Painting Glossary
Meaning of Terms Used in Fine Art Painting.

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A-Z Glossary of Painting Terms

See below for an explanation of terms used in fine art painting.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H-J - K-L - M - N-O - P-Q - R - S - T - U-V - W-Z



Academy board
An economic board for oil-painting. It is made from several sheets of paper sized together. The face is then primed with a ground of white lead, chalk and oil. The back was often painted grey. It had a considerable vogue in the late 19th century.
Academy of Fine Arts
The precursor to modern schools of painting. For a list of colleges offering painting courses, see: Painting Courses.
Pigments dispersed with acrylic resin (synthetic resins made by polymerization of acrylic acid esters). A medium for painting introduced during the early 1960s. Acrylic painting offers considerable freedom to the artist. Almost any support can be used, and only needs a single coat of acrylic primer. The colours can be put on with an impasto of upwards of 12.5 mm without danger of flaking or cracking. The acrylics can be diluted with water to simulate wash work. They dry out quickly and may be varnished or not as desired.

An implement that resembles a thick fountain-pen and which has a small container near the nozzle. By air pressure supplied from a container or a mechanical compressor, varnish, fixative or colours can be applied. It can produce effects from fine lines up to wide sweeps.
These recently introduced colours act as an extension to oil-painting. They have a uniform speed of drying. They may be used for under-painting, and are excellent with glazing over dried-out oil films. As a painting medium by themselves they do not retain brush marks and impasto to quite the extent of oils; but these characteristics may well suit some manners.
Alla Prima
To paint a picture in one sitting, particularly applicable to oil-painting. The French use the term au premier coup. It is the wisest method where heavy impasto is to be used. The paintings often have a virile life and freshness of colour and effect, not always attained by more precisely planned methods.
Altarpiece Art
A decorated screen, panel or series of panels, fixed or movable, placed on or behind the altar. Normally it would carry paintings or reliefs. Two hinged panels comprise a diptych, three a triptych, five or more being a polyptych. A fine example of a polyptych is the 'Adoration of the Lamb' (from the Ghent Altarpiece) in the Cathedral of St Bavon, Ghent, Belgium, painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. At Chatsworth there is the 'Donne Triptych' by Hans Memling. The term diptych was originally applied to the Roman codex or book of two leaves or tablets fastened together.
Archival Paper
Any pure 100 percent rag, cotton, or linen watercolour paper of neutral or slightly low PH, alkaline (base).
Armenian bole
A rich, fine, red clay used as a ground on a gesso panel for gold-leaf. The strong colour serving to enrich the optical effect of the very thin metal.
May be classified in various ways. Common categories include: Plastic Art (Sculpture, Ceramics); Fine Art (Notably painting, sculpture, printmaking); Applied Art (Industrial design, and other design disciplines); Decorative Art (Design and ornamentation of items); Visual Art (a wide category embracing activities from all the above groups. For more, see: Types of Art.

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Back Glass Painting
Painting pictures on the back of sheets of glass. With this manner the artist has to work his picture backwards, starting with what would be the finishing strokes with the conventional method. Such a painting has high permanence and brilliance, as the colours are scaled behind the glass. A sheet of tinfoil is generally applied to the back.
Has many uses in art, including: mixed with turpentine to make a wax polish for finishing oils, tempera and alkyds; mixed with varnish and turpentine to prepare a painting medium for oils; as a stiff paste with a small amount of turpentine to assist impasto; mixed with Venice turpentine and resin as an adhesive for relining a painting.
The cementing ingredient of a paint vehicle, its purpose being to hold the pigment particles in a cohesive coating. It can also describe the gum that holds pastels, water-colour and inks.
From the mid I7th century artists' pigments when mixed with oil were stored in small bladders. To use them the painter made a small hole with a tack, squeezed out some colour then pushed the tack back into the hole. Towards the evolution of the tube, the bladder was followed by a form of syringe. In 1840 the collapsible tube came into being.
Describes the action of one colour running into another. Most applicable to water-colour, where a second or third colour can be dropped on to an already applied wash while it is wet. To a certain extent the result is uncontrollable, but a wise hand will be able to judge approximately. Bleeding in oil-colours is associated with pigments such as asphaltum that can mix with other colours after application and drastically affect the optical and physical qualities of a painting.
A term concerned mostly with oils, acrylics or alkyds. It implies the softening of hard edges between colours, and the artist would be likely to use a fan brush or the tip of a finger.
A phenomenon that occurs with varnish on paintings, and occasionally on polished furniture. Causes can include damp conditions during varnishing, picture hung in a chilly, draughty position, or exposed to gross humidity such as can be generated by some gas heating devices. The condition appears rather like the bloom on a black grape. If it is on the surface of the varnish it can normally be removed by gentle wiping with a piece of cotton wool. If underneath the varnish, which is rare, the only cure is to remove the varnish and to revarnish.
A manner worked on by Alexander Cozens, which is elaborated on in A New Method for assisting the invention in drawing original compositions of Landscape (1786). The idea is that an accidental blot or brush mark on the paper can act as a trigger for an imaginative composition. Leonardo makes mention of a similar approach to marks on walls that could be worked in with a painting. Twentieth-century Surrealists have experimented with the child ploy of folding paper over a blot of colour to produce a fantastic shape from which some idea could grow.
Body colour
Descriptive of opaque colours as opposed to transparent.
Bristol board
A stiff durable ply-produced cardboard suitable for pen and ink work or water-colour and gouache.
An instrument to polish either a metal surface or other substance that will take it. It is either shaped from hardened steel or the semi-precious stone, agate. In the 15th century Cennini in il Libra dell' Arte mentions using a piece of hematite.

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Cabinet pictures
An old-fashioned name for small easel paintings.
Camera Lucida
An optical device which, by the use of a prism, makes it possible to copy an object. The rays of light from the model are reflected by the prism and produce an image on the paper. By adjusting the prism and inserting magnifying lenses the size of reproduction can be made smaller or larger. It was invented by Richard Hooke about 1674.
Camera Obscura
Another optical copying device which is much larger than the lucida. It relies on the principle that rays of light will pass through a small lens in the side of a darkened cabinet and then be projected either straight or by reflection from a mirror on to a piece of paper. The principle was first noted by Aristotle. Early astronomers found it helpful to use an obscura to observe the stars; it is described in this connection by the Arabian Alhazen at the beginning of the 11th century. The artist's obscura was probably first constructed by Leone Battista Alberti (1404-72). Giovanni Battista della Porta is likely to have been the first to make a written account of its use for drawing, in his Magia Naturalis (1558). See: Art Photography Glossary.
Canvas board
A heavy cardboard with a cotton or linen canvas glued to one side, with the edges folded over to the back. The face is primed in the same manner as an Academy board.
An obsolete term which described the rosy pink, flesh colour of a female portrait.
Carpenter's pencil
A term describing a graphite pencil characterized by a flat ovoid wooden grip surrounding a wide graphite core capable of making thick and thin pencil lines. Popular for sketching and drawing.
A milk protein used as a binder for casein colours. It is prepared by drying the curd from sour milk, then grinding it into a yellowish powder. Casein is only water-soluble in the presence of an alkali such as ammonia, thus casein paints once dry are waterproof. A type of milk curd glue was used by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It has also served as an adhesive for joining the planks of a panel.
An Italian word for the marriage coffer. In the Renaissance period it was the fashion to have painted cassoni. Florence led with this vogue, and artists who decorated them included Botticelli and Uccello. The craze ceased towards the end of the 15th century when it was replaced by carved oaken chests.
Cave Painting
Prehistoric rock art exemplified by the following:
- Chauvet Cave Paintings (Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, France);
- Cosquer Cave Paintings (near Marseille, France);
- Pech-Merle Cave Paintings (Cabrerets, Midi-Pyrenees, France);
- Lascaux Cave Paintings (Montignac, Dordogne, France);
- Altamira Cave Paintings (near Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain).
Small ceramic platters, round, oval, square and rectangular have been used by some painters, either working on miniatures or pictures up to a maximum over all of about 12 in (300 mm). The top measurement is because of the frailty of the material. The painting could be carried out in oils, water-colour, gouache, tempera, or with more modern media such as casein, acrylics and alkyds.
Sticks of prepared calcium carbonate left white and either used as a drawing material on a dark-tinted paper, or for heightening a wash or pen and ink drawing. See Chalk Drawings.

One of the oldest drawing materials, charred sticks were used with the early cave-paintings. The Romans used them and throughout the history of art the material crops up again and again. It was often the medium for preliminary drawings. Various types of wood produce different characteristics; willow and beech tend to produce brittle sticks, vine twigs the softest and blackest. The charcoal can be applied to the paper in a direct manner, and then manipulated with a tortillon, a hog brush, a fingertip, a piece of rag or a plastic rubber. The drawings need to be fixed when finished. See Charcoal Drawings.
The contrasting use of light and shadow. Artists famous for their mastery of chiaroscuro include Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt.
Italian for the 16th century. Usually used in connection with the fine arts in Italy (1500-1600).
Claude glass
A small convex mirror that instead of being silvered was blackened at the back. The idea was that being convex it would reduce the scene and by being blackened it would only reflect the main masses of the subject. The artist would sit with his back to the view and hold the glass in front of him so that he could look over his shoulder. It is said to have been devised by Claude Lorrain (1600-82). It was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and may still be seen in action today.
It implies that the adhesion of paint layers in a picture has failed.
A method of picture-making which incorporates a wide variety of materials and often a certain degree of relief besides actual painting. Papers, cards, textiles, wood fragments, fur, small stones, metal foil, etc., can be used. The manner evolved from papier colle, a 19th-century leisure pastime. The Surrealist Kurt Schwitters did considerable work in this manner early in this century. Max Ernst was another attracted to the freedom of the technique.
Colour Wheel
For details of the colour wheel and other theoretical aspects, see: Colour Theory in Painting.
Concrete Art
A style of geometric abstraction, in which paintings are devoid of all naturalistic imagery and instead contain geometric motifs.
Conte crayon
Introduced by Nicholas Jacques Conte, they are sticks of compressed compound of binder and pigments; the colours being sanguine, sepia and black. They are grease-free and can produce very sensitive work. See also Conte Crayon Drawings.
Coquille board
An illustration board intended for the commercial artist. The working face has a shallow dotted, stippled or textured embossing. When this is drawn upon with crayon or pencil a type of half-tone is produced.
A technique for making depths of tone in pen and ink and pencil drawings, also in etching and engraving. Regular lines are drawn in series, first one way and then across each other. The manner can also be used with wood-engraving to obtain light tones by the use of the graver in a similar manner.

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Any liquid that will dilute or thin a substance, as opposed to dissolving it.
A rectangular frame crossed with wires or threads to form squares, which the artist sets up between himself and his sitter at such a distance that his view is the same as the drawing he intends to make. The frame isolates his subject and if his paper is squared to correspond to the squares on the frame, he can quickly place the main outlines and details.
Substances that are added to oil-paints to hasten the drying. The idea is, if possible, to make all the colours dry at an even speed. Quick-drying pigments include: umbers, siennas, ochres and flake white; slow-drying are such as alizarin crimson, ivory black and vermilion.
Dry brush
The brush should be loaded with the minimum of colour and then lightly dragged over the surface of the canvas or paper. A bright or flat brush will give the best results.
Dutch Painting (17th Century)
Known as the Golden Age of Dutch painting, this era is associated with the school of Dutch Realism, leading members of which include Rembrandt and Vermeer.


An occasional additive to some lake colours to improve their flow, an idea of the the late 17th century.
A wooden or metal stand for holding a canvas, a panel or a drawing-board. It may range from a small, light, tripod sketching-easel up to a large studio easel which will take canvases up to 12ft (3'65 m) high and which can be raised, lowered and canted by worm-gears and winding handles or wheels. There are also small easels for resting on a table that will allow a drawing-board to be almost vertical or gently sloping as for water-colour wash work.
In oil-painting it signifies the first underpainting. It should be low in oil content to enable subsequent layers of colour to adhere properly. In oil-paintings early layers of colour should always be lean; if they are too rich and thick paint is put on top, varying speeds of drying will almost certainly cause cracking.
Ebony pencil
A drawing/sketching implement featuring a thick core of black and smooth graphite, capable of producing a wide tonal range.
A needle that has had its point bevelled to an oval facet that can be used in etching and engraving. It will make lines of varying thicknesses, and with engraving can be used to re-work and expand certain lines. A favourite tool of the 17th century graphic artists such as Jacques Callot (1592-1635).
Encaustic painting
One of the oldest methods of painting, being practised from at least 3000 BC. Some of the finest existing examples are the mummy portraits from Fayum executed about the 3rd century AD. The colours are applied to the support with hot beeswax, either with spatulas or brushes, finally being driven in with a heavy hot iron. The method was more or less abandoned in the 9th century. Count Caylus, a French archaeologist
and engraver, sought to revive interest in the 17th century but failed. A number of scenes were painted in the Residenz at Munich in 1831 by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. The invention of electrically heated spatulas has brought a slight revival of interest, but it is a laboursome and awkward technique at the best.

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Fashion board
A heavy laminated card with a white quality paper face that may be finished rough, 'not' or hot pressed.
Fayum Mummy Portraits
A type of naturalistic portraiture practiced in Hellenistic and Roman-ruled Egypt c.50 BCE -250 CE.
A liquid, that may be shellac in methylated spirits or synthetic cellulose solution, that is intended to be sprayed as a fine mist on to charcoal, soft pencil, chalk or pastel to consolidate the drawings and prevent smudging. This spraying must be done with care because too heavy an application can flood and float the drawing away. Tests should always be made with pastel as it is likely the fixative can alter tone and tint values.
Fresco painting
An art started by Minoan and other early civilizations. In antiquity they had the idea of painting fairly small portable frescoes. Some of these have been found in Crete and date from about 1000 BCE. Frescoes are painted with pigments which have been ground in water and which are then applied directly on to a freshly plastered wall, while still moist, this method is known as buon fresco. When it is painted on to dried-out plaster it is termed fresco secco. This preliminary drawing is done on the under plaster, known as the arriccio. It is usually brushed in with a mixture of reddish brown clay and water and is termed the sinopia. In some cases, if it is an elaborate design, a cartoon may be prepared and then transferred (see Roulette). It is then worked out as to how large an area the artist can paint in a day and a top layer of plaster, the intonaco, is applied. Into this the artist has to work directly and without mistakes. Fresco secco can be carried out with rempera, glue or casein colours. Before making a start, wall should be well soaked with lime-water. The Renaissance produced a host of the world's greatest fresco-painters. It started with Giotto with such as his Arena Chapel in Padua and went on with the likes of Masaccio, for instance his work in the Brancacci Chapel, Florence, as well as Raphael's 'The School of Athens' at the Vatican and reached its peak with the stupendous ceiling in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.
The process of making rubbings through paper of objects or textures underneath. Brass-rubbing is frottage. Max Ernst was one Surrealist who explored the idea, he was seeking to find some visual stimulus for his subconscious. In his 'The origin of the pendulum' it can be noted how he has rubbed rough boards for parts of the design.


Everyday scenes of human activity. See: Best Genre Painters.
In the broad sense it is a mixture of a plaster or like substance and a glue. Its purpose was to present the painter with a smooth, hard, white ground on which to paint. Owing to its hard brittle nature it could not be applied successfully to canvas or metal sheets. It was from the start intended for application to wood panels. The method was to first either size the wood panel or to size down coarse muslin or linen. When this was dry the first coat of the gesso would be put on, the coarse gesso rosso. Two or three days later would be put on the fine gesso sottile, and nearly always there would be a number of coats of the latter. When the gesso had hardened it could be smoothed flat, if there were any imperfections, with a block of pumice. The resultant surface would have an ivory smoothness and hardness. The earliest type of gesso made in medieval times used parchment glue and well-slaked plaster of Paris. The curds from long-soured milk were also used in place of the glue. Later recipes included rabbit-skin glue and precipitated chalk and whiting. The gesso could also receive the imprint of tools with decorative gilding, and be coated over mouldings or other decorations included with the panel.
Gesturalism/Gestural Painting
Style of expressive brushwork pioneered by Van Gogh and later championed by American artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell, and by Europeans like Georges Mathieu, Pierre Soulages and Wols.
The support for back painting. It is important that it should be reasonably stout; plate glass is best, and it should be of a good quality so that there will be no distortions in the glass to falsify the image created.
Applied to painting media, the term glazing means the laying of a transparent colour over previously laid and dried-out pigments, that may be opaque or transparent. With water-glazing only water need be added to the colours, with acrylics just the acrylic medium and water. For glazing with oil-paints, the diluent can be such as: linseed oil, poppy oil, turpentine or white spirit. Glazed colours appear to advance while opaque recede. Very rich translucent effects can be gained; for example, note the extreme richness of crimson in some of Titian's paintings, obtained by glazing over these areas with lake.
Gold ground
Many of the painters of the 15th and 16th centuries used grounds either covered or partially covered with gold-leaf. The underlying ground would be gesso. On top of this would be brushed a thin coating of a red earth, a bole, often the one termed Armenian. Next an adhesive was put down, this was often glair, which was egg white with a little water. Then the fragile thin gold-leaf would be picked up on a wide, soft, hair brush called a tip, and laid in position. Each sheet was normally given a lap of about tin (0'5 cm) over its neighbours. Before it was totally hardened, decorative work with patterned iron or steel dies could be done. When completely hardened an agate burnisher could bring up the desired sheen. The most suitable medium for working on the gold was tempera; oil could be used but with this there could arise adhesion problems. A number of the German school were particularly adept with the handling of this method. Stefan Lochner left some exquisite religious scenes, with his strong blues and deep crimsons reacting against the gold in a splendid manner. Another method of exploiting the richness of gold in a painting was worked through by Botticelli, notably with his 'Birth of Venus' when he brushed powdered gold into the hair of the figures. The extreme fragility of the gold-leaf is exemplified by Cennini when in It Libro dell' Alle he records that 145 leaves could be beaten from one ducat, enough to cover an area of about 70 sq ft (6 m2).
In a broad sense it is a water-colour carried out with opaque or body colours instead of just transparent. The earliest signs of the method are traced back to the Egyptians, when they bound their pigments with either gum tragacanth and/or honey. Durer used the colours in his closely observed nature studies, and it was popular with the French, Italian and Swiss water-colourists who saw the possibilities of the attractive chalk-like finish that comes up when gouache dries. Francois Boucher became extremely adept at handling the medium and judging how it would dry out.
The handling of a water-colour wash to give it a lightening or darkening effect as the colour flows down the paper. This is done by adding water to the bowl of colour or more colour.
An effect that can be achieved with wash work when using colours with heavy pigment particles. French ultramarine, ivory black, umbers, siennas and ochres will leave a granulated broken effect if the washes are put on with the board lying nearly flat.
(also termed: Burin) A hard steel instrument for metal- or wood-engraving. The section of the cutting tool can be lozenge, diamond or rectangular. The tool is set in a small wooden handle designed to fIt into the somewhat unusual grip the artist adopts, and also the handle is flattened underneath to allow the graver to be lifted from a line.
A type of monochrome painting executed in greys. The results often resemble sculpture. Excellent examples are St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist which are on the back's of the two folding sections of the 'Adoration of the Lamb' by the Van Eyck brothers in St Bavon Cathedral, Ghent.
The name that is applied to the coating of the surface on which the painting is to be carried out. Thus gesso is the ground for a wooden panel. A canvas is given a ground by sizing and then priming. Painting surfaces such as water-colour papers, boards and parchment act as ground and support at the same time.
The principal binder for water-colour is gum arabic, it comes from certain acacia trees growing in Africa, Asia and Australia. Gum tragacanth is used as a binder for chalks and pastels; it is procured from a shrub Astragalus, a native of Asia Minor.

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(also termed: Beaverboard, Masonite, Upson board) These boards are made from wood-pulp and/or waste paper. The front presents a smooth hard surface, the back having a textured tooth resembling a reverse canvas texture. Suitable for oils if sized and primed, also for acrylics if grounded with acrylic primer. Sizes over 20 x 24 in need some kind of battening for support.
An art that dates back to the ancient custom of distinguishing nations, such as the Greeks and the Romans, military leaders and important officers by a badge on their shields. Later came examples like the white horse of the Saxons and the leopards of William the Conqueror. These were not hereditary but just the owner's choice. Heraldry proper starts at the beginning of the 13th century. From the artist's point of view he has to work to a limited palette of special colours which are: Or - gold (yellow); Argent - silver (white); Azure - blue; Purpure - purple; Gules - red; Verte - green; Sable - black.
History Painting
Narrative pictures with an uplifting moral message. See: Best History Painters.
Impasto technique
Use of thick layer(s) of paint or pastel; hence impasted, or impastoed.
A coat of colour that is applied over the priming. Many painters dislike working directly on white so this thin, lean veil of a tint such as red ochre, burnt umber, cool green is brushed on.
Ink-and-Wash painting
Type of water-based painting process popular in China and Japan.
Irish Painting
See Famous Irish Artists (1600-2000); Best Irish Painters (2010).
Sheets of ivory about 1/16 in (1.5 mm) thick or less are considered the standard support for the miniaturist. Other substances that have been used include: ceramic platters, various cards, parchment, and at times such as stretched and treated chicken skin.


Landscape Painting
Scenic views with no significant human figures or activity. See: Best Landscape Artists.
Lay figure
Ajointed wooden figure, either quite small or life-size, that may be used as a substitute for the sitter. The figure is so made that the limbs can only be moved in the same way as an actual human fIgure. Popular 18th-century portrait-painters used them dressed in the clothes the sitter demanded and thus saved the clients many arduous hours sitting still.
Not a happy support for oils as it is a substance that is open to deterioration from a number of sources. It is difficult to control the movement of the material. There have been some instances of it being used by French painters for small-size pictures. There is a ceremonial parade shield of leather in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, which carries a painting of 'The Young David' by Andrea del Castagno; it is 45 in (1143 mm) high and tapers being 32 in (812 mm) wide at the top and 17 in (431 mm) at the bottom.
An obsolete term for drawing or painting.


A long wooden rod with a pad at one end that is used by the painter to steady his hand when working on fIne details. He holds the mahlstick in his left hand and lays the pad on the canvas and then rests his right with the brush on the stick.
Masking fluid
A product made from gum, used to mask or cover a surface that needs to be protected from receiving paint.
Medieval Painting
Strictly speaking, this includes all works created during the period 450-1450, although it can be used more narrowly to describe the period 1000-1400.
The method in which an artist works; oil-painting, gouache, pastel, pen and ink, etching, collage, sculpture, etc., are all media for his expression. In another sense medium may be used to describe an additive to the colours when painting, linseed to oil-paints, egg yolk to tempera, gum to water-colour.
(also termed: McGuilp, magilp) An 18th-century oil-painting medium, a mixture of linseed oil, mastic varnish and lead driers. It is a jelly-like substance slightly cloudy and yellow. It does impart an ease of working to the colours, but it is liable to make the paint film brittle and cause heavy cracking.
Copper sheets have been used primarily, although works have been painted on aluminium, iron, steel and zinc. Media suitable are acrylics, alkyds and oils. The metal sheets should be degreased and then given some kind of grounding. Paintings on metal are susceptible to damage by temperature change and if the sheets are thin, by careless handling.
Miniature Painting
A small picture not normally larger than 6 inches in diameter. The greatest schools of miniature-painting flourished in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. The leaders were such as Nicholas Hilliard, the Olivers and John Hoskins. Portraits were nearly always mounted in elaborately worked gold lockets. Miniatures can be painted in oil, water-colour, gouache and tempera and the smallest brushes No. 000 are known as triple goose, and are made from fine sable hairs. Although Hilliard painted small heads that would fit in rings, the smallest ever are by a Canadian, Gerard Legare of British Columbia, who manages to work on pin-heads with diameters from 0'8-6'3 mm.
Mixed media
One or more medium used in the same picture. Thus pastel and ink, pastel and water-colour, tempera and water-colour, etc.
Modern painting
An indeterminate term, which traditionally refers to works created after about 1860. For an explanation of such works, created in the 19th or 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).
A method of decorating floors, walls and ceilings with tiny fragments (tesserae) set into mastic plaster or cement. It has a beginning in Crete and with the early Greeks. The largest mosaic is on the walls of the Library of the Universidad Nacional Autonomao de Mexico. There are four walls, the two largest measuring 12,949 sq ft (1203 m2) which depict the Pre-Hispanic past. The largest in Britain is Roman and is the Wood-chester pavement, Gloucestershire of about CE 325. It was excavated in 1793 and measures 48 ft 10 in square (14'88 m2), and is made of 11 million tesserae. It is kept covered with protective earth.
Multiple tint tool
A tool used particularly in wood-engraving with a thick rectangular rod which is so made that it will cut up to five or six lines at a time. It can be used for cross-hatching or pecking textures.
Paintings that are executed directly on to a wall. Media can include fresco (buon and secco), oils, tempera, casein and acrylics. In all cases the painter must take great care to see that the wall is stable, the surface firm and that it has been prepared correctly for the chosen medium. Jacopo Robusti, nicknamed Tintoretto, painted the largest mural during the Renaissance. With the help of his son Domenico he produced 'Il Paradiso' on Wall 'E' of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) in Venice. It is 72 ft 2 in (22 m) long and 22 ft 11 in (7 m) high and contains more than 100 figures. The largest painting in Britain is the great oval 'Triumph of Peace and Liberty' by Sir James Thornhill (1676-1734), on the ceiling of the Painted Hall in the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, Greater London. It measures 106 ft (32'3 m) by 51 ft (15.4m) and took Thornhill 20 years (1707-27) to complete.

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Nail Painting
A form of nail art.
Non-Objective Art
A form of abstract painting which contains no images, references, or associations from the natural world. Also called concrete art.
Painters have used an extraordinary variety of oils in their efforts to attain the perfect personal paint consistency and working quality. The chief oil for oil-paints today is linseed, although there might be additions of poppy oil if it was desired to slow the rate of drying. In history such as these below have been experimented with, sometimes with injurious effects to the finished painting: walnut, sunflower, hempseed, safflower, rosemary, cloves, pine, poppy, spike and tung.
This technique was not suddenly invented; the story that accredits its invention to the Van Eyck brothers is incorrect, although they did much to help the evolution of the new medium. Previous to the 15th century the painter had to rely on fresco and tempera, both of which media, as beautiful as they are, lack the power to give the full richness and glow to the pigments. The exploratory steps of adding oil and varnish to egg tempera to raise a brighter, stronger palette were taken by such as Piero della Francesca (c 1410/20-92), Filippo Lippi (c 1406-69) and particularly Antonello da Messina (1430-79). Today the colours are principally ground in linseed oil. Supports can be canvas, hardboard, wooden panels or prepared paper. Brushes are largely hog bristle as they have the strength to control the thick colours; painting-knives are also used for application. The technical procedure is always to start with a lean underpainting and then finish with richer thicker paint if desired. Heavy impasto and glazing can be employed for special passages. When completed and thoroughly dried through, a process which can take up to and more than twelve months, then a resin or wax varnish can be applied. See also: Oil Painters of Ireland.
Outsider painting
Sub-category of Outsider Art; works by artists outside mainstream culture.


Paint brushes
The first known examples are probably those used in Egypt which were simple bundles of thin reeds bound to a handle; the British Museum has one of these and its date is put at about 1900 BCE. Since that time many strange hairs and bristles have been used. Apart from attempts to use human hair; at least the following animals have been tried: horse, cow, ox, black sable, kolinsky, weasel, squirrel, ring-cat, skunk, civet, fitch, badger, pony, goat, bear, hog bristle from China, India, Poland, France and the Balkans; and from the sea the Blue, Fin, Sei and Humpback whales have contributed baleen. Plant fibres from Agave, Yucca, Sisal, Bahia, Gumati, Palmetto and Hickory splits have also been used. Broadly stated, hair brushes are for water-colour, gouache, miniature work, inks, tempera while the hog bristle is for oils and acrylics. Brush shapes that can apply to both hog and hair are: round, bright, flat, filbert, sword, rigger, fan or sweetener, mop. In the 18th century small sable or other hair brushes generally set in quills were termed pencils.
Painterly Techniques
See: How to Appreciate Paintings.
For a list of top European painters (c.1300-1815), see: Old Masters: Biographies.
Painting Courses
In America, the best schools include the following:

Northeastern Art Schools
New York

Midwestern Art Schools

Western Art Schools

Southern Art Schools

Painting genres
Categories of paintings including: history, portraiture, genre works, landscape and still life.
Painting knives, pallette-knives
Both of these are made of fine tempered steel that is flexible. The palette-knife has a straight handle and is intended for mixing colours on the palette or for cleaning it. The painting-knives have cranked handles to keep the fingers clear from the painted surface; they also have a wide variety of shape ranging from small trowels to long spatulas.
Essential for colour-painting, an artist's palette refers to (1) The instrument the artist mixes his colours on. This may be a traditional mahogany, or other wood, as a rectangular shape or 'hook' or balanced studio. Artists also use metal and ceramic palettes, glass-topped tables, and for outside work with oils there are disposable greaseproof-paper blocks available, which allow a sheet to be torn off and discarded with the colour remnants. (2) The selection of colours that the artist uses. In general the early masters used fewer colours than the painters of this century. Partly this can be explained by the fact that the chemist has provided a far greater selection for today's painter; but also the Renaissance masters and those around them normally employed a well-thought-out scheme of underpainting that gave greater scope to the pigments applied on top. See Colour Mixing Tips.
Panel painting
A popular support until the appearance of canvas during the 15th century. One major advantage of panels, was their very smooth surface, which made them ideal for painting fine detail.
An instrument for reducing or enlarging designs or sketches, that uses a simple system of levers; known since the 17th century.
A substance produced from wood-pulp, rags or other material with fibres. It is thought that the art of making paper started in China with Tsai-lun about CE 105. It is likely that the invention was carried from the Far East by the Turks during the Dark Ages. It first appears in Europe in Spain, and Italy during the 12th century.
The varying methods used by artists have called for a large number of different papers. Broadly they can be divided into two categories: cartridge and rag. The former is made from wood-pulp and is generally used for schools, or work in a draughtsman's office. Rag papers are produced from good-quality cotton or linen rags and are finished to three surfaces. 'Hot pressed', with a smooth slightly shiny surface; 'Not' with a matt and 'Rough' with a quite coarse-grained, rough appearance. The papers beside being white can have tints ranging from black right across the palette to pale creams and greys. Pastel-workers often choose coloured papers. There are also heavy textured papers such as Cox, de Wint, Ingres, Turner and specialized makes including Montgolfier, Carson and Hodgkinson. Papers for printing on can be made from mulberry, and with some of the Eastern types, grasses and reeds are used. Papers will take all media except oils and alkyds without further treatment, for the two latter some form of isolation and priming should be used. Hans Holbein was a painter who used treated paper for preliminary oil-sketches.
A form of paper made by the early Egyptians. It was made from the reed Cyperus papyrus; strips of the reed were laid over each other, then they were soaked with water and pounded, lastly being dried in the Sun.
Animal skins that have been treated by scraping, use of lime to remove hair, and rubbing. Skins of sheep, pigs, goats have been used. For vellum those of young calves or still-born lambs are favoured. Pliny the Elder claims that parchment was discovered by Eumenes 11 (197-159 BC) of Pergamum. It remained the principal support for writing on until the advent of paper in the 12th century.
A method of painting or drawing with sticks of dry colour which have the minimum of binder; a reason why pastel pictures keep their bright fresh look almost indefinitely. The main danger for them is concussion, a sharp knock can cause particles of colour to fall off the paper. They are composed of pure pigment mixed with an inert filler such as kaolin with a minimal amount of gum tragacanth, casein or skimmed milk and are then formed into sticks by extrusion or a pressure mould. The technique was an evolution from early chalk-drawing. In the 18th century a number of French artists worked in the medium, including: Mauriee Quentin de La Tour (1704-88), Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779), Jean Etienne Liotard (1702-89), and Edgar Degas (1834-19I7) who exploited pastels to the full with his charming scenes from the ballet. Pastels should be used on a paper that has some 'tooth' to grip and hold the pigment particles. It can be manipulated with a brush, a fingertip or a tortillon. Fixing a pastel is debatable by some artists as the fixative is liable to change the tones and tints. See also Pastel Drawings.
The English word, the French equivalent, plume, and the German, Peder, originally meant a wing-feather. St Isidore of Seville in the 7th century writes about a quill-pen. The hand-cut quill, from birds such as geese, swans and turkeys, was the principal drawing instrument for use with ink until the 19th century. In 1809 Joseph Bramah patented a machine for cutting up a quill into separate nibs. In 1818 Charles Watt patented a process for gilding quills, which could be regarded as the forerunner of the gold nib. In 1822 Hawkins and Mordan patented a method for making nibs from horn and tortoise-shell, the points being made long lasting by attaching small pieces of diamond or ruby. Steel nibs of various trial types, successful and not, started to appear late in the 18th century and by the mid 19th had taken over. The earliest example of a metallic pen was found at Pompeii and is now in Naples Museum. Many Oriental artists have in the past and through till today used pens cut from thin bamboos. See also Pen and Ink Drawings.
Pencil (see Paint brushes)
Graphite wooden jacketed pencils as are known today date from the end of the 17th century when there was a prosperous British business in the north country and when, as Sir John Pettus commented, 'Black Lead ... is curiously formed into cases of Deal or Cedar, and so sold in Cases as dry Pencils.' On the Continent they were nicknamed crayons d' Angleterre. It was Nicolas Jacques Conte (1755-1805), the French inventor, who worked out the process of mixing a clay with the graphite to give a selective range of hard and soft pencils. An account of his inventions is given in Jomard's "Conte, sa vie et ses travaux" (1852). See Pencil Drawings.
A reappearance of a design, a drawing or a picture that has been painted over; It is a phenomenon particularly associated with oils. It is caused by the medium or vehicle with the overpainting acquiring a higher refractive index and thus becoming more transparent. Some of the paintings by the 17th century Dutchman De Hooch are prone to this condition. He over painted somewhat thinly, and black and white tiles can be seen ghosting through women's dresses and furniture and misty figures appear.
Prehistoric images and symbols created in order to express/communicate some idea or information.
Pigment in Paint
For details of lakes, glazes and other artist-colourants, see: Colour Pigments, History, Types.
A rapid rough sketch of a landscape executed out-of-doors from nature; generally it is the intention that it should act as a guide for working up a larger, more finished picture.
Portrait Art
Individual or group or self portraits. See also: Best Portrait Artists.
A technique of illusionistic painting, usually ceiling frescoes, that appears to push the confines of the room into imaginary space. Practitioners included Andrea Mantegna, Correggion, Pietro da Cortona, and Andrea Pozzo.
Italian for the 15th century. Usually used in connection with the fine arts in Italy (1400-1500).

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Religious Paintings
A term commonly used in a narrow sense to denote Christian icons, murals, altarpieces and illuminated manuscripts.
Rock Art
Includes cave painting and other Stone Age pictographs.

A broad-ended tool with a sharp-toothed curved base which is used to ground a mezzotint plate. It is so called because it is applied with a rocking motion.
A small-toothed wheel set in a handle that can be used for working on a metal plate. A second use is for helping to transfer a large cartoon to a wall, a canvas or a panel. The roulette is run along the main lines on the cartoon, laying a series of tiny holes. When the cartoon is placed in position the artist dabs along the lines with some powdered graphite or charcoal wrapped up in muslin.


(also termed: sand mosaic, sand altar, earth picture, ground-painting) A rather odd method of pictorial expression first practised by the North American Indians, especially the Navaho. The pictures are often up to 20 ft (6 m) across. They are prepared on the ground, sand being spread to a depth of about 13 mm, smoothed out and then various coloured sands are sprinkled on this surface to form symbolic patterns which are often used in magic and religious rites. Sand-painting does turn up in Tibet, Japan and with the Australian Aborigines.
A solid metal tool with a square or rounded end used for clearing out non-printing areas on a wood-block.
An etching and engraving tool, triangular in section, which is used to remove burrs or unwanted roughnesses, also to slightly lower areas for subtle grading.
A cardboard that is covered with plaster, white clay or chalk mixed with glue. It may be left white or black. It was introduced during the 19th century. The artist can work on it with nib-like scraperboard tools to simulate engraving; pen and ink may be also added. It is largely used for commercial work, as from it excellent line-blocks can be made.
The applying of an opaque or semi-opaque colour over an area of an oil-painting without completely obscuring the underpainting.
Derived from the Italian word for smoked. It is a well-controlled and subtle method for graduation of tone; it leaves a soft hazy effect. Leonardo used the manner most effectively with the 'Mona Lisa'.
Scratching or cutting through a layer of colour to expose the ground or support, or to bring up a second layer of colour underneath the last laid. The term was introduced by Otto von Falke in 1507.
A substance added to oil-colours to considerably hasten their speed of drying. Faster than driers, it is intended as an accelerating agent only, not as an equalizer across the whole palette.
A small picture, often a profile of a head, a whole figure or some simple scene. The name was in memory of Monsieur Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67), an unpopular French Minister of Finance, whose extreme parsimony suggested his name for this somewhat economic and rigid manner for expression.
A red-brown chalk employed for marking-out frescos.
Spider's web
Some painters have chosen strange materials to paint on, often regardless of permanency and suitability. One of the strangest examples is in Chester Cathedral, England, where there is a small religious picture painted on a woven material nude from spider's web.
(also termed: water-glass painting and mineral painting) A method introduced by Von Fuchs in 1825. Water-glass is used as a medium for the paints and is afterwards applied as a protective coating.
Still Life Painting
Arrangements of domestic objects, such as kitchen utensils, foods, flowers, plants and animals. See also: Best Still Life Painters.
Applying small dots of colour with the point of a brush, which is often held at right angles to the support. William Holman Hunt was one who experimented with the manner, as was also Georges Seurat when working in the Pointillist manner.
The wooden frame that is used to strain a canvas when preparing it for painting on. The four corners are mitred in such a way that wedges can be driven into them to increase the tension on the canvas.
Stretching pliers
Heavy pliers with a wide mouth for gripping the canvas when it is being stretched, and so assisting in giving an equal tension as the holding tacks are being driven into the stretcher frame.


A Polynesian word meaning bark-cloth. It is made by taking the barks of various trees, including breadfruit, fig, mulberry, etc. and pounding them together. The masters of making tapa are the natives of Oceania, although it is prepared in South America, Indonesia and tropical Africa. It is painted on but more often decorated by block-printing.
Broadly put this term implies using pigments which are mixed with substances such as; egg white, the whole egg, egg yolk, casein, glue and gelatine. In the specialized sense it means the true egg tempera where only the egg yolk is used. This is one of the most permanent media available to the artist.
Baroque painting technique employed by Caravaggio, Ribera, Georges De La Tour, Joseph Wright of Derby and other painters, in order to focus a spotlight on certain areas of a painting.
Woven fabrics that have been and are used for painting on include: linen and cotton canvas, cambric, silk, hessian, sailcloth, sacking and synthetics. They all call for some form of grounding. Generally this will consist of isolation of the fabric by sizing and then priming with an oil, glue or acrylic-bound primer. It is not certain why the painters of the Renaissance started to forsake panels for canvas. The trend may have started with the painting of banners and so-called Flemish cloths, substitute hangings for tapestry. Some of the Egyptian mummy portraits were done on a canvas and then glued to a board, a method that is called marouflage. Traces of early canvas-painting have been found in the Pre-Columbian art of South America. Theophilus records the use of canvas and the authoritative Pliny the Elder writes that Nero in a moment of excessive aggrandizement commissioned a portrait that was to be on canvas and to be 120 ft (36. 57 m) high.
A circular panel, plaque, relief or stretched canvas (from Latin rotundus: round).
A paper stump made of rolled-up blotting-paper or soft thick paper, which is used with pastel, chalk or charcoal for blending. It may also be used for mopping small areas with water-colour.
A binding agent made from Astragalus plants, used in watercolour paints and pastels.
Italian for the 14th century. Usually used in connection with the fine arts in Italy (1300-1400).
Trompe l'oeil
Illusionistic painting that deceives the eye. See also Quadratura and Op-Art.


Underwater painting
A technique has been evolved by Antonio de
Havo in 1977 for working submerged. He mixes his colours with oil, glycerine and wax, and paints on panels that have been waterproofed. Wearing a frogman's outfit he has worked at depths of up to 100 ft (30 m) in spells of 20 minutes. The sketches are then finished on the surface.
Valuable Painting
For a list of valuable pictures, see: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 10 and Most Expensive Paintings: Top 20.
Protective coatings for oil-paintings, tempera, acrylic, alkyd, gouache and water-colour. Varnishes may be made from natural or synthetic resins, with additions of natural or synthetic waxes to lower the gloss or induce a desired sheen. Desirable properties include, fairly quick drying, some plasticity, resistance to cracking, blooming and yellowing. The natural resin varnishes that have been used for centuries include: mastic, copal and dammar. In general the modern synthetic resin varnishes behave far better than the natural resins, not producing unpleasant optical appearances or impermanent features. The notorious 'gallery varnish', beloved by dealers and at times the Academy, was a brown deep copal which would impart to a picture a feeling of 'age and respectability' but at the same time make it almost unrecognizable. Johh Constable was one who suffered at the hands of those who liked to brush this disfiguring 'treacle' over paintings.
Venetian Painting
Lyrical, colourist style initiated by Giovanni Bellini, and developed by Giorgione, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto, exemplified by the awesome Venetian altarpieces of the 16th century. For the impact of Venice artists, see: Legacy of Venetian Painting on European art.


A painting made directly on a wall or a ceiling is termed a mural. The surface of the wall has to be carefully prepared so that the paints will have the maximum chance of adhering. For fresco-painting this implies special plastering. For oil-painting the wall will need to be thoroughly isolated and then given an adequate lead priming. For acrylics the surface should be treated with acrylic medium and water to consolidate the plaster. Large oil-paintings on canvas arc sometimes marouflaged (attached) on to walls using a variety of adhesives; the traditional one being white lead and oil, with sometimes a little dammar varnish to increase initial tackiness. Several of the modern synthetics have been used, although they may have the drawback that they are not reversible if it is necessary to move the painting.
The application of dilute water-colour to a support. The paper on the board should be at a slope of about ten degrees. Plenty of colour should be mixed up in a bowl and a large mop brush used. Start at the top and continue with horizontal strokes only just touching the paper. While the colour is still wet it may be bled into or wiped or mopped out with a dry brush, blotting-paper or a piece of rag.
Watercolour painting
In the purist sense this implies working only with transparent colours on white paper; attaining many of the colour mixes and tones by overpainting again and again; for example, yellow over blue, produces green. As with the term tempera, water-colour broadly includes such as: gouache, poster colours, show-card colours and designers' colours. If paper is the support for water-colour or allied techniques it should always be stretched to prevent buckling during the working of very wet passages.
Wetting agent
A liquid to be added in small amounts to water-colour to reduce the surface tension and thus increase the flow of the colours. Oxgall has been the traditional agent, but now synthetic preparations akin to detergents have been introduced.
Wooden panels
Up till the 15th century and the coming of canvas nearly all the portable paintings in Europe were executed on wooden panels. The Flemish and the French painters preferred oak, the Italians white poplar, the Germans pine. But all used the woods of other trees including: beech, cedar, chestnut, fir, larch, linden, mahogany, olive and walnut. Large panels would be made with several planks supported not only by gluing together but also with battens at the back or some system of cradling. All panels would have some form of grounding (see gesso) and isolation if they were to be used for oils. Tempera can be painted straight on to the gesso. As a side-look at economies for the early artists, it is interesting to note that during the restoration of the flood-damaged paintings in Florence, direct evidence came to light that some of the panels must have been made up with timbers that were worm-eaten at the time the pictures were painted.

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• For a general explanation of visual arts terminology, see: Art Glossary.
• For architectural terms, see: Architecture Glossary.
• For engraving, etching, lithography and woodcut, see: Printmaking Glossary.
• For art colours, pigments and lakes, see: Colour in Art Glossary.
• For styles, schools and periods of painting, sculpture and architecture, see: Art Movements glossary.

• For information about the terminology of painting, see: Homepage.

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