Art Terms and Definitions — U

Ultramarine     |     Urban Landscape

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

Ultramarine

Art Terms and Definitions -- UA deep blue to purple-blue pigment initially made from ground lapis lazuli. The name comes from the Latin ultramarinus, which translates “beyond the sea.” During the 14th and 15th centuries, ultramarine was the finest and most expensive blue used by Renaissance painters.

Umber

A natural pigment of brown or reddish-brown color used in painting. In its natural form, it is called raw umber, but when it is heated, the color becomes more intense and is called burnt umber. Umber is not one precise color but a range of different earth colors. The name comes from the Italian terra d’ombra (or “earth of Umbria”), named after a mountainous region in central Italy where the pigment was originally extracted.

Underdrawing

A term that refers to preparatory sketch or drawing made on a painting surface before paint is applied. The underdrawing acts as the first layer of an artwork and is widely used by oil painters.

Underground Art

A term used to describe a subculture of art that operates outside conventional norms in the art world, like graffiti, street art, or visionary art. Any form of art that mainly occurs on public property.

Underpainting

The preliminary layers of paint in a painting that render the basic outline of the composition before the final paint layers are added to complete the work.

Undertone

A subdued or muted tone of color, specifically a color seen through and modifying another color.

Unity

The hallmark of a successful design, where all elements work harmoniously to create a satisfying sense of belonging and relationship, ensuring that all aspects complement each other rather than competing for attention.

Uppercase

The uppercase or capital letters in a typeface. In typography, the term refers to the capital letters that were named after the standard location where typesetters once stored them.

Urban Landscape

A premise of urban planning arguing that the best way to organize cities is through the design of the city’s landscape rather than the design of its buildings. Also referred to as landscape urbanism.

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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 — V

Value     |     Volume

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

Value

The degree of lightness or darkness of any given color. Value is defined by the color’s proximity to white. For instance, lighter colors such as yellow will have lighter values than darker colors like navy blue. Adding white or black to a hue changes its value.

A good way to see the difference in color values is to look at the greyscale below. White is the lightest value, while black is the darkest. Middle gray is the value halfway between these two extremes.

color values greyscale

Adding white to a color creates a “tint” making its value lighter. When you add black to a color, its value darkens, resulting in a “shade” of that color.

color values

Vanishing PointArt Terms and Definitions -- V

In perspective, the point on the horizon line where all parallel lines appear to recede and converge; the point where visibility ends.

Vanitas

example of VanitasA style of still life painting made popular in the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries. Vanitas is a Latin term meaning “vanity.” Compositions include objects or symbols of mortality to remind people that life is fleeting, and material things and worldly pleasures are temporary. A typical vanitas still life is characterized by and may contain symbolic images like skulls, extinguished candles, rotting fruit, bubbles, smoke, watches, hourglasses, musical instruments, wine, and books.

Varnish

A transparent hard, protective coating or applied to paintings to seal and protect the surface, creating a barrier against moisture, dust, and pollutants. Varnish also acts to intensify the appearance of the colors on the painting surface making them look more saturated. For more information on this topic see blog article “The Importance of Varnishing Oil Paintings.”

Vector Graphic

A graphic made up of mathematically defined curves and line segments called vectors. Vector graphics can be edited by moving and resizing the entire graphic or the lines and segments that compose the graphic. Vector graphics can be reduced and enlarged (zoomed in and out) with no loss of resolution.

Vermilion

Art Terms and Definitions -- VA scarlet red pigment of variable color that is vivid red but sometimes with an orange tinge. Initially, the vermilion pigment was made from a highly toxic mineral called cinnabar, which contains mercury. However, a synthetic pigment called cadmium red was developed to replace vermilion because of the toxicity of mercury.

Vertical Balance

The distribution of visual weights in a piece, so that top and bottom seem to be in equilibrium.

Video Art

A genre of art involving moving imagery and audio-visual technology to produce videotapes for viewing on a television screen. This form of art gained rapid popularity in the ’60s and ’70s with the widespread availability of inexpensive videotape recorders.

Viewfinder

viewfinder graphicA tool used to look through to compose an image. This tool helps select the most interesting composition to be found in a larger image by cropping out unwanted perimeters. In photography, a viewfinder is what the photographer looks through to compose, and in many cases to focus, the picture (see illustration). For more information, see the article titled Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings.

Vignette

An image or painting where the borders are undefined and seem to fade away gradually until it blends into the background.

Violet

violetOne of the secondary colors that is created when the two primary colors of red and blue are mixed. See “Secondary Colors.” The complement or opposite of the color yellow. The color of violet is named for the violet flower from which the color is derived.

Viridian Viridian

A darker blue-green pigment composed of more green than blue falling between teal and green on the color wheel. Viridian takes its name from the Latin Viridis, meaning “green.”

Visionary Art

Art that transcends what lies beyond the boundary of the physical and scientific world to portray a broader vision of awareness, including themes of spiritual, mystical, or inner awareness as seen or experienced in the images of dreams or trances.

Visual Art

A form of artwork, such as painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, ceramics, crafts, or sculpture, created primarily for visual perception and exists in permanent form.

Visual Artist

A practitioner of one or more of the visual arts.

Visual Communication

The communication of ideas through the graphical display of information. Primarily associated with two-dimensional images, it includes alphanumeric, art, signs, and electronic resources. Recent research in the field has focused on web design and graphically oriented usability.

Visual Economy (in art)

The removal of all non-essential or unimportant elements and details that do not contribute to the essence of the overall composition. Its purpose is to allow what is most important to be the main focal point. The concept of simplicity is that a good composition is the most simple or straightforward solution to the design problem. This design principle is also called “simplicity.”

Visual Texture

visual texture
A good example of visual texture in art. Click image for a closer look. Painting by Teresa Bernard.

Refers to the perceived smoothness and flatness of surfaces in photographs and paintings. Artists create the illusion of texture by using elements like line, shading, and color to create patterns. These textures are created by repeating lines, dots, or shapes, and can be varied in size, density, and orientation to achieve desired effects. Despite how rough objects may seem to appear in a picture, the image’s surface is always going to be smooth and flat to the touch.

Visualization Design

A process that aims to make information more understandable and visually appealing by converting complex ideas into simpler representations. Visualization design bridges the gap between quantitative and qualitative data through visual means, transforming data into compelling visuals like charts and diagrams.

This process involves carefully selecting images, typography, spacing, layout, and color to improve the design’s aesthetic appeal and and usefulness. Key aspects of visualization design include charts, graphs, histograms, maps, plots, timelines, tables, word clouds, diagrams, and matrices. Effective data visualization improves communication and decision-making, going beyond aesthetics to optimize user experience and conversion.

Volume

The amount of space that a physical element or object occupies.

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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 — W

War Artist     |     WYSIWYG

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

War Artist

Artistic individuals who document first-hand experiences of war through illustrative or depictive records, often commissioned by governments, publications, or are self-motivated. They explore the visual and sensory dimensions of war, often absent in written histories. Their artwork reflects the experiences of those who endured it, collecting and distilling their experiences, and influencing how subsequent generations view military conflicts.

Warm Color

Art Terms and Definitions -- WColors whose relative visual temperature makes them seem warm. Warm colors include red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow.

The characteristics of warm colors include:

      • are made with red, orange, or yellow, and combinations of them.
      • tend to feel warm, reminding us of heat and sunshine.
      • tend to advance into the foreground, i.e., come toward the viewer.
      • may feel more energetic, attention-grabbing, and aggressive.

Wash

Used in watercolor painting, brush drawing, and occasionally in oil painting to describe a broad, thin layer of diluted pigment or ink. Also refers to a drawing made using this technique.

Watercolor

A transparent or opaque water-based painting compound suspended in a natural gum arabic binder. Watercolor is a moist paint that comes in a tube, is thinned using water, and is mixed on a dish or palette. Use them on paper and other absorbent surfaces that have been primed to accept water-based paint. Use soap and water for easy cleanup. Also refers to a painting produced with watercolors.

Watermark

A watermark is a design embossed into a piece of paper during its production and used to identify the paper and papermaker. The watermark can be seen when the paper is held up to light.

Waterscape

A painting of or including a body of water. It might otherwise be called a marine picture, a seascape, a riverscape, etc.

Wet-on-wet

A painting technique that is well-known as being the primary method of painting used by Bob Ross. Since lighter colors will usually mix with darker colors if laid over the top of them while wet, the technique relies on painting from light colors up. This gives the painting a soft look and allows the colors to be blended to the painter’s desire.

White

The lightest of all colors. White objects fully reflect and scatter all the visible wavelengths of light. It is often argued that white is not a color because it is achromatic (having no hue); however, since color results from human perception, many individuals consider white as a color. The compliment or antagonist of black.

Wildlife Art

Flamingo and Chick painting
Flamingo and Chick by Teresa Bernard

Artwork that depicts the natural world and the animals that live in it, whether wild or domesticated. This genre is one of the earliest forms of art, dating back to prehistoric cave paintings. Portraits of animals, insects, or fish (whether wildlife or family pets) would fit into this genre. For more on wildlife art, click here.

Wildlife Artist

A skilled artist who creates artwork depicting animals and wildlife in their natural habitats. They aim to capture the essence of wild animals and their interactions with the landscape. Many wildlife painters focus on a specific type of animal or wilderness. They use mediums like oil paints, watercolors, and pastels to create realistic and detailed images of animals, and some specialize in sculptures of animals.

Woodcut

A relief printing technique in printmaking that dates back to 8th-century China. It involves printing an image from the surface of a block of wood. The image is carved into the wood using tools such as chisels, gouges, and knives. Raised areas of the image are inked and printed, while cut away or recessed areas do not receive ink and appear blank on the printed paper.

Word Art

Any art that includes words or phrases as its primary artistic component appearing in various media, including painting and sculpture, lithography and screen-printing, and applied art (T-shirts, mugs, etc.).

Worm’s-eye View

As if seen from the surface of the earth or the floor looking up from below. A variation on a landscape painting where the horizon is placed very low in the painting or outside of it entirely.

WYSIWYG

(Pronounced “wizzy-wig”). An acronym for What You See Is What You Get and is used in computing to describe the seamlessness between the appearance of edited content on the monitor and the final product.

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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 — X

X-Radiography     |     Xylography

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

X-Radiography

A medical diagnostic tool used extensively by conservators to determine how artists applied different layers of paint to create an image. The X-rays penetrate through multiple layers of paint to image the atomic weight or density of the various present materials. It can easily detect if repairs have been made to tears in the canvas, if there are holes in the panel support, and other such occurrences. This information is extremely valuable to conservators, as it helps determine the best procedures to use in preserving the image. It can also assist art historians in the interpretation of the artwork and more specific dating.

Xerography

Photographic process that uses an electrically charged metal plate. The electrical charge is destroyed on exposure to light, leaving a latent image in which shadows represent charged areas. A powdered pigment dusted over the plate is attracted to the charged areas, producing a visible image. Also called photocopying or xerocopy, a lesser-used term.

XylographyArt Terms and Definitions -- X

An early form of wood engraving was first seen in China in the 1st century. It is the oldest known engraving technique.

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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 — Y

YBA Art     |     Yellowing

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

YBA Art

Stands for Young British Artists, also called Brit artists or “Britart.” YBAs were a loosely affiliated group of artists in London who began exhibiting their artwork together in the late 1980s. If they had anything in common, it was probably an anything-goes attitude when it came to the materials used and their creative processes. As artists, they worked and experimented in various media and art forms and were best known for their use of shock tactics, entrepreneurial spirit, and wild partying.

Yellow

Art Terms and Definitions -- YThe color between orange and green on the color wheel. Considered to be the most visible color on the spectrum and the most attention-getting. One of the four primary colors used in printing ink (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). One of the three primary colors used in art (red, yellow, and blue). The complement or opposite of the color violet. In painting, yellow is used to create a multitude of colors when mixed with other hues.

Yellow Ocheryellow-ocher

A yellow pigment often used by artists that usually contains limonite, a yellowish-brown oxide of iron; a natural earth pigment containing hydrated iron oxide, which ranges in color from yellow to deep orange or brown.

Yellowing

A discoloration that can occur over time in oil paintings due to excessive use of linseed oil medium; applying any of the varnishes that are prone to yellow with age; or most often, an accumulation of dirt embedded into the varnish.

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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 — Z

Z-Pattern Layout     |     Zoomorphic

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

Z-Pattern Layout

The path the human eyes travel when they read—left to right, top to bottom. First, the eyes scan from the top left to the top right, then down and to the left side, and last, back across to the right again. When the viewers’ eyes move in this pattern, it forms an imaginary “Z” shape.

Zackenstil

A German word from the 13th century that means “jagged style.” Zackenstil is a zig-zag style used in sculpture, painting, stained glass, and manuscript illumination.

Zenga Art Terms and Definitions -- Z

A style of Japanese calligraphy and painting done in ink. Often, both calligraphy and image will be in the same piece of art.

Zentangle

A self-help, meditative art therapy practice involving the creation of structured doodle designs through drawing various repetitive patterns. This art form is intended to enhance relaxation, inner focus, and build self-confidence.

Zero-point Perspective

A technique that creates the illusion of depth without parallel lines in an image, allowing for a sense of depth without vanishing points. This technique is commonly used in natural settings like mountain ranges or landscapes. Also referred to as “atmospheric perspective” or “aerial perspective.”

Zinc White

A common white pigment. Zinc white is a brilliant white synthetically derived from the metal zinc.

Zincography

A printing process that uses zinc plates instead of stone plates made from fine lithographic limestone.

Zinnober Green

Another name for chrome green.

Zoomorphic

Describes forms of art and ornaments based on the shape, form, or likeness of an animal.

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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!