Art Terms and Definitions — K

reference dictionary of artA reference dictionary of art words beginning with the letter “K”. Here you’ll find over 10 art-related terms that will give you a better understanding of art concepts. Words pertaining to art ranging from KAOLIN to KOUROS.

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


A fine, soft white clay formed when feldspar or other clays naturally decompose. It is used in the manufacture of porcelain and china, as a filler in paper and textiles, and in medical absorbents. Also known as china clay.


Used in typography to reduce or adjust the amount of space between letters or characters to give them the appearance of more even spacing, so those characters appear better fitted together. Also referred to as kerning. Letters most often benefiting from kerning include the letters i, l, and t.

Key (low- or high-)

A phrase used to express the predominant values of a painting or drawing. “Low key” refers to a work that primarily consists of darker values, whereas “high key” describes a work that stays to a large extent in lighter values.

Khartoum School

A modernist art movement in Sudan, emerged in 1960 to create a unique visual vocabulary reflecting the nation’s identity. This movement, characterized by primitive and Islamic imagery, played a significant role in Africa’s modern art growth, particularly in its use of calligraphic writing, simplifying Arabic script into abstract shapes.


(Pronounced “kill”) refers to an oven or furnace burning, baking, or drying, especially for firing pottery or ceramic.

Kinetic Art

A form of art that has mechanical parts that can be set in motion. Wind, a motor, or hand pressure are commonly used to power the moving parts. Kinetic art was established as a significant artistic movement in the 1950s.

Kitchen Sink Painters

A British cultural movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, were a group of artists called the “Beaux Arts Quartet” who were known for their depictions of ordinary people in scenes of everyday life.


A term of German origin used to categorize art or design considered to be in poor taste, lacking the sense of creativity and originality displayed in genuine art, because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

Kneaded Eraser

reference dictionary of artA tool used by artists to remove graphite and charcoal particles from a paper drawing. It is made from a pliable material that is similar to putty or gum and can be formed into any shape by hand-kneading it. This allows for precise erasing, highlighting, and detailing tasks.


Ancient Greek statues of nude male youths. They are often depicted beardless, in advancing postures, and standing erect.

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 — L

art reference An art reference dictionary containing words and descriptions beginning with the letter “L”. Terms are listed in alphabetical order, from LACQUER to LUMINOSITY. The list includes over 10 of the most regularly used art terminology in the art world.

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


Refers to a clear or colored finish material that dries to a hard, glossy finish. Usually applied with a sprayer, lacquer dries too quickly for smooth application with a brush unless specially formulated.

Land Art (Earth Art)

An art movement that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and Great Britain as a response to the commercialization of art. It involved works made directly in the landscape, sculpting the land itself into earthworks or making structures in the landscape using natural materials found on-site, such as rocks, twigs, and soil. Land art sites were often far from metropolitan areas, emphasizing a connection to nature. Also known as Earth art, environmental art, and Earthworks.


art reference
The Grand Teton Mountains by Teresa Bernard

A painting, drawing, or photograph that depicts outdoor scenery, featuring mountains, valleys, meadows, trees, rivers, woodlands, the sky, and weather. They can even include farms and structures in the countryside. Fencing, bridges, barns, windmills, and farmhouses are examples of what one could expect to see in landscape art. For more on landscapes, click here.


In typography (rhymes with headings), the space between lines of type, often measured from the baseline of one line to the baseline of the next and less frequently measured from ascender to ascender. Dates back to hot metal days when strips of lead were inserted between lines of type to provide line spacing.

Life Drawing

Drawings of a human figure. Usually, nude figures are used so that the artist can understand how the muscles look and how light, tone, and shadow reflect around the body.

Light Table

art reference
Light Table

A table that has a translucent top with a light shining up through it, made especially for working with negatives, viewing transparencies and slides, and pasting up artwork. Light tables are commonly utilized in graphic design trades, particularly in cartoons and comics, to trace designs and review film negatives, photoliths, or other artwork that can be placed on a table.


Refers to a paint’s ability to resist fading under ultraviolet light, determining the pigment’s retention of its original color. To determine the lightfastness of your oil paints, check the label and look for the official American Society for Testing and Materials Standard (ASTM) rating.

Lightfastness ratings are:

      • ASTM I—Excellent
      • ASTM II—Very Good
      • ASTM III—Not Sufficient


Refers to the similarity in appearance, character, or nature between persons or things.

Limited Edition

A limit placed on the number of prints produced in a special edition to create a print scarcity. Limited editions are signed and numbered by the artist. Once the prints in the edition have been sold out, the digital file is then destroyed by the Giclée Printmaker to maintain the integrity of the limited edition. The image will not be published again in the same form.

Limited Palette

still life with clay pottery
Still Life with Clay Pottery” by Teresa Bernard is done in earth tones using a limited color palette.

A painting style where an artist deliberately limits the number of colors used in a composition to a small selection. Many famous painters used this style, including John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, and Claude Monet.


A long, narrow mark connecting two points. It has one dimension — length. When two ends of a line meet, a shape is created. Lines can also create textures and patterns when combined with other lines. There are different types of lines they include: horizontal, vertical, diagonal, curved, organic, contour, geometric, and implied. An implied line is the path that the viewer’s eye takes as it moves along a path from form, color, or shape within a work of art.

Line Drawing (Line Art)

A drawing style that uses a pencil, pen or brush to create distinct straight lines or curves of a shape or form on a simple background. Line art is often one color and is used to depict two- or three-dimensional objects with no hue or shade variations.

Linear Perspective

vanishing pointA graphical system used by artists for creating the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface. The system is based on a scientifically or mathematically derived series of actual or implied lines intersecting at a vanishing point on the horizon. As objects move away from the viewer, they appear to grow smaller and converge toward the vanishing point. The vanishing point may be in any direction the viewer looks, including up, and may also be visible (on the canvas) or imaginary (somewhere off the canvas). Linear perspective determines the relative size of objects from the foreground to the background.

Linseed Oil

The most popular drying oil used as a painting medium. The medium hardens over several weeks as components of the oil polymerize to form an insoluble matrix. Driers can be added to accelerate this process.


Uses the principle that oil, and water don’t mix as the basis of the printing process, a method of printing using plates whose image areas attract ink and whose non-image areas repel ink. Non-image areas may be coated with water to repel the oily ink or have a surface, such as silicon, that repels ink.

Local Color

An object’s true color. The actual color, distinguished from the apparent color of objects and surfaces, is true color without shadows or reflections.


In typography, small letters of a typeface, as opposed to capital or uppercase letters. Derived from the location of the type cases where typographers used to store metal or wood letterforms.


An American landscape painting movement that flourished from the 1850s to the 1870s. It was distinguished by its emphasis on capturing the effects of natural light in peaceful and tranquil settings. Luminism had a significant influence on later American landscape art. It was instrumental in clearing the path for later art movements that also honored the American wilderness, such as the Hudson River School.


The illusion of light emanating from within a painting, creating a sense of brightness, glow, and radiance. It organizes scenes, defines detail, and conveys emotion. Artists use various methods to create luminosity, such as layering transparent paints or glazes, applying hard edges and soft highlights, or using chiaroscuro.

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 — M

art definitions list An art definitions list with terms beginning with the letter “M”. The list below begins with MACRAMÉ and ends with MUSEUM. In it, you’ll find over 30 definitions that will help you understand general concepts about art. Art-related words [artists use daily to characterize their art.

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


art definitions listAn old craft form of textile-making that uses knotting rather than weaving or knitting. Its primary knots are the square knot and forms of hitching (full hitch and double half hitches). Sailors use it, especially in elaborate or ornamental knotting forms, to decorate anything from knife handles to bottles to parts of ships.

MagentaM is for Magenta

One of the four process colors, or CMYK, the M is for magenta. A color also known as fuchsia or hot pink; a moderate to vivid purplish-red or pink.

Mahl Stick

artists mahl stick A tool used by artists to steady their hands while painting intricate details on canvas art. The word Mahl stick originates from the Dutch word “maalstok,” which means “painter’s stick.” It is a three-foot long, round stick with a knob on one end. The painter rests the ball end on the edge of the canvas, easel, or dry spot of the painting, while holding the other end with a non-painting hand to steady the brush hand while painting. Also referred to as an “artist’s bridge.”

Manilla Paper

An inexpensive, cream-colored drawing and coloring paper often used in children’s crafts.


An artistic movement developed in the sixteenth century as a reaction to the classical rationality and balanced harmony of the High Renaissance, characterized by the dramatic use of space and light, exaggerated color, elongation of figures, and distortions of perspective, scale, and proportion. El Greco was a prominent practitioner of this style.


The art or process of producing specific patterns of a veined or mottled appearance to imitate the look of marble.

Maritime Art (or Marine Art)

art definitions listArtwork that derives its inspiration from the sea. This art genre depicts life on the high seas, boats and ships, fishermen, and so on. It includes art showing shipping on rivers and waterways, as well as all art depicting boats and ships. It almost always consists of some element of a seafaring vessel. Ship portraits are also a popular style of maritime art that depicts a single vessel. For more on marine art, click here.

Maritime Artist

A skilled artist who creates artwork featuring ships, boats, and various maritime themes, using mediums like oil paints, watercolors, and pastels to depict the beauty and force of the sea and the majesty of seagoing vessels.


A French term for “small model,” refers to a small wax or clay model used as a preliminary sketch in sculpture, often presented to clients for approval or for entry in a competition.


A work done with extraordinary skill, especially a work of art, craft, or intellect; an exceptionally outstanding achievement.

Medieval Art

A style of European art from the Middle Ages that dates from the 5th to the 15th century. Medieval art is distinguished by its emphasis on religious issues and themes, as well as the use of numerous artistic mediums like as sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, tapestries, mosaics, and metalwork. It is typically flat or two-dimensional, reflecting the cultural, social, and religious changes that occurred in the medieval period.

Medium (in art)

A broad term having multiple meanings: 1. The specific art materials or supplies artists work with to create a piece of art. 2. A particular type of art, such as painting, drawing, printmaking, or sculpture.

Mexican Muralism

A movement that began in the early 1920s sought to educate the uneducated population about Mexico’s history while also presenting a vision of the country’s future. Muralists, inspired by the Mexican Revolution, created politically charged public murals that emphasized Mexico’s pre-colonial history and culture, presenting peasants, laborers, and people of mixed Indian and European ancestry as heroes. José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros led a movement using techniques such as fresco, encaustic, mosaic, and relief.

Middle Ground

The space that makes up the distance between the foreground and background of a painting. There is no specific measurement for what the limits are. Typically, it is located somewhere on the middle plane of the canvas.

Mineral Spirits

An inexpensive paint thinner that cleans brushes, thins paint, cleans furniture, and removes wax; it is often used as a substitute for turpentine.


A representational work of art made on a significantly reduced scale.

Minimal Design

Omitting all non-essential or unimportant elements and details that don’t contribute to the essence of the overall composition to emphasize what is important.


A movement and style of art from the 20th century that attempts to reduce art to basic geometric shapes with the fewest colors, lines, and textures. Minimal art does not seek to be representative of any object. Also known as ABC art.

Mixed Media

An art technique where an artist employs different physical materials, such as ink and pastel, painting and collage, etc., and combines them into a single work.


Someone who poses for artists to draw, paint, sculpt, or photograph. Models are important in the creative process since they serve as a reference point for the human body in an artwork.

Modeling (in art)

A term with multiple descriptions: 1. The process of using clay, wax, or plaster to create a miniature version of a form. 2. The act of serving as an artist’s model, posing for a painting, sculpture, or photograph.

Modern Art

An art movement that existed from the 1860s to the 1970s. It is characterized by a departure from traditional representational art to a more abstract, experimental style. Modern art is often associated with social and cultural changes, such as industrialization, urbanization, and new technologies. It includes a variety of styles and movements, including Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art.


Having only one color. A color scheme limited to variations of one color along with its various tints, shades, and tones.

The following is an example of a monochromatic family.

monochromatic color scheme

Monochrome Art

Swimming with Sharks” by Teresa Bernard.

A painting, drawing, or photograph done in different shades of a single color. Understanding how to work with light and shadow allows an artist to create artwork with a lot of contrast using a single color. Monochrome art is often a popular choice for interior design schemes, since it adds an air of style to any space.

A selection of monochrome paintings can be viewed by clicking on the link.


montage imageAn artwork comprised of seemingly unrelated shots or scenes that combine various existing images, such as photographs or prints, and are arranged so that they join, overlap, or blend to create a new image that achieves meaning.


An art medium in which small pieces of colored glass, stone, or ceramic tile called tessera are embedded in a background material such as plaster or mortar. Also, works that were made using this technique.


An important and noticeable element or feature that is repeated throughout the composition or design.


A principle of design that gives the artist control over what the viewer sees next. It shows action and creates a feeling of motion. Using this principle, the artist can create the path our eyes will travel as we look at a piece of art. Movement can be created through the use of repetition, rhythm, and action.

Multimedia Art

Artwork that uses a combination of electronic media, which could include video, film, audio, and computers.

Multimedia Artist

An artist who uses technology to create designs and special effects for electronic media.

Munsell Color System

A scientific method for visually identifying and matching colors, developed by Albert Munsell, a scientist and artist. It uses three dimensions: hue, value (lightness), and chroma (intensity or purity) to express colors in a concrete way, based on rigorous measurements of people’s visual responses to color.


A large painting or form of graphic artwork that has been painted directly on a wall or ceiling. Mural techniques include frescoes, mosaics, graffiti, and marouflage.


Someone who inspires creativity in the arts, especially for artists, writers, or musicians, and/or sometimes in the sciences. Throughout history, these have typically been women (but not always). The name comes from the Muses, ancient Greek goddesses of inspiration.


A not-for-profit institution that houses objects of scientific, historical, cultural, or artistic value. A museum is a place devoted to the acquisition, conservation, study, exhibition and educational interpretation of these artifacts. Many museums have public exhibitions of the relics, with some housing private collections that are used by scholars, researchers, and specialists.

Museums operate ethically and professionally, and with the participation of the community, they offer a wide range of educational, recreational, reflective, and knowledge-sharing experiences. The term Museum comes from the Latin muses, meaning “a source of inspiration,” or “to be absorbed in one’s thoughts.”

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 — N

art vocabulary words list An art vocabulary words list with terms that begin with the letter “N”. It contains more than 10 art-related terms that can help you better grasp art principles. Terminology that pertains to art ranging from NAÏVE ART to NUMBERED PRINTS.

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

Naïve Art

art vocabulary words listA style of art characterized by its childlike simplicity, which includes minute detail, vibrant colors, disproportionate figures, and a lack of perspective. It depicts basic, easy-to-understand situations of everyday life that are frequently romanticized. The lack of perspective frequently gives the impression that figures within naïve paintings are weightless or floating. Naïve artists are frequently self-taught and have very little or no formal training in art.

Naples Yellow

art vocabulary words listThe oldest synthetic yellow hue of a muted reddish yellow to a bright light-yellow pigment. Known to have been created by the Ancient Egyptians. Often used in paintings during the 1700s through the 1850s.

Narrative Art

A type of visual art that tells a story or represents elements of a story. An example of this genre would be Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” or illustrations often found in children’s books.

Negative Space

art vocabulary words listThe empty or open space that surrounds an object. It helps define the object, gives it some breathing room to prevent the painting from being too crowded, and significantly impacts how the art piece is perceived.

In the example, it’s the “empty space” (the area in black) or unoccupied areas that lies between objects, shapes, and forms within a composition and is also the space in the background that is not at first noticeable. It goes in all directions and goes on forever. It flows in, around, and between shapes and objects.

Neon Art

A new art medium that uses neon lights to create visually stunning artworks that often incorporate motion and interactivity. Neon art is used to enhance and intensify the significance of art installations. It differs from a neon sign in that it is used to light up an environment or make a statement rather than to advertise or guide.

Neutral Color

Colors of very low saturation, approaching grays. Neutral colors do not appear on the color chart and are neither warm nor cool. They are called neutral because they lack color and are derived by mixing equal parts of color opposites, resulting in drab-looking grays. Black and white are also considered neutral as they are neither warm nor cool and do not change color.

New Media Art

A genre of art that encompasses artworks created with new media technologies, including digital art, computer graphics, computer animation, virtual art, Internet art, interactive art, video games, computer robotics, 3D printing, and art as biotechnology.

NFTs (non-fungible tokens)

The latest development in digital art. Unique digital identifiers that are recorded on a blockchain. NFTs cannot be copied, reproduced, substituted, or subdivided. They are used to certify the ownership and authenticity of one-of-a-kind items like art, music, or films.

Non-objective Art

An abstract or non-representational style of art that does not portray scenes or objects as they appear in the real world. Instead, the artist focuses on creating a visual expression through the formal elements of texture, value, color, shape, and line. Non-objective art is characterized by its geometrical imagery and is often referred to as geometric abstraction. This type of art is often difficult for people to understand or appreciate because they are naturally drawn to images that have concrete elements.

Non-Western Art

See “Tribal Art“.


A work of art (most often a painting or sculpture) depicting an individual without clothing or very little clothing.

Numbered Prints

A term used in printmaking to indicate the number of editions struck from one plate. The number is generally placed over the size of the edition. For example, 24/100 shows the unique number of that impression and the total edition size. Modern artists produce only limited editions of their works, usually signed by the artist in pencil and numbered.

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 — O

art glossary and definitionsArt glossary and definitions that begin with the letter “O”. Art terminology used by artists every day to characterize their art. The list below with more than 10 terms begins OCTAPTYCH and ends with OVERPAINTING.

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


An artwork consisting of eight panels or sections where each panel depicts a different but related composition. The panels can be hinged together or presented side-by-side to make one large image. The term “octaptych” is not a widely used, although it is used in the visual arts. It comes from the Greek words “octa” (meaning “eight”) and “ptychos” (meaning “fold” or “layer”). Also see “polyptych.”

Oil Paint

An art medium used by artists since the 1500s. Oil paint is a slow-drying medium made from ground pigment suspended in a natural drying oil, which is usually linseed oil, but can also be walnut or poppyseed oil. It can be applied thick or thin and can be used with glazes. Oil paint’s slow drying makes it easier to blend from dark to light, creating three-dimensional illusions. Its richness and glow make it popular among painters. Clean-up involves using turpentine or mineral spirits.

Oil Painting

An artistic composition or representation done in oil paint on a canvas surface. The art or practice of painting with oil paints.

Oiling Out

A technique where a thin layer of oil is applied to a dried layer of oil paint to make it more flexible and workable. This process allows for better color blending, smoother transitions, and a uniform surface. Oiling out evens the painting surface’s sheen so that the artist may determine what work needs to be done to finish the painting. It also helps to improve the saturation of an oil painting, reviving it if it appears dull or less saturated. After oiling out is finished, painting can be resumed or left to dry.

Old Master

A term that refers to a prominent and highly skilled European artist, especially a famous painter during the period roughly 1300–1830. Also refers to a painting by such an artist.

On-chain Art

A type of digital art called NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that is created using generative algorithms that are coded and completely stored on a blockchain. This enables the development of one-of-a-kind, verifiable digital artworks, as well as a secure and transparent method of verifying the artwork’s authenticity and tracking its ownership history.

One-point Perspective

art glossary and definitions
One-point Perspective

The simplest method of drawing perspective. It uses only a single vanishing point on the horizon line. A vanishing point is where two or more parallel lines converge into each other at “infinity.” A long hallway, railroad track, or road with the viewer positioned face-on and looking down the center is an excellent example of this perspective. As seen in the illustration, the two tracks are parallel to each other, and you know they will remain the same distance apart. However, the further away they get, the closer they appear to be until they eventually disappear at the horizon.

Op Art (optical art)

An art movement which emerged in the 1960s that used optical illusions to confound and excite the eye. Op art, short for “optical art,” is an abstract style of visual art that uses bold colors or black-and-white geometric patterns and lines. Precision mathematics, stark contrast, and abstract shapes are frequently used to give the viewer a sense of movement, hidden images, flashing and vibrating patterns, or swelling or warping. Not to be confused with pop art.

Open Composition

open composition
Up, Up, and Away!” painting by Teresa Bernard is a good example of open composition.

A compositional technique where elements of an image run off the edges and seemingly beyond the boundaries of the canvas, drawing the viewer inside the scene making it easy to imagine what is happening outside of the physical edges of the artwork. Landscapes are prime examples of open compositions.

An open composition is the opposite of “closed composition.”

Optical Mixing

Also known as partitive color, this phenomenon occurs when two or more colors placed near each other create the illusion of new colors. Unlike traditional color mixing, which involves physically mixing pigments to create new colors, partitive color occurs perceptually, between our eyes and our brain. The perceived mixing increases with distance.


art glossary and definitionsOne of the secondary colors created when the two primary colors of red and yellow are mixed. The complement or opposite of the color blue. The color of carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, oranges, and many other fruits and vegetables.


The Japanese art of folding paper into shapes that look like birds, animals, etc. The object is to transform a flat square sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques.


The term ‘original’ can imply exclusivity or the idea that the work is ‘one of a kind’ rather than a copy by any method, including offset lithography, digital printing, or forgery. Not all paintings can be considered original since the term also refers to the newly created image, so a painted copy of another work is not an original.

Orthogonal Lines

Outsider Art

Refers to artwork by those outside of mainstream society. Outsider art broadly includes folk art, ethnic art, and art by prisoners, the mentally ill, and others neither trained in art nor making their works to sell them.

Overlap Effect

A technique used by artists to create a sense of depth and space within the compositions of their drawings or paintings. This is done by deliberately positioning objects so that some objects or elements are partially hidden from view by one or more closer object. When one object hides or overlaps a portion of another, it creates a visual hierarchy, indicating which elements are in front and which are behind making the scene more interesting and three-dimensional.


The final layer of paint that is applied over the underpainting (or underlayer) after it has dried. The idea behind layers of painting is that the underpainting serves to define the main outlines and design of the piece, allowing the overpainting to fill in the details.

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 — P

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

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

Paint-by-Numbers Art

art vocabulary
Paint-by-Numbers Kit

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


parts of art brush

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

Painterly Art

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


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

Painting Knife

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

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


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

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

wooden artist palette
Wooden palette

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

plastic kidney shape palette
Plastic palette

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

disposable Painting Palette
Disposable palettes

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

Palette Knife

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

Pantone Matching System (PMS)

An internationally recognized system of over 3000 pre-mixed colors representing shades on both coated and uncoated stock, along with the precise printing formulas to achieve each color. Each Pantone color has a specified CMYK equivalent that is numbered and listed in the swatch guide for quick reference when choosing colors for printing purposes. This system is highly accurate and produces consistent results.

Paper Filigree

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

Paper Mâché

A technique for creating forms by mixing wet paper pulp with glue or paste. The form hardens as it dries and becomes suitable for painting. Although paper mâché is a French word that means “chewed paper,” it was originated by the Chinese, who are the inventors of paper.


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


An early paper material that was highly valued during the Middle Ages. Originally made from goat or sheepskin, parchment today is made from organic fibers and affords artists such as calligraphers a crisp, smooth, high-quality surface on which to write.

Partitive Color

See “optical mixing.”


A crayon made from pigment mixed with gum and water and pressed into a stick-shaped form; a work of art created from pastels; a pale color.


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


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


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

Permanent Pigment

Refers to any pigment expected to last or remain without essential change and is not likely to deteriorate under certain atmospheric conditions, in normal light, or in proximity to other colors.


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


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

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


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

Picture Plane

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


oil paint pigment

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

Pixel Art

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

Plane (in art)

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

Plein Air

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

Pocket Art

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

Point of View

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


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


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


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

Pop Art

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


See “Artist Portfolio.”


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

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

Positive Spaceart vocabulary

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


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


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

Potter’s Wheel

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


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

Pre-Columbian Art

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

Prehistoric Art

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

Primary Colors

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

Primitive Art

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

Principles of Design

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

Print (artist’s print)

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


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

Prismatic Colors

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

Process Color Printing

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


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

Public Art

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

Pure Symmetry

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

Art Glossary Links

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Contributing to The Art Dictionary

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

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Art Terms and Definitions — Q

art reference words list An art reference words list. Art-related terms beginning with the letter “Q” frequently used in art circles. The list below starts with QAJAR ART and finishes with QUILTING.

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

Qajar Art

The Qajar artistic style refers to the art, architecture, and art forms of the late Persian Empire, most notably the Qajar dynasty, which lasted from 1781 to 1925. It is characterized by an exuberant style and flamboyant use of color.


A term that emerged during the Baroque period to describe a painting on a ceiling or a wall to create the illusion of limitless space, i.e., architectural features that seem to extend beyond the actual reach of the room.


In geometry, a four-sided polygon with four angles and sides of arbitrary length. The five most common types of quadrilaterals are parallelogram, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, and trapezoid. Quadrilateral structures and forms are common in daily life and are evident in both architecture and art.


(Pronounced qua-drip-tick). An artwork, usually a painting, that is divided into four sections or panels, where each panel depicts a different but related composition. Each panel can stand alone as an independent work of art, or displayed together to form a larger, more cohesive image or composition. Also see, “tetraptych.”


A carved ornament or design consisting of four lobes separated by cusps, radiating from a common center. It is often used in architectural tracery and resembles a flower with four petals or a leaf with four leaflets.


A pen is made from a flight feather (preferably a primary) of a large bird, often a goose. Quills were used as instruments for writing with ink before the metal dip pen, the fountain pen, and eventually the ballpoint pen came into use.

Quilling art reference words list

A form of art that involves the use of paper strips that are rolled, curled, looped, shaped, twisted, and glued together to create decorative designs (a.k.a. paper filigree).


The process of making a quilt from beginning to end. Or the actual act of sewing the layers of a quilt together, either by hand or by machine. Also refers to the finished lines of sewn thread that make up the quilting design.

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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 — R

art terminology listAn art terminology list containing words and descriptions beginning with the letter “R”. Terms are listed in alphabetical order, from RABATMENT OF THE RECTANGLE to RYB. This reference includes over 20 of the most commonly used terms and definitions in the art world.

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

Rabatment of the Rectangle

art terminology list
Rabatement of the Rectangle

A compositional technique used for the arrangement of elements or to divide space within a rectangular frame to create a perfect square with four equal sides. It is found within any rectangle, with either a right or left rabatment for landscape (horizontal) rectangles and an upper or lower for portrait (vertical) rectangles. The most important aspects of a composition are placed within these squares, creating a center of interest. This technique enhances the visual appeal of compositions by ensuring the focal point is not directly in the center of the canvas.

RabbetArt Terms and Definitions -- R

In art, the “L” cut all around the perimeter of the frame, against which glass, mat, or picture panels are installed (see illustration).

Radial Balance

The balance as the result of components that are distributed around a center point or spring out from a central line.


Red and Yellow Onions wall art
Still Life with Red and Yellow Onions by Teresa Bernard

A style of art most people consider to be “real art.” This is because it attempts to depict the topic as it appears in real life but stops short of appearing like a photograph. Realism is art without stylization or following the rules of formal artistic theory. Instead, the artist spends a fair amount of time and effort paying attention to creating an accurate depiction of life forms and objects, perspective, good composition, lights and darks, and color and tone.

Recycled Art

art terminology list
Contemporary art made from recycled flip-flops.

Contemporary works of art made from garbage, discarded items, or found objects that once had another purpose. Such items include plastic shopping bags, food containers, old plastic toys, vehicle tires, fabric scraps, bicycle parts, car parts, clothing, footwear, etc.


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

Reference Photos

A collection of images used by visual artists for inspiration and composition. They can be of any living or inanimate object, place, animal, plant life, or individual. They are useful when it’s impossible for the artist to be there in person to physically observe the subject matter they want to paint or draw.

Religious Art

bread and wine still life painting
The Communion Table by Teresa Bernard

Any form of artistic representation that uses religious inspiration to convey a message aimed at spiritual upliftment. It can be a sacred story or a profession of the artist’s faith, encompassing any set of individual beliefs, whether Christian or non-Christian. Also called “sacred art.”


A design principle that involves the repetition of an element or a series of similar elements, either regularly or irregularly.

Representational Art

Also called figurative art, an artwork that represents objects or events in the real world. It is an art that is clearly identifiable as something that already exists in life. The term is in contrast to abstract art.


A copy of an original print or fine art piece. The reproduction could be in the form of an offset-lithographic print or even reproduced using the same medium as the original.

Retreating Colors

Cool colors like blues, greens, and purples appear to recede into the background, creating a sense of distance. Retreating colors are opposite of “advancing colors.”


Stands for Red, Green, Blue. In web design and design for computer monitors, colors are defined using these three primary additive colors.


A continuance, a flow, or a feeling of movement achieved by the repetition of regulated visual units.

Rich Black

art terminology listA printing term referring to a black ink mixture that has a percentage of cyan, magenta, and yellow added to the black. Plain black is 100% black ink and often appears dull and lacks a certain depth. Whereas rich black results in a darker, richer tone of black. The mixture is often 60% cyan, 40% magenta, 40% yellow, and 100% black, although the percentage can vary.

Right Brain

Refers to a theory in which the right side of the brain is the creative side, responsible for art and spatial comprehension. In contrast, the left side is responsible for reading, verbal, and mathematical sorts of tasks.

Round Art Brush

round oil painting brush

A traditional brush shape with a round or pointed tip in a round ferrule. The long hairs have large bellies and taper at the ends. They are ideal for sketching, outlining, detailed work, controlled washes, and filling small areas. Use one to create thin to thick lines that widen as you press down. This brush can hold a lot of paint for thick, large, and bold strokes. Thin, delicate marks are also possible if the pant loaded to the belly is thin. Rounds are most often used for small details and line work.

Rule of Odds

A principle of composition that states an image with an odd number of elements is more captivating than an image with an even number, since an even number of elements will create symmetries that can quickly become boring.

Rule of Space (in art)

A technique that creates a sense of motion or activity in a composition by creating a negative space relating to the focal point. For example:

      • When painting a portrait, if your subject is not looking directly at you, leave some negative space in the direction the eyes are looking, even if they are looking at something off-canvas.
      • When picturing a moving object, such as a runner or vehicle, placing negative space in front of the runner or object rather than behind creates a sense of direction or the implication of an eventual destination.
      • If your subject is pointing at something or aiming at an object, place some negative space where the subject is pointing or aiming.

Rule of Thirds

art terminology list

A strategy used by professional photographers to aid them when composing the subject matter of their photographs. Painters can use this efficient technique as well. It involves dividing the painting surface into nine equal parts and the key elements needed in the composition are then positioned along these lines or intersecting points.

Using the rule of thirds ensures that a painter will never have a composition that visually split’s the painting in half (vertically or horizontally). Nor will they have one with the main focus right in the center, creating a bull’s-eye and thus leaving the rest of the painting to be ignored. Instead, the eye is drawn to the focal point and then around the artwork, generating a flow from one element to the next.


Stands for Red, Yellow, Blue. The primary colors used in painting and art. Also, see Primary Colors.

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 — S

Sable Brush     |    Synthetic Brush

A dictionary of art terms and definitions that begin with the letter S.

Sable Brush

sable brushAn artist’s brush made from the fur of any member of the weasel family with “red” hair. Despite what their name implies, sable brushes do not come from sables. Some less common natural hairs used for sable brushes are badger, camel, goat, mongoose, ox, pony, and squirrel. Sable brushes are softer and more delicate than bristle or synthetic brushes; however, they are more expensive and require more care. They are great for blending, glazing, and making soft, less-defined marks. The best sizes for this type of brush are one-half inches in width or smaller.

Sacred Art

See “Religious Art.”

Sand Art

The art of pouring different colored sand into a plastic or glass bottle to create a scene or image.


The art of pouring colored sands and pigments onto a surface to make a temporary or permanent picture.

Sand Sculpture

The art of modeling sand into an artistic form. Sandcastles are a common form of this type of art form; however, sand sculpting has progressed into more elaborate sculptures that you would expect to see in stone, bronze, or wood.

Sans Serif

Art Terms and Definitions -- SIn typography, a typeface, such as Arial or Helvetica, does not have a serif (crossline) decorating the main strokes of the characters. Sans is French for “without” (see illustration).

Screen Art

Artwork that has been set up for the screen-printing process. It is essential that the artwork is set up correctly to obtain good results in screen printing.

Screen Printing

Art Terms and Definitions -- SA printing technique used to apply inked images to an underlying layer using a mesh stencil or a series of stencils. The ink is distributed to the desired area(s) by being pressed through a porous screen made from fabric (silk or synthetic) stretched tightly over a frame, hence the name screen printing. Also referred to as silk screening or silkscreen printing because silk was once used in the process. The most popular screen in general use is made of polyester. This process is used in printing screen art onto garments, such as T-shirts and sweatshirts, and such items as tote bags, towels, umbrellas, etc.


An artist who creates sculptures.


Any three-dimensional form created as an artistic expression. Sculpture is primarily concerned with space: occupying it, relating to it, and influencing the perception of it.


seagull beach painting
Seagull Beach by Teresa Bernard

A painting that depicts the sea or a scene offering an expansive view of the ocean or sea. Seascapes include marine landscapes showing life around the sea with lighthouses, beach scenes, fish, and marine animals, as well as views of the ocean itself. Fish and other marine animals can also be categorized as wildlife. Seascapes should not be confused with Maritime Art which depicts life out on the open sea. For more on seascape art, click here.

Secondary Colors

secondary colors on the color wheelOrange, green, and violet (purple). These colors are created by mixing equal parts of any two primary colors (red, yellow, and blue).
Red + yellow = orange
Yellow + blue = green
Blue + red = violet (purple)


Self Portrait by Vincent van Gogh
Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

A portrait an artist makes using himself or herself as the subject. It is typically drawn or painted from a reflection in a mirror. A self-portrait may be of the artist only or one that is part of a larger work, including a group portrait. Vincent van Gogh was one of the most well-known and prolific self-portrait artists; between 1886 and 1889, he painted himself more than 43 times.

Also, refers to a portrait taken by the photographer of him/herself, either in a mirror, using a remote release, or with a self-timer.


A reddish-brown hue sometimes applied to black-and-white pictures, which gives the finished print an antique appearance often associated with monochrome photographs of the 19th and early 20th centuries.


A seven-panel altarpiece that must be seen as a whole. Septych is not a widely used term although the visual arts use it. It is derived from a combination of words “septem” (Latin for “seven”) and “ptychē” (Greek meaning “fold”). Also called, “Heptaptych“. Also see “polyptych.”


In typography, serifs are the small features at the end of strokes within letters (see San Serif illustration above).


A color produced by adding black to a pigment.


shading graphicShowing changes from light to dark or dark to light in a picture by darkening areas that would be shadowed and leaving other areas light. Shading is often used to produce illusions of dimension and depth (see illustration).


An area that stands out from the space next to it or around it because of a defined boundary or a difference in value, color, or texture. It can be geometric (square, circle, hexagon, etc.) or organic (puddle, blob, splatter, etc.).


A form of limonite clay most famous for the production of oil paint pigments. Its yellow-brown color comes from the ferric oxides contained within. As a natural pigment, it (along with its chemical cousins ochre and umber) was one of the first pigments to be used by humans and is found in many cave paintings.


A dark image outlined against a lighter background.


See “Visual Economy.”


A rough or unfinished freehand drawing or painting that is used to capture the basic elements and structure of a situation. A sketch is not intended to be considered a completed artwork. They are rendered quickly with few details and can be created in any drawing medium, including pencil, ink, watercolor, and paint. Sketches are frequently used by artists as a preliminary work for more intricate paintings or drawings.

Social Realism

An art movement that arose between WWI and WWII to address social and political concerns. Artists used realism to make their art more accessible and legible to the public, often portraying their subjects as heroic symbols of persistence and strength. This movement aimed to expose and criticize social and political problems like poverty, oppression, injustice, and corruption. Social realism began in Europe in the nineteenth century and gained popularity in the United States during the Great Depression. Social realism was used by artists like painters, printmakers, photographers, writers, and filmmakers to challenge power structures.

Space (in art)

A design principle that refers to the interval or measurable distance between, around, above, below, or within shapes and forms in an art piece. It can be either negative space (empty) or positive space (occupied). In art, it can also be represented as two-dimensional or three-dimensional space.

Space Art

full moon wall canvas art
A View of The Full Moon and Earth by Teresa Bernard

A modern-day art movement still in its infancy, space art attempts to communicate ideas and appreciation for the infinite variety and vastness of outer space. Its subjects are frequently interstellar and interplanetary elements. Thanks to the invention of telescopes, artists can now depict the grandeur of our universe by rendering what they see out there. Planets, stars, nebulas and galaxies, spacecraft, astronauts, black holes, moons, comets, asteroids, and other celestial bodies are often depicted in space art. Sometimes referred to as astronomical art. For more on space art, click here.

Space Artist

An artist who has an interest in the universe and draws inspiration from space and space exploration. A space artist creates space art (also called astronomical art) in various forms such as paintings, sculptures, and abstract imagery.


split-complementary color scheme on the color wheelA variation on the complementary color scheme. Split-complementary is a color scheme that takes two colors on either side of the complementary color, rather than the color opposite the key color. This scheme allows for a wider range of colors while maintaining the basic harmony between the key and complementary colors. It has the same visual appeal as the complementary color scheme but with less contrast and tension. Split-complementary color schemes are a safe choice for almost any design due to their ease of manipulation and always look good.

Spot Color

A solid color created using a premixed ink, typically based on Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors. Spot colors are used when a specific color is required, such as a company’s logo.

Stained Glass

stained glass graphicGlass that has been colored or stained through different processes. This term is also used to refer to the art of cutting colored glass into various shapes and joining them together with lead strips to create a pictorial window design.


A sculpture representing a human or animal.


Stiff paper (or other sheet material) with a design cut into it as a template for shapes meant to be copied. Also a method of applying a design by brushing ink or paint through a cut-out surface.


A decorative technique in the visual arts where an image is created by passing ink or paint through the cut-out perforations of a stencil onto an underlying surface.

Still Life

books and study still life painting
The Study by Teresa Bernard

An art form that involves arranging inanimate everyday objects on a table or surface, either natural or man-made. Items like flowers, food, wine, rocks, seashells, or man-made objects like drinking glasses, books, bottles, pottery, dishes, etc. The term still life comes from the French word “nature morte,” meaning “nature dead.” For more on still life art, click here.

Still Life Artist

An artist who creates paintings or drawings of inanimate objects that are either natural or manufactured. The term “still life” comes from the Dutch word “stilleven,” meaning “dead nature” or “motionless life.”


A drawing technique consisting of many small dots or specks to construct the image; a method of using small dots to simulate varying degrees of solidity or shading; to paint, engrave, or draw using dots or small touches of the brush, pen, or other tools.


A kind of pencil consisting of a tight roll of paper or soft leather, or a cylindrical piece of rubber or other soft material used to rub down hard lines in pencil or crayon drawings to blend the lines of shading to produce a uniform tint.

Street Art

A form of contemporary art intended to be experienced outside of the typical art gallery setting, as in out on the street. It encompasses a variety of mediums, like painting, sculpture, or stained glass. Public murals are the most common form of street art. It is not considered to be the same as graffiti.

Stretcher Bars

stretcher bars graphicWooden support frames used by artists to mount canvas fabric for their canvases, which is stretched across the frame and fastened to the bars using staples, tacks, or other fasteners. They are typically rectangular in shape; however, many artists enjoy painting on square, oval, and even round stretched canvases. Stretcher bars come in various weights and sizes to accommodate the requirements of different types of canvases.

Stretched Canvas

A traditional type of canvas used by artists to create paintings on top of the canvas surface. Canvas material is stretched across and side-stapled to stretcher bars. The sides of the canvas are left raw or unpainted. Paintings composed on this type stretched canvas will require a frame before display. See also “gallery-wrapped canvas.”

Subject Matter

The topic dealt with, or the subject represented in a work of art. The subject matter is what the artist has chosen to paint, draw, or sculpt.


The material providing a surface upon which an artist applies color, collage, etc.


Art Terms and Definitions -- SA modern art style that juxtaposes various abstract concepts to create a startling effect. Fully recognized images are realistically painted, then reconstructed or structured within an ambiguous, contradictory, or shocking framework, removed from their usual settings and circumstances. Surrealist paintings are often illogical and express imaginative dreams with visions that emphasize the subconscious rather than rationale. Surrealism originated in France and flourished as an art movement in the early twentieth century.

Symbolism (art)

A late 19th-century French and Belgian movement, aimed to express emotions and ideas through rich, evocative imagery and symbolic representations. Symbolist artists reacted against Western European culture’s rationalism and materialism by using color and line to create scenes with figures from biblical, mythological, or fantastical sources. They moved away from the representational tradition of Classical art, exploring new ways to express psychological truths and spiritual realities. The purpose of paintings in the symbolism art movement was to focus on what each element or the whole symbolizes rather than what the elements literally are.


A design or composition that uses identical or nearly identical shapes on opposing sides of a dividing line or central axis to demonstrate formal balance. It consists of equivalent components that face each other or rotate around a central axis to promote harmony and balance. The opposite of “asymmetrical.”

Symmetrical Balance

A type of visual balance in a composition achieved through the equal distribution of identical forms and weight on both sides of the central axis. Symmetry is the simplest and most prominent type of balance. It creates a secure, safe feeling and a sense of solidity.

Synthetic Brush

Synthetic brushA paintbrush manufactured from either nylon or “Taklon,” a polyester filament. Synthetic brushes offer more versatility than a natural one because it can be used with acrylic and oil paints. These brushes are a good budget alternative to natural bristle brushes, but make sure they’re made for oil paints.

Some advantages of synthetic brushes are:

      • They are more resistant to damage from turpentine, insects, or paints.
      • Cleanup is easier since they don’t tend to trap paint in the individual hairs.
      • The hairs last longer because they are less prone to breaking and are more durable on many different canvas surfaces.

One disadvantage is that less expensive synthetic brushes tend to lose their shape more quickly than natural brushes.

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Art Terms and Definitions — T

T-Square     |     Typography

A dictionary of art terms and definitions that begin with the letter T.

T-square Art Terms and Definitions -- T

A guide for drawing horizontal lines on a drafting table. It is also used to guide the triangle that draws vertical lines. Its name comes from the general shape of the instrument, where the horizontal member of the T slides on the side of the drafting table (see illustration).

Tactile Texture

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


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

Tertiary Colors

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

Tertiary colors are called by their two-word name:

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


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


The way a surface feels or is perceived to feel. Anything that has a surface has texture. It is experienced in two ways: with touch (tactile) and with our eyes (visual). Texture is essential in paintings to make objects appear to be real. Also see tactile texture and visual texture.

Three-dimensional Art

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

Three-dimensional (3D) Space

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

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

Three-point Perspective

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

Three-quarter View

A face or any other subject halfway between a full and a profile view.

Thumbnail Sketch

Crude, small pencil drawings used to develop the initial concept for a design.


Acronym for Tagged Image File Format, a standard graphic image file format usually generated by scanners. Developed by Aldus and Microsoft.


A hue with white added. Pink is a tint of red.


An oxide used as a white pigment of great permanence and covering power. Usually extended with other whites to improve its brushing and drying properties.


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


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


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

Triadic (Triad) Colors

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

Examples of triadic color schemes could be:

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

Tribal Art

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


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

Trompe L’oeil

French for “fool the eye.” A two-dimensional representation that is so naturalistic that it looks actual or real (three-dimensional.) This form of painting was first used by the Romans thousands of years ago in frescoes and murals.


A high-quality oil paint thinner and solvent.

Two-dimensional Art

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

Two-dimensional (2D) Space

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

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

Two-point Perspective

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


The study and process of typefaces; how to select, size, arrange, and use them in general. In modern terms, typography includes computer display and output. Traditionally, typography involved the use of metal types with raised letterforms that were inked and then pressed onto paper.

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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!