer before additional layers of paint are applied to create depth and vibrancy. This stage establishes the composition, as well as main light and dark relationships in the final artwork. Also referred to as the monochrome version of the final painting.

Decaptych

Artwork consisting of ten panels or parts where each panel depicts a different but related depiction. The panels can be hinged together or presented side-by-side to make one large image. Decaptych is not a widely used term, although it is used in the visual arts. It comes from the Greek words “deca” which means ten and “ptych” refers to a panel or segment of a larger work of art. See also “polyptych.”

Decorative Art
art terminology

A form of visual art that involves the design and decoration of objects that have both aesthetic and practical value. Ceramics, jewelry, enamels, furniture, glass, ivory, metals, and textiles are examples of decorative art forms, particularly when utilized as interior decoration.

Decoupage

A French word meaning “paste-up.” The Victorian craft of cutting out motifs from paper, gluing them to a surface, and covering the glued-on paper with as many layers of varnish as is required to give a completely smooth finish.

Depth of Field

In photography, the area in front of and behind the focused point that is sharp. A shallow depth of field is used in portraits to provide a soft backdrop, while a greater depth of field is useful for landscapes to ensure everything from the foreground to the background is in focus. Shorter (wide-angle) lenses and smaller apertures increase the depth of field.

Design

The systematic arrangement of design elements to achieve a single effect, encompassing the organization and composition of a work. An effective design combines elements of art and design principles to achieve a sense of unity.

Designer

A designer is a person who plans the appearance and function of a product, structure, or system before it’s made. They work in various disciplines like architecture, engineering, urban planning, and industrial design. Designers communicate ideas through visual representations and use design tools like digital design and sketches to create artwork. Different types of designers include graphic, fashion, and interior designers.

Designing

The process of relating the elements, whether similar or contrasting, and visually arranging an interesting unity with them using the design principles.

Digital Art

art terminology
Computer Art

Artworks that are created using software on a computer platform. This includes images done entirely on a computer or photographs and hand-drawn illustrations that have been scanned into a computer and manipulated or finished using software programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Other terms used to describe this art-making process include computer art, multimedia art, and new media art.

Diptych

(Pronounced dip-tick). A work of art consisting of two painted or carved panels where each panel depicts a different but related scene. The panels can be hinged together or presented side-by-side. The term “diptych” comes from the Greek words “di” (meaning “two”) and “ptychē” (meaning “fold”).

Dominance

The emphasis that is placed on a particular area or characteristic of a work, with other areas or aspects given subordinate or supporting roles.

Doodle

A drawing that is made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be composed of random and abstract lines.

Doodling

To draw or sketch aimlessly, especially when preoccupied.

Double Exposure

A technique used in film and photography to expose two images onto one negative or sheet of photographic paper.

Double Loading

A painting technique that involves loading a brush with two colors side by side. This is a technique typical of tole and other kinds of decorative painting. Also known as “sideloading.”

Drawing

The act of representing an image on a surface by adding lines and shades, as with a pencil, crayon, pen, chalk, pastels, etc. It also refers to a hand-drawn illustration.

Drip Painting

A style of abstract painting made popular in the 20th century by Jackson Pollock. Paint is dripped or poured directly onto a canvas. This style focuses on movement and spontaneity while creating dynamic and unique effects.

DPI

Stands for “dots per inch.” DPI is a measure of dot density that refers to the number of individual dots in a line across a 1-inch span. Higher DPI values result in better print quality and sharper images, affecting image clarity and detail. It characterizes the resolution of hard copy prints and digital prints.

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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Art Terms and Definitions — E

art termsA vocabulary list of art terms and their meanings that begin with the letter “E”. The following are more than 10 general words that artists use on a regular basis to express their art. Words range from EASEL to EXTERNAL FOCUS.

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

Easel

art termsAn upright support (generally a tripod) used for displaying something. It is most often used to hold up an artist’s canvas while the painter works or to hold a completed painting for exhibition. Artists’ easels come in various sizes and shapes, from sturdy studio easels to portable options for painting trips.

Ecological Art

A contemporary art genre and artistic practice created by artists worldwide concerned about local and global environmental situations. Artworks that are made from recycled and natural materials. Also called “eco-art.”

Ecru

art termsA color similar to that of unbleached linen. Once considered a shade of beige, it has now become more precisely defined as “a grayish yellow that is greener and paler than chamois or old ivory.” Ecru comes from the French word écru, which means “unbleached.”

Egg Tempera

A medium that is created by mixing pure, ground pigments with egg yolk. This was a very common medium before the invention of oil paints.

Elements of Art

The fundamental “building blocks” of artmaking. They are color, form, line, shape, texture, and value. Without them, it would be impossible for an artist to create art. In any form of art, at least one of these elements is used.

Embossed

A process in printing to create a raised surface during the printmaking processes by means of engraved dies or plates.

Emphasis

A design principle that draws attention a single area or focal point within an artwork. Emphasis is used when an artist wants to draw attention to a specific feature or area of a painting by giving it dominance and making it stand out. Without it, a composition is simply a collection of features presented in equal importance. When a composition lacks emphasis, nothing stands out.

En Plein Air

French for “in open air” used to describe paintings that have been executed outdoors rather than in the studio. Also called “Plein air.”

Encaustic Painting

A technique where colored pigments are mixed with melted beeswax, creating a molten mixture that is applied to a surface, typically wood or canvas. Also known as hot wax painting.

Enneaptych

An artistic work consisting of nine panels or canvases where each panel depicts a different but related scene. The panels can be hinged together or presented side-by-side to make one large image. Enneaptych is not a widely used term, although it is used in the visual arts. It comes from the Greek words “ennea” (meaning “nine”) and “ptychē” (meaning “fold”). Also see “polyptych.”

Entomological Art

See “insect art.”

Environmental Art

Artistic works intended to enrich or blend in with the surrounding natural environment. It includes historical perspectives on nature as well as more contemporary ecological and political works that seek to improve the environment, integrate with it, or make a statement about environmental challenges.

Etching

An impression made from an etched plate; 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.

Ethnographic Art

See “Tribal Art.”

Exhibition

A public showing of a piece or a collection of artworks. Also called an exhibit.

Expressionism

Post-World War I European art movement that emphasized the expression of inner experience rather than a solely realistic portrayal. This art form emphasizes subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in the artist rather than objective reality. It is characterized by distorted lines and shapes and exaggerated colors for emotional impact. Vincent van Gogh is esteemed as the forerunner of this particular movement.

External Focus

In the realm of art, refers to an approach where artists draw inspiration from the physical world around them. When artists adopt an external focus, they observe and depict their surroundings. his external perspective frequently results in the development of objective art, which is perceived by viewers rather than originating solely from the artist’s mind or emotions. Opposite of “internal focus.”

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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Art Terms and Definitions — F

visual art vocabulary wordsVisual art vocabulary words beginning with the letter “F”. There are over 30 art-related terms and definitions in this list to help you better comprehend art concepts. Words from FAN ART to FUNCTIONAL ART.

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

Fan Art (or Fanart)

visual art vocabulary words
Fanart of a popular 1960’s TV sci-fi series, “Spock” of Star Trek. Artist unknown.

Artwork created by the fans of popular fictional books, TV shows, movies, comics, etc. Such works are typical of favorite characters or scenes that are hand-drawn, painted, or digitally produced using a computer program. Fanart is considered a form of artistic expression for fans to convey their love and appreciation for the cultural icon they are creating artwork for. They are neither commissioned works of art nor endorsed by the creators of the fictional work the fan art depicts.

Fan Art Brush

visual art vocabulary words

A flat brush with a thin layer of hairs spread out in the shape of a fan and a flat ferrule on a long handle. This brush is excellent for smoothing, blending, and feathering. The synthetic hairs are perfect for painting highlights and flowing strands of hair, grasses, leaves, and thin branches on trees, creating textural effects, and blending the soft edges of clouds. A word of caution, though: be careful not to make identical or repetitive marks that look unnatural.

Fantasy Art

A genre of art that combines fantasy or one’s imagination and reality, and frequently features mythological, magical, and supernatural themes. Fantasy art is the product of an artist’s vivid imagination and can be figurative and naturalistic rather than abstract.

Fat Over Lean Rule

A technique used in oil painting that dictates that each successive layer of paint be applied with slightly more oil and that ‘leaner’ paint is layered beneath ‘fatter’ paint. Lean paint is paint that has been mixed with a paint thinner. Fat paint is paint that has a higher oil content by adding an oily medium such as linseed oil which makes it more flexible and takes longer to dry. This technique helps prevent the paint from cracking in the finished work since the lower oil content in the initial layers dry faster. Following this rule ensures proper paint adhesion to the canvas, ensuring the painting’s durability and longevity.

Fauvism

An art movement that flourished around the turn of the twentieth century in France, comprised of a group of artists known as Les Fauves (the wild beasts), whose painting style stressed high-contrast colors and aggressive brushwork, displaying a more raw and less natural manner of expression. Fauvism is characterized by its use of bright colors, textured brushwork, and non-naturalistic portrayals. André Derain and Henri Matisse were the movement’s leaders.

Federal Arts Project

A government initiative designed to create jobs for American artists during the Great Depression. The program, part of the New Deal, was established in 1935 and dissolved in 1943.

Ferrule

Refers to the metal or plastic devise that aligns and anchors paintbrush bristles or hairs in an adhesive. Ferrules can be made from tin, aluminum, brass, copper alloys, nickel, or chrome plated. Quality brushes have a brass or copper alloy ferrule. The ferrule is attached to the handle by crimping or by binding wires. High-quality ferrules won’t rust or come loose. Also see “Brush Anatomy.”

Figurative Art

See Representational Art.

Figure Drawing

An art form that involves sketching the human figure in various shapes and postures, often done live with a nude model. This art form can take various forms, from highly detailed renderings to loose and expressive sketches. The term can also refer to the act of producing such a drawing.

Filbert Art Brush

A flat, oval-shaped brush with medium to long chiseled, rounded edge hairs and a thick, flat ferrule on a long handle. This brush is ideal for blending soft, rounded edges, like flower petals. Its curved tip allows for easy control of blending and softening edges. It creates thin lines when used on its side, and broad brushstrokes when used flat. By varying the pressure as you use the brush, you can create a tapering mark.

Filigree

A technique used to produce delicate, intricate patterns in metal such as metal beads, clasps, and bead caps.

Fine Art

A visual expression of human creativity, involving technical skills and imagination, created for aesthetic expression, communication, or contemplation. Painting and sculpture are the best-known of the fine arts. For more information on this topic, see blog article “What is Fine Art?”

Fine Artist

A practitioner (such as a painter or sculptor) of the fine arts who earns a living from their artistic creations. When an artist has mastered their craft and their work is highly valued, they are regarded as fine artists.

Fixative

A liquid, similar to varnish, is sprayed over a finished piece of artwork to preserve it better and prevent smudging. Artwork media requiring fixatives include drawings done in pencil, charcoal, and pastel.

Flat Art Brush

visual art vocabulary words

A brush with a flat-shaped end, like a screwdriver, having a flat ferrule and medium-to-long brush strands. The strands are arranged in a rectangular shape that is longer than wide. Looking at it from the side, it is narrow. This brush is ideal for bold, sweeping strokes, washes, filling wide spaces, and impasto. It can also be used for fine lines, straight edges, and stripes. Used flat produces broad brushstrokes, while turned on the narrow edge produces thin strokes. Flat art brushes are primarily used for covering large areas with flat strokes and blending.

Fluorescent Colors

Refers to colors that absorb and reflect more light than conventional colors. As a result, these pigments are brighter and more intense than normal colors. They are so saturated that they feel as if they might continue to glow without a light source. Fluorescent colors emit a vivid brightness that makes them seem like they emit light, especially when viewed under a blacklight. Fluorescent colors react to ultraviolet light and convert light to a dominant wavelength or color. There are six fluorescent colors, they are: blue, green, orange, pink, red, and yellow. Some people refer to fluorescent colors as neon. All fluorescent colors are “fugitive.”

Flower Art

flower art
White Calla Lilies on Blue by Teresa Bernard

A broad term for a style of artwork that encompasses various artistic mediums featuring flowers or floral motifs. It can include paintings, drawings, sculptures, and even digital or computer art. There are many different styles of flower artwork, ranging from realistic to abstract. For more on flower art, click here.

Foam Core

A strong, stiff, resilient, and lightweight board of polystyrene laminated with paper on both sides; used as backing for art prints before framing. Also referred to as “foam board.”

Focal Point

A specific area, element, or principle that dominates a work of art; the area in a work in which the eye is most compellingly drawn. The viewer’s eye is usually drawn there first.

Folk Art

Art created by individuals who have had no formal academic training in art but whose works are part of an established tradition of style and craftsmanship. It is characterized by a naïve style in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed.

Font

In typography, a complete set of characters in a particular size and style of type. This includes the letter set, the number set, and all of the special characters and diacritical marks you get by pressing the shift, option, or command/control keys.

Fontography

The field of font design. A person who designs fonts is a “fontographer.”

Foreground

The area of a painting that visually appears closest to the viewer. It is often located on a lower plane or bottom of the canvas.

Foreshortening

A form of perspective used to create the illusion of an object receding strongly into the distance or background by shortening the lines with which that object is drawn. To shorten an object to make it look as if it extends backward into space.

Form

The visible shape and volume of a three-dimensional work, including unfilled areas that are integral to the work as a whole.

Fractal Art

visual art vocabulary wordsA mathematically generated pattern that is reproducible at any magnification or reduction. A geometric pattern repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry.

Frame

Something made to enclose a picture or a mirror; enclosed in a frame, as a picture.

Freehand Drawing

The art of drawing without the use of tools or mechanical devices like grids, rulers, and compasses. To draw something freehand, you must not use any aids such as tracing or measuring either. Freehand artists draw using only their hands, relying on their observational skills to measure and depict what they observe.

French Curve

A versatile drawing tool used by artists, draftspersons, and designers to create smooth curves that don’t strictly follow the circle’s curve. A French curve is a thin, clear, hard material template, often made of plastic, with several different curves and shapes in a scroll or curved form. These curves allow for more organic and varied shapes, adding a touch of fluidity and naturalness to artistic compositions. Also called a drawing curve, irregular curve, or airplane curve.

Fresco

The technique of blending wet plaster with water-based paint. As the plaster dries, it becomes a lasting surface base. The term applies to the technique as well as the painting itself.

Frottage Art

An art technique developed by Max Ernst in 1925. The technique entails placing a sheet of paper on top of a rough or textured surface and rubbing a soft pencil, graphite, chalk, crayon, or other medium over it to obtain an impression of the surface texture of the material underneath the sheet. The French word for rubbing is “frottage.”

Fugitive Colors

Short-lived pigments capable of fading or changing, especially with exposure to light, to atmospheric pollution, or when mixed with certain substances.

Functional Art

A genre of art that combines form and function, creating objects that are both beautiful and useful. This includes high-quality, artistically crafted objects like dishes and clothes, as well as aesthetic objects like furniture, lighting, and books. Also known as “utilitarian art.”

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!

Thanks for reading this!


 

Art Terms and Definitions — G

art vocabulary and meaningsArt vocabulary and their meanings that begin with the letter “G”. Art words artists use on a daily basis to characterize their art that were created to help you better comprehend art concepts. This list has more than 30 words from GALLERY to GUERRILLA ART

Quick links to more art vocabulary and their meanings are located at the end of the list.

Gallery

A building, hall, room, or series of rooms where sculpture, paintings, photographs, or other works of art are exhibited and or sold.

Gallery-wrapped Canvas

art vocabulary and meaningsA type of canvas used by artists to create paintings on top of the canvas surface. Canvas fabric is stretched across and wrapped around wooden stretcher bars. It is then attached to the back of the stretcher bars using staples or spline. Gallery-wrapped canvas allows artists to paint on the sides or edges of the canvas and to hang it without a frame. Some artists and collectors prefer the more contemporary look of unframed art. See also “stretched canvas.”

Genre

From the French word meaning “kind” or “genus.” A realistic style of painting that depicts scenes of everyday life. Dutch artworks of peasant and tavern scenes are considered typical genre paintings.

Genre Painting

art vocabulary and meaningsA realistic style of painting that depicts scenes of everyday life. It shows average folks going about their lives, whether they are at work or having fun. These paintings feature intimate scenes of daily life, costumes, residential settings, interiors, festivities, bar scenes, marketplaces, and other street scenarios. It might also represent a crowded street, a beach party, a dinner gathering, or any other location where life happens. Dutch artworks of peasant and tavern scenes are considered typical genre paintings.

Geometric Art

An art movement that emerged in the early 20th century by artists fascinated with geometric shapes. Inspired by geometry, a type of mathematics, geometric art is a form of abstract art that uses basic shapes like squares, circles, triangles, and rectangles in its designs. Geometric artworks can be created using various materials like paint, ink, pencil, paper, metal, and plastic. And it is often used to create seamless patterns, abstract backgrounds, and various photo effects.

Gesso

art vocabulary and meaningsA mixture of plaster, chalk, or gypsum bound together with glue that is applied as a primer or coating to canvases to give them the correct properties to receive paint. Without this layer of primer, the paint would soak into the weave and possibly damage the canvas material. When applying multiple layers of gesso, it is best to lightly sand each layer before applying the next one. Gesso can be applied to just about any surface and may be painted on with acrylic or oil paint. It can also be built up, molded into relief designs, or carved.

Gesture Drawing

A freehand drawing technique used by artists to quickly capture the action, form, and pose of a model or figure. It involves using the whole arm with loose movements, focusing on the shape rather than details. This method is beneficial in improving the hand and eye coordination for artists of all levels, from beginners to experienced.

Giclee

(Pronounced “zee-clay”). A printmaking process usually on an IRIS inkjet printer to make reproductions of a photograph or painting. The printer can produce a vast range of colors, resulting in prints that are of exceptionally high quality.

GIF

An acronym for “Graphic Interchange Format,” an image format type generated specifically for computer use. Its resolution is usually very low (72 dpi, or that of your computer screen), making it undesirable for printing purposes.

Gild the Lily

A phrase meaning to add unnecessary ornamentation to something already beautiful.

Gilding

The application of a gold finish. It is achieved by applying gold leaf or by using metallic powders.

Glaze

A thin layer of translucent acrylic or oil paint that is applied to all or part of a painting to modify the tone or color underneath. Glazing is the process of using this technique.

Gold Leaf

An extremely thin tissue of gold used for gilding.

Golden Ratio

golden mean diagram
The Golden Ratio

A compositional technique that creates harmonious proportions in paintings by utilizing a mathematical ratio found in nature. It is an actual ratio of 1:1.618, which can be demonstrated by drawing a rectangle with a width of 1 and a length of 1.618. Within this rectangle, there is a square with a ratio of 1:1 and another rectangle with a ratio of 1:1.618. If another square is drawn within the smaller rectangle, it will have a ratio of 1:1 and another rectangle with a ratio of 1:1.618. This ratio can create beauty and balance in the layout and design of all paintings. The point where the diagonal lines intersect is crucial when using this ratio to compose your paintings, as it is infinitely divisible, allowing multiple intersections for sub-elements. Also referred as the “golden mean.”

Goniochromism

See “iridescence.”

Good Design Principles

The basic building blocks an artist uses to organize or arrange the various elements that comprise a design or composition within a work of art. The principles are balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, proportion, space, unity, and visual economy. Also referred to as the “principles of design” or the “principles of composition.”

Gothic Art

A medieval style of art originating in Northern France in the 12th century. It is characterized by intricate detailing, ornate designs, and religious themes. Emerging from Romanesque art and Gothic architecture, it is often associated with towering cathedrals with pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and elaborate stained glass. The term Gothic was coined by Renaissance Italian writers who attributed the development of medieval architecture to the barbarian Gothic tribes that destroyed the Roman Empire and its classical culture in the 5th century.

Gouache

A type of watercolor paint made heavier and more opaque by the addition of a white pigment (chalk, Chinese white, etc.) in a gum arabic mixture. This results in a stronger color than ordinary watercolor.

Gradation

The gradual transition from one color to another, from lighter to darker shades, or large shapes to smaller ones.

Graffiti Art

Refers to forms of art (or vandalism) where images or text have been spray-painted, sketched, or even scratched onto walls, sidewalks, or other publicly accessible areas. Public response to graffiti is not always favorable. Enthusiasts say that unauthorized or illegal art comes from a desire to make cityscapes more attractive by painting over blank or barren walls.

Graphic Art

A diverse visual expression, often created on flat surfaces. It uses a variety of techniques to represent subjects, including drawing, painting, and photography. It also includes decorative elements, patterns, and designs for aesthetic purposes. Graphic art can be textual or use printing techniques like engraving. Most graphic art is two-dimensional, with emphasis on line, color, and tone. It combines creativity, technique, and visual communication to create captivating and expressive works.

Graphic Artist

Graphic artists are creative professionals who create visual materials to convey emotions, stories, and messages to audiences. They focus on artistic expression and work in both traditional and digital media. They create original artwork, illustrations, or animations for various projects, including advertisements, posters, book covers, comic books, graphic novels, animations, film illustrations, and cartoons. Graphic artists use their skills and tools to design images, logos, illustrations, animations, and other elements for various media and purposes.

Graphic Design

The applied art of arranging images and text to communicate a message. It may be applied in any media, such as print, digital media, motion pictures, animation, product decoration, packaging, and signs. Graphic design as a practice can be traced back to the origin of the written word, but only in the late 19th century did it become identified as a separate entity.

Graphic Designer

A specialist who creates and communicates visual concepts through the integration of technology and art. Graphic designers focus on effective communication strategies within specified specifications utilizing text, images, colors, fonts, and other elements to design and layout information for a variety of mediums such as websites, printed pages, brochures, magazines, bannes, and advertisements. Their goal is to inform, inspire, and captivate consumers with their designs, reflecting the desired message and brand of their clients or customers. They ensure readability and aesthetically pleasing layouts using principles like contrast, balance, and visual hierarchy.

The terms is often used interchangeably with “graphic artist.”

Graphite

A soft, black, lustrous mineral made of carbon that is used in lead pencils, paints, crucibles, and lubricants.

Grayscale

The range of gray tones between black and white (see illustration).

art vocabulary and meanings

Green

GreenOne of the secondary colors that is created when the two primary colors of blue and yellow are mixed. See Secondary Colors. The complement or opposite of the color red. Part of the RGB color model used on television and computer screens.

Grid

Refers to a series of crossed lines that meet to form a boxed pattern used in the predetermined placement of photographs and graphic elements on a canvas. Helpful in creating compositions.

Grid Enlarging

grid enlargingThe process of using a grid to enlarge an image; for copying very precisely another image on the same or a different scale, usually larger; used in scaling an image by drawing. For more information on using this method, see the article titled Using a Grid to Enlarge and Transfer an Image to Canvas.

Grisaille

Monochrome painting generally employs shades of gray executed in a black pigment and an inert white pigment in oil, gouache, or tempera; a stained-glass window incorporating muted tones as opposed to bright colors.

Guerrilla Art

art vocabulary and meanings
Street art by Banksy.

A term often used interchangeably with “street art.” Guerrilla art is a form of art-making that entails installing unauthorized works of art in public places. This form of art expression allows the artist to express their views and opinions to a large audience anonymously. Such statements can be either political or merely to call attention to one’s surroundings. Guerrilla art differs from other forms of art. It is environmental and is not created on traditional supports such as a canvas. Such traditional art forms can be moved from gallery to gallery without any effect on the piece or its meaning; however, this is not so with street art. The surface to which street art is applied can be as fundamental to the piece’s meaning as the image itself.

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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Art Terms and Definitions — H

art reference glossaryAn art reference glossary of terms and definitions that begin with the letter “H”. The list below begins with HALFTONE and ends with HYPERREALISM. In it, you’ll find more than 10 terms that will help you understand general concepts about art.

Quick links to more art reference glossary words are located at the end of the list.

Halftone

The reproduction of a continuous-tone original, such as a photograph, in which detail and tone value are represented by a series of evenly spaced dots of varying size and shape.

Hard-Edge Painting

Refers to a twentieth-century movement in painting in which the edges of shapes are crisp and precise rather than soft or blurred. The opposite of blending. This technique consists of rough, straight edges that are geometrically uniform and encompass rich solid colors, neatness of surface, and the arrangement of forms all over the canvas.

Harmonious Colors

art reference glossary
Color Wheel

Colors that go well together and sit next to each other on the color wheel. For example: red and orange; orange and yellow; yellow and green; green and blue; blue and purple; purple and red. Complementary colors, analogous colors, and other related colors are also considered to be harmonious.

Harmony

The unity of all the visual elements of a composition achieved by the repetition of the same characteristics or those that are similar. Harmony serves to bind the various parts into a whole.

Hatching

A technique used in art to create tonal or shading effects by drawing or painting closely spaced parallel lines. When lines are crossed or placed at an angle to one another, the method is called cross-hatching. Artists use this modeling technique, indicating tone and suggesting light and shade, by varying the length, angle, closeness, and other qualities of the lines, most commonly used in drawing, linear painting, engraving, and ethnic art.

Hierarchy of the Genres

A ranking system introduced by the great European Academies in 1669 in the wake of the Italian Renaissance. It comprised five painting-genres that were based on a genre’s prestige and cultural value: (1) History painting (narrative compositions); (2) Portraiture; (3) Genre-Painting (everyday scenes featuring human subjects); (4) Landscape Painting (scenic views); and (5) Still Life (arrangements of domestic objects).

Heptaptych

An artwork, usually a painting, that is divided into seven painted or carved panels where each panel depicts a different but related scene. The panels can be hinged together or presented side-by-side. The term “heptaptych” is not a widely used, however, it is used in the visual arts. Also called “septych” in Latin. Also see “polyptych.”

HEX Color System

A way of representing colors from various color models through hexadecimal values. The term “hex” comes from the word “hexadecimal.” A hexadecimal color follows the format #RRGGBB, where RR represents red, GG represents green, and BB represents blue. A hex code is made up of six digits, usually preceded by a hashtag (#). The numbers in this code correspond to the amount of red, green, and blue in the color.

Hexaptych

(Pronounced hex-ap-tick). A work of art consisting of six panels or sections where each panel depicts a different but related scene. These six panels can be connected to form a larger composition or display as separate images. The term itself comes from the Ancient Greek words “hexa” (meaning “six”) and “ptychē” (meaning “fold”). Also see, “polyptych.”

Highlight

An area of intense brightness that reflects the most light. A technique used in art to direct attention or to emphasize through the use of pigment or color.

Historical Paintings (or History Paintings)

art reference glossaryArtwork that incorporates a theme from classical history, mythology, or the Bible. They can represent a wide range of historical events, subjects, or themes. History paintings often portray a scene from a significant event from the past. This classification should not be confused with genre paintings. The example shown is a historical painting depicting the death of General Wolfe.

Horizon Line

A level line in a painting where the earth’s surface (or sea) and the sky appear to meet. It defines the farthest distance of the background and is the place where a central vanishing point is established. The horizon line will ALWAYS be at eye level, regardless of whether you are at ground level or standing on a mountaintop. It changes as you change positions. The line at the top of mountains or buildings is not the horizon line; these objects “rest” on the horizon line. Sometimes hills, trees, buildings, or other objects can hide it from view, but the horizon line will always be present.

Horizontal Balance

The components within an art composition that are balanced left and right of a central axis.

Hudson River School

A prominent American art movement from 1825-1875, formed by a group of landscape painters who emphasized the beauty and significance of the American wilderness. Their meticulously portrayed landscapes, often idealized, captured the ruggedness and sublimity of the Hudson Valley.

Hue

The name of the color, such as red, green, or yellow. Hue can be measured as a location on a color wheel and expressed in degrees, which is the main attribute of a color that distinguishes it from other colors.

Hyperrealism

See “photorealism.”

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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Art Terms and Definitions — I

art definitionsA word list of art definitions that begin with the letter “I”. The list below, which begins with ICON and ends with IVORY CARVING, has over 20 art terms that will give you a better understanding of art.

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

Icon

An artistic visual representation or symbol of anything considered holy and divine, such as God, saints, or deities. An icon could be a painting (including a relief painting), sculpture, or mosaic. It also refers to a little picture on a computer screen that represents the various functions of the computer. Generally, the user clicks on an icon to start an application or function.

Illusionism

A technique in art that creates the illusion of a real object or scene, or a sculpture where the artist portrays figures in a realistic manner, tricking the eye into believing the objects are real and occupying the same space as the viewer. A concept also known as mimesis.

Illustrate

To create designs and pictures for books, magazines, or other print or electronic media to clarify or explain the text or show what happens in a story.

Illustration

A visualization, such as a drawing, painting, photograph, or other work of art, stresses the subject more than form. The aim of an illustration is to elucidate or decorate a story, poem, or piece of textual information (such as a newspaper article) by providing a visual representation of something described in the text.

Illustration Board

Heavy paper or card appropriate for pencil, pen, watercolor, collage, etc.

Illustrator

A graphic artist who specializes in enhancing the written text by providing a visual representation that corresponds to the content of the associated text. Also refers to a computer illustration program developed by Adobe Systems, Inc.

Impasto

A painting technique where paint is applied thickly to a canvas or panel so that brushstrokes or palette knife marks are visible. Originating in 14th-century Italy, it gained popularity during the Renaissance, when artists like Michelangelo began using impasto in their sculptures and paintings.

Implied Line

A line in an artwork that is subtlety perceived by the viewer but has no physical shape and flows from one area to the next, implying continuation by similar direction and juxtaposition.

Impressionism

art definitions A loose, spontaneous style of painting that originated in France about 1870. Impressionism has the appearance of being rough and unfinished and is characterized by small, thin, visible brushstrokes.

Impressionist paintings are often painted outdoors to capture the natural sunlight and color of their subjects. Black is rarely used since impressionist artists prefer mixing and using dark tones and complementary colors. Impressionism is often a representation of an artist’s impression, rather than a detailed work. Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro were considered leaders of this artistic movement.

Imprimatura

An Italian term meaning “first paint layer,” is a transparent, toned stain applied to the canvas in painting. It is an initial layer that serves as a uniform ground and foundation for subsequent paint layers.

India Ink

A simple black or colored ink, made from a black pigment consisting of lampblack and glue, used for drawing and outlining, especially when inking comic books and comic strips.

Indian River School

An American art movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. A group of artists collaborated to create dramatic and power-filled images portraying scenes in Florida. The group was heavily influence by a Florida naturalist named, A.E. “Beanie” Backus. The group created their artworks using materials like Masonite, Upson board, canvas board and canvas. Furthermore, rather than selling through art galleries, the artists sold their work directly to customers along highways.

Industrial Design

The design of the mass-produced products of our everyday environment, from sinks and furniture to computers. The word was first used in America in the 1920s to characterize the work of specialized designers who worked on product design.

Insect Art

monarch butterfly small art painting
The Monarch Butterfly” painting by Teresa Bernard.

Refers to the illustration and depiction of insects in a detailed and accurate manner. It includes precise and realistic images of insects for research and education, as well as fine art that depicts their beauty and complexity. Artists make intriguing pieces based on the rich forms, colors, and features of numerous insects, such as butterfly wings and beetle armored exoskeletons. This special blend of science and creativity makes each insect a unique subject for artistic expression.

Insect art is also referred to as “entomological art”.

Intaglio

A printmaking technique where lines forming an image are cut into a metal plate and filled with ink. When a sheet of paper is pressed against the plate, a print of the image is formed.

Intensity (or saturation) of color

The purity or dullness of a color. A color’s purity is determined by whether it has been mixed with another hue and, if so, to what extent. The most vibrant colors are those right from the tube. Colors that have been combined with various hues are thought to be less intense. To reduce the intensity of a color, there are two options: 1) mix the color with gray or 2) mix the color with its complement.

Intermediate Colors

See “tertiary colors.”

Internal Focus

In the realm of art, refers to a creative approach where artists draw inspiration from their thoughts and feelings. These artists delve into their inner world, seeking to express intangible concepts, emotions, or ideas. Rather than strictly portraying external reality, they use physical objects as a means to convey what lies within them. Surrealism, post-impressionism, fauvism, cubism, and abstract expressionism are examples of art movements driven by internally focused artists. Also referred to as “internal vision.” Opposite of “external focus.”

International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA)

Asteroid Collision Course painting
Asteroid Collision Course” painting by Teresa Bernard

A global guild of artists that promotes astronomical and space art projects, using various mediums like painting, drawing, sculpting, blowing glass, and digital art to create space-themed images. For more on the IAAA, visit their website here.

Iridescence

A color change phenomenon that occurs on certain surfaces like an oil slick, soap bubble, or fish scales, that appears to gradually change color as the angle of view changes. This lustrous rainbow-like play of color is caused by differential refraction of light waves. Also known as “goniochromism.”

Irregular Curve

See “French curve.”

Ivory Carving

art definitions The carving or shaping of ivory into sculptures, ornaments, and decorative articles using animal tusks and teeth, notably from elephants, whales, and walruses, by using sharp cutting tools, either mechanically or manually.

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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Art Terms and Definitions — J

art words listAn art words list of more than 10 terms and explanations that begin with the letter “J”. Common art words that are regularly used in art circles around the world. Art-related terms ranging from JAGGIES to JUXTAPOSITION.

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

Jaggies

In computer graphics or display imaging, jaggies are stair-like edges or lines that occur where there should be “smooth” straight lines or curves. They appear when the resolution is low, and the viewer notices the individual pixels. Also known as “aliasing.” Anti-aliasing and smoothing techniques can be useful in reducing jaggies.

Jalee Work

Refers to marble slabs that have been carved and embellished to resemble latticework or screens in Indian architecture. Jalee screens help define interior spaces and lets light in producing patterns of light. On hot days, they let in refreshing breezes, and their delicate tracery makes an interior room feel more spacious and light-filled. Jalee is a Hindi word “jālī,” meaning network or latticework.

Japanese Prints

A color print executed from woodblocks in water-based inks and developed to a high degree of artistry by the Japanese, especially in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Japonisme

The influence of Japanese art, fashion, and aesthetics on Western culture, especially Impressionism.

JPEG

An acronym for “Joint Photographic Experts Group” is a commonly used standard method of compressing photographic images on the Web. JPEG graphics are capable of reproducing a full range of colors while still remaining small enough for Web use.

Judaica

Jewish ceremonial art or artifacts used by Jews for religious rituals or practices.

Junk Art

art words listThree-dimensional works of art composed from old or discarded items, such as junk or trash, of little or no value. This form of artwork is deliberately not visually pleasing; it is unattractive (a.k.a. anti-aesthetic).

Justified Type

In typography, text spaced out between words to create columns with both edges flush or evenly aligned. With narrow columns, justification can create awkward gaps. However, with wide columns, justification can add elegant symmetry.

Jute

A natural fiber derived from flowering plants of the Malvaceae family, namely the Corchorus genus. Jute can be used to make twine and rope, as well as to weave sacking or matting. It is widely used in macramé crafts such as plant hangers, wall hangers, coasters and mats, and fashion items. Its coarse texture and earthy appearance make it ideal for creating lovely, rustic designs.

Juvenilia

Fine artworks produced by artists during their youth.

Juxtaposition

The act of placing or positioning items in the image area side by side or next to one another to illustrate some comparison.

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!

Thanks for reading this!