This is intended as a brief intro to the terms most commonly encountered in descriptions of art, particularly in contemporary art.

It is not intended to be exhaustive, and more comprehensive art glossaries and dictionaries are available. Some of our favourites are:

Any suggestions on better descriptions or terms that should be added are welcome.

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abstract / abstraction

Abstract art is concerned with the visual arrangement of shapes and colours with little to no reference to physical reality (in this way, it can be thought of as the opposite of representational art). Abstraction is the process of creating an image that is based on physical reality but is not intended to be fully representational, instead reflecting the artist’s perspective or style. In cases where the abstraction is slight, the viewer will be able to identify the objects or scene depicted, but often the change is so great, the link to physical reality is impossible to detect without having seen the artist’s process in arriving at the final image.

Abstract Expressionism

An artistic movement begun in the 1940s and 1950s that emphasized the visual outcome of the image, particularly the emotion it evoked, rather than its link to physical reality. Abstract Expressionists pushed abstraction farther than artists previous (or, put another way, they moved further away from strictly representational art). The images were often large, bold, and suggested movement.

acrylic paint

A paint consisting of pigment suspended in an acrylic emulsion. Acrylic paint can be diluted with water and may be combined with water, acrylic gels, mediums, or pastes to simulate watercolour or oil paint or have its own unique characteristics not attainable with other media.


From the Greek aesthetikos, “pertaining to beauty,” “aesthetic” in visual art now means one’s approach to visual images and what one finds to be beautiful.

airbrush / airbrushing

A painting technique that uses a small, accurate device to spray paint for a smooth, consistent finish.


A soft white substance consisting of gypsum or calcium sulphate hydrate used for carving sculpture. Historically the term was also used for a white translucent marble.


An artist’s intentional copying or reinterpretation of an image by another artist. If the appropriation is close to being a copy, the title of the work may reference the name of the artist whose work it is “after.” Less direct forms of appropriation, such as using of concepts or visual ideas, will not usually have such a designation.


Art intended to be permanent or to not show significant deterioration over time; materials known to not deteriorate over time, even when interacting with other materials. Archival art is made from archive-quality materials.

Art Nouveau

An art form that was manifested primarily in architecture and the decorative arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and consisted of flowing lines as found in flowers, trees, and other natural elements.

Arts and Crafts

A style and movement in the early to mid 20th century that highlighted the materials used and the skills of craftspeople and was often most powerful when in used in symmetry and repetition. Arts and Crafts influenced fine art but was most influential in architecture, furniture making, and other decorative arts.


Art created by assembling unconventional components and found materials. The work can be two-dimensional but is often three-dimensional.


Where the artist is not known but based on the artistic style, history of the piece, or other factors it is believed to be the work of a particular artist, to whom it is attributed.


The process of writing or creating art without conscious thought.


French for “advanced guard,” the avant-garde is a person, group or object that is on the leading edge of an idea or technique.



The area farthest away from the viewer; also the area behind the subject of the image. See also: foreground; middle ground


Begun in Italy at the end of the 16th and into the 17th century, Baroque painting and sculpture is characterized by heavy ornamentation intended to evoke drama and grandeur.


A carving or low-relief sculpture that is three-dimensional but has a shallow depth (the dimension from the background to the front portion of the sculptural objects). An image on the face of a coin is an example of a bas-relief.


The patterning of cloth using a dye-resistant wax; cloth patterned using this method.

Ben-Day dot

Benjamin Day invented a printing process in the late 19th century to create comic strips using dots in only black, red, yellow or blue. The method became a source of parody for the artists in the Pop art movement of the 1950s and 1960s.


A substance used to hold other components together. Binders are used in paint, for example, for pigment cohesion.


Abstract forms or designs that evoke associations with forms found in nature, such as plants or human anatomy.

biscuit / bisque

Ceramic art that has undergone firing in a kiln but has not been glazed.


An alloy metal used for the making of cast sculpture. Because it is composed largely of copper and tin, it is easier to work with than harder materials but still strong enough to self-support in large sculptures.



The cotton or linen woven cloth used as the surface or support for painting.


A satirized or comic abstraction of a person or thing with exaggerated features.


The use of a mold for sculptors to reproduce their work using a variety of materials.


Clay objects that have been fired in a kiln at high temperatures.


Charred wood of various gradients of hardness used for drawing.


An Italian word that means “light” (chiaro) and “dark” (scuro). The use of light and dark to create a visual balance and illusion of depth in an image, particularly when used around figures.


The hue and saturation but not the value (lightness or darkness) of a colour.

chromogenic colour print

A photographic print using three primary-colour (red, yellow, blue) silver salts to chemically render the image.


A natural product produced from hydrous aluminum silicates. In its moist state it is easily formed or sculpted but hardens when dried or fired in a kiln. Clay is used as the primary material in ceramics and also sculpted for casting in bronze.

cityscape / streetscape

An urban scene with buildings as a background or as the primary focus.

Classical art

The art and architecture, as well as decoration, literature, and culture of ancient Greece or Rome.


Art produced using paper or other fragments of material arranged and attached to a canvas or other support.


A grouping of several pieces of art, which may or may not share a theme or focus.


A substance or compound (such as dye, paint, etc.) that imparts a hue. In a broader context, colour is also the perceived hue of an object based on the light reflected into the eye. Colour has three components: hue, saturation, and value. See also: colour wheel

Colour Field paintings

Images with large blocks of colour and no representational elements.

colour theory

A set of theories regarding the perception of colour: A colour loses intensity when adjacent to other colours; A colour’s perceived value also changes based on the scale of the colour block and its relationship to adjacent colours; Mixing different colour components will alter the warmth/coolness and closeness/distance of a component in an image.

colour wheel

A continuous gradient of colours arranged in a circle like spokes on a wheel. The arrangement of the colours reflects their relationship to one another: primary colours (red, yellow, and blue, the colours from which all other colours are mixed) are equidistant from one another; the secondary colours (orange, green, and violet) sit between the colours from which they are mixed (so green is between yellow and blue); complementary colours sit on opposite sides of the colour wheel (green is opposite red, for example).


To contract for the production of a piece of art exclusively for the person who has contracted its production from the artist.

complementary colours

Colours located opposite each other on the colour wheel. Purple is the complement to yellow; green is the complement to red; orange complements blue.


The arrangement or structure of the components of an image (usually a subject, a background, and a foreground) and the relationships created by the various components.

Conceptual art

Idea-based images in contrast to representational images.

conservation / conservator

The preservation or repair of art works so they will not deteriorate over time; a person charged with preserving or repairing art works.


An artistic result of the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century, Constructivism attempted to make art more understandable and relevant to the everyday person.

contemporary / Contemporary art

Literally “the art of current times”; in art historical terms, “contemporary” has also has come to mean that period of art-making that followed Modern art. With reference to style, “contemporary” means a style that pushes art to its current point (what in an earlier time might have been called avant-guard).


The principal components of work of art, both visually and conceptually.


The broader circumstances of the artist’s time, attitude, and perspective in creating the work.


The range of light to dark components within a piece of art. An image with a significant change in tone from light to dark is high contrast.

cool colours

From colour theory, the portion of the colour wheel dominated by blue that covers the green to violet range. In contrast to warm colours, which often appear to dominate, advance, or be the active portion of an image, cool colours will recede, and be more calming.


A sculpture technique where the artist pours a molten material into cold water. The molten material then hardens in forms only partially dictated by the artist.


The selection of a portion of an image, usually a photograph or digital image on a computer, to be used as the final image with the remainder removed.


A style and movement from the early 20th century initiated by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in which representational images are fragmented into geometric pieces used to create new compositions.


The person who researches, manages, organizes, and selects work for art collections or exhibitions.



An art work with two complementary components, historically hinged together. See also: triptych

direct positive

A photographic term for the creation of a positive image (a replication of the original scene photographed) by direct exposure to light without the use of a negative as an interim step.


Both the act of producing and the final result of creating lines on a surface using a variety of materials such as ink, wax, chalk, charcoal, pastel sticks, or crayons.


Drybrush (or “dragging” when used with oil paint) is a painting technique in which a slightly moist brush is held very flat to the surface to be painted, creating an imprecise or mottled stroke of colour.


An intaglio printmaking process in which a needle is used to scratch lines in the surface of a metal plate. The drypoint line has a characteristic soft effect.


A translucent coloured liquid with a chemical composition that allows it to penetrate porous surfaces for the purpose of adding colour to that surface or material, in contrast to paint, which adheres to a surface.


egg tempera

A fast-drying and durable paint emulsion using egg yolk as the binder, mixed with oil, distilled water, and colour pigment.


In any form of art that can be duplicated (such as sculpture, printmaking, and photography), “edition” refers to the number of copies authorized by the artist and individually the number of the work in that edition, expressed, for example, as “No.7 of 100 copies.” A limited edition defines that there is only one edition produced and it has a finite denominator.


The face of a surface, usually a building or other structure, or the scale drawing of that surface.


A relief technique by which a surface is shaped by crushing it between a pair of matching dies in a press.


The use of a needle to pierce fabric or other material with thread or yarn in repeated actions to create a design.


A mixture of two or more liquids that do not blend together naturally (such as oil, water, and varnish) mixed with an emulsifier (for example, egg yolk) to create a thicker liquid or paste.


Industrial glossy paints that combine pigments with varnish-and-oil mixtures. They are unsuitable for permanent painting. See also: finish


A medium that uses pigment combined with molten wax, which is painted or otherwise applied to a surface and fused by the application of heat.


A printmaking technique in which a burin or graver is used to scratch lines into a hard surface, such as metal or wood, to create a printed image.


A photographic print that is larger than its original negative.


A component of printmaking involving drawing with a fine steel point on a metal plate treated with a wax or varnish that is acid-resistant. The lines cut through the wax, exposing the underlying metal. The surface is then immersed in an acid bath, which bites out the exposed lines. The finished metal plate is inked and put through a printing press.


A movement that began at the beginning of the 20th century, especially in Germany and Austria, that spanned art, architecture, literature, and performance and favoured the expression of subjective emotions over objective realistic representations.



Powerful, bold brush strokes and vibrant colours used to create a style of painting that is more wild than representational, deriving its name from les Fauves (French for “wild beasts”). Fauvism is especially associated with Henri Matisse and André Derain in the early 20th century.


A representation of a form or figure as it exists in physical reality. “Figurative art” is another term for “representational art.”

film (photographic)

Photographic film is a strip or sheet of transparent plastic coated on one side with a silver gelatin emulsion, making it light-sensitive. When exposed to light (as through a camera), the film will darken. The final darkness of the film depends on the sensitivity of the film, the amount of time it was exposed to the light, and the strength of the light itself. The image left on the exposed film is the reverse image of the scene it captures. See also: negative

fine art

A term used to distinguish art produced for purely aesthetic purposes from the more practical decorative arts, or to distinguish it as a more refined and difficult art form (to distinguish it from Folk art, for example).


The surface texture of a piece of art (for example, rough or high gloss) or the top surface material used. See also: enamel; glaze; lacquer; varnish


High heat from an open fire or more often a kiln is used to harden clay permanently and to fuse enamel to the surface of ceramics and sculpture.

Folk art

The work of artists who have not been trained in an academy and use materials at hand and simple techniques in a style that represents their local surroundings.


The front or closest portion of an image to the viewer. See also: background; middle ground


The heating of metal over a fire or forge to soften it, which to allows the metal to be formed into shapes using tools such as hammers and clamps.

found object

An object not intended as an art material that has been repurposed by an artist as art.


A facility for producing metal castings, a process in which hot metal is poured into a mold and then removed after the metal has cooled.

frame / framing

The decorative or protective outer border of a picture.


From the Italian word for “fresh,” “fresco” originally meant a technique for outdoor mural painting in which pigments are added directly to the wet plaster on a wall. The term has now come to mean mural painting using a variety of materials and techniques.

frottage / rubbing

A technique to make impressions of a texture or relief by laying paper or canvas over it and rubbing with charcoal or crayon or rolling with paint.


Begun in the early 20th century, this Italian movement in art and literature celebrated the speed, motion, and strength of the mechanized world.


gelatin silver print

A black and white image produced when paper made light-sensitive by the use of a gelatin silver emulsion is exposed to light. The technique is most commonly associated with photography.


A classification or category of art practice that shares a common medium or technique or that addresses similar content.


Curved or straight lines reminiscent of those used in geometry and often involving symmetry and repetition.


A liquid consisting of water mixed with finely ground gypsum or chalk that is applied to a support to prepare it as an absorbent, brilliantly white surface for painting.


From German for “form,” this word is used to conceptually describe a viewer’s own interpretation or reworking of what they see before them.


From the French, meaning to “splash,” it is now used to describe the creation of printed copies of art, often on canvas, from a photographic reproduction of the original.

gilded / gilding, gilting

The covering of a surface with a thin layer of metal (metal leaf), often gold or silver.


Glass is a substance created by heating a mixture of various components (usually silicon dioxide, sodium oxide, and lime) in a furnace to very high temperatures (approximately 1,300 degrees Celsius) to transform it to a molten form so the glass artist can manipulate it in different ways. See also: glass-blowing


The art of forming a ball of molten glass then injecting air into this glass bubble through a metal blowpipe and manipulating it with various tools to create shapes and details as the glass cools and hardens. A person who blows glass is called a glassblower, glassmith, or gaffer.

glaze / glazing

In painting, a glaze is a thin, transparent paint colour applied over areas of a dried painted surface to alter the colour. In ceramics, glaze is a glasslike coating applied to seal and often colour. It is fused to the piece in a kiln. See also: finish

gold leaf

Paper-thin strips of gold for use in gilding.


A type of watercolour paint that contains more pigment than conventional watercolours, resulting in an opaque paint.

graffiti / street art

“Scratches” in Italian, graffiti or street art is produced on walls and other surfaces using various mediums, including spray paint, exterior paint, and chalk, and ranges from stencils and abstractions to realistic murals.

graphite / pencil

A soft black carbon encased in a pencil, graphite produces a higher gloss of image than lead pencil.


Monochromatic shades of grey.


handmade paper

In contrast to most commercially produced paper, handmade papers often utilize a broader range of materials for the pulp, such as linen, cotton rags, and mulberry bark. As a result, each sheet of paper is unique.

hard-edge painting

Paintings in which the edges between shapes are sharp rather than blurred.


The use of parallel lines set far or near one another to create effects of tone or variations in light and dark when viewed from a distance.

horizon line

A line used in representational landscape art that indicates where the earth (water or land) meets the sky.


The shade of a colour (for example, “blue” or “green”). It is one of several terms used to describe colour. See also: colour wheel



The practice of challenging established beliefs, assumptions, or institutions.


The use of symbolic meanings for subject matter in art.


From the Italian word for “paste,” a technique using a brush or palette knife to apply a thick layer of paint so the texture and dimension of the paint itself is part of the image.


A 19th-century art movement that emphasized the changing qualities of light.

ink / ink drawing

Black or coloured pigments in liquid or paste for drawing, writing, and printmaking.

in situ

A term originally meaning art created on location to depict a scene or landscape as it would appear if standing at that site, it has come to also mean art produced for a specific site, such as a sculpture designed for particular building entry.


Originally a term to describe the hanging of artwork for an art show or exhibition, the term now also includes site-specific work made of many components set up in a location where the environment is an essential part of the artist’s message.


A printmaking method in which an acid-resistant ground, such as wax, is applied to a metal surface. The artist then carves an image into the ground using a variety of tools and then exposes the plate to acid, resulting in the metal deteriorating where it is exposed. After the plate is cleaned, the surface may be used for making prints with ink.


The amount of purity or brilliance of a colour.

Inuit art

Art produced by the Inuit, the aboriginal people of the Canadian Arctic, in mediums traditional to Inuit culture—such as stone, antler, and whalebone—as well as other mediums, including stone-cut prints, stencils, graphite, ink, and coloured pencil. Inuit art is often representational two or three-dimensional pieces that are narrative or illustrative in nature.



A specifically designed oven, usually lined with brick or stone, used for heating or “firing” products such as clay or glass for the purpose of either drying the wet product as a final stage or softening the hard product to then mold or manipulate its shape.

kinetic sculpture

A sculpture with movement as a critical component.



A top or finishing coat, whether transparent or coloured, to protect the surface or to change its texture.


In nature, landscape is the topography or shape of the land, and in art the term is used as a general description of a representational image with landforms or natural scenery. In photography and digital imagery it is also a reference to an image with a horizontal format (where the image width is greater than its height).

limited edition

The limit to the edition or number of copies an artist produces before “retiring” the source for the work (such as a negative or mold). Historically the retiring would involve destroying the source, but today it often means the source is not used again but has not been destroyed in case restoration work or replacement is required in the future.


A printmaking technique in which an image is drawn on a lithographic stone or other medium using a greasy crayon. The stone is then wetted with water; the grease from the crayon repels the water and remains dry. Ink is applied with a roller and adheres to the drawing only. The print is made by pressing paper against the inked drawing.

Lumiere Technology (LT) camera

An invention of Pascal Cotte, the LT camera is a digitization tool that is able to segment the production of a painting from first brush strokes through the final layers and stages and is used for authentication and restoration purposes.

luminous / luminosity

An effect that simulates light or a glow emitting from the art.


magic realism

A painting genre in which realistic representations of objects are arranged in unlikely arrangements that could not naturally exist.


A preliminary piece, usually smaller than the planned finished piece, for use for approval from a client or as a model for the completion of the larger piece.


A panel of pressed refined pulp that has a consistent, smooth surface. Masonite is used primarily as building material but it is also used in art as a support.


  1. A term used to describe both the materials used in a piece of art, and more generally a categorization of the art type, such as “oil on canvas” or “stone sculpture.”
  2. In painting, a liquid or paste that employs a component (such as egg yolk) that becomes insoluble when dry so that the underlying colour is not picked up by overpainting. Mediums can also be mixed with paint to change the paint’s characteristics (to make it more translucent, for example, or to give it a matte finish).


Metal is a broad category for solid material that may occur in a very organic form, such as nickel, but more often is a compound or alloy of various components, some organic and some not. Metals may be soft, such as tin or lead, or hard, such as steel. When metals are heated they become soft and may be manipulated into different forms. While most are good electrical conductors, some metals, particularly alloys, are not. The come in a range of finishes and are usually not very porous.


The manipulation of metals into different shapes or forms.

middle ground

The section of an image between the foreground and the background.


An art form and movement begun in the 1960s that stripped away representation and ornamentation to get to a simple form, in some cases simply a single colour.

mixed media

The combining of several art mediums in one work of art.

Modern art / Modernism

In art the term “modern” refers not to current times (see Contemporary art) but to a specific period of art produced during the 20th century to the end of the1960s involving a variety of ideas that were avant-garde for their time and included non-representational styles and a move towards abstraction.


A three-dimensional object used to recreate other three-dimensional objects by duplicating their shape. The mold is usually created by pouring a soft material over an object and then removing it from that object to recreate the shape. When soft material, such as plaster, is placed in the mold and let to harden it will duplicate the original object’s shape.


An art work entirely in a single colour.


A perceived sense of emotion in an art work.


A collection of objects (especially tile or glass) arranged by colour to create a design or image.


A distinguishing and recurring component in a composition.


A large image painted directly on a wall or other surface.



A representational depiction or visual account of an event.

negative (photographic)

In photography, a light-sensitive surface material (usually plastic film) that has been exposed to light and processed to produce an image that is a tonal reverse of the original scene photographed. The negative is then used to expose light-sensitive material, usually photographic paper, resulting in the final image being a positive image, resembling the original scene that was photographed.

negative space

The remaining space in an image that is around the subject of the composition.

neon sculpture

The use of hot molded tubes filled with neon gas and then used in a work of art.


Neutral is the absence of hue, as in black, white, or grey.

new media

Art created at least in part on the computer or using digital technologies.



French for “work,” “oeuvre” has come to mean an artist’s body of work, usually over an extended time.

oil paint

The combination of a colour pigment with one of several types of oil as a binder to create a paste that dries slowly, allowing an artist time to change the work when creating the image.


Does not allow light or undersurface colours to show through.

Optical art (Op art)

Art that involves an optical illusion created through the use of shapes, lines, and colour interactions that the eye interprets as movement.


The embellishment of an object with additional details or adornments.


In contrast to underpainting, which sets the overall form of an image, overpainting is the subsequent layers and details added to the image.



A combination of colour pigment with some form of water or oil for binder.


Originally this term referred to the surface on which artists used to mix their colours but with time it has also come to mean the range of colours in a particular piece of art or the series of colours an artist frequently uses in their work.

palette knife

A flexible blade manufactured in various widths that is attached to a handle and used for mixing and also applying paint colours directly to a surface.


A rigid or semi-rigid support, usually made of wood, but sometimes metal or another material, used as a painting surface. Panels have the advantage of being stronger than canvas and may be cut in a variety of shapes and configurations.


A very wide view of a landscape, often one that is wider than what would be visible to the eye were one standing in that landscape.


Paper sheets are used for drawing and painting and consist of plant fibres, pulped linen, cotton rags, or wood chips that are crushed to a pulp and then pressed and dried across a wire-mesh screen


A collage technique involving papers that have been cut and pasted together.


French for “chewed-up paper,” a technique using a soft mixture of wet paper pieces and glue or plaster (as a binder) as a compound for forming sculptures.

parchment / vellum

Similar to paper in look, parchment is created from thinly stretched goat, sheep, or calf skin. Vellum is a specific type consisting of thinly stretched calfskin.


The secondary component to the main subject of a composition.


Art that imitates another work, often in a satirical way.

pastel / pastel painting

Pastel sticks are powdered pigment mixed with a water-based gum or oil binder. Depending on the type of binder used, some pastel sticks can be mixed while others require pre-set colour ranges. In order to adhere to a support, they are used directly on a textured surface or canvas. Some pastel painting can be blended with fingers or tools while others are “mixed” by layering colour marks beside each other, which the eye interprets as mixed colour.


A crust that forms on bronze and copper after the weathering and oxidization of the metal. The colour of the patina will range from black-brown to green with green or verdigris being most common.


A set of elements in a composition that repeat in some form.

performance art

Beginning in the 1960s this term describes art that exists in live performance only.


Art techniques used to illustrate volume and spatial relationship such as representing a three-dimensional scene and distance on a flat surface.


In collage work the use of cut and pasted photographic images.


A photographic print created by exposing light-sensitive (photographic) paper to light with various objects placed on the paper to reduce the exposure in those areas.


From the Greek “photos” (light) and “graphos” (drawing), photography is a the use of various reproduction equipment, typically cameras, to record light for the purpose of later recreating the scene photographed. Historically this has occurred using a lens and camera to hold plastic film later processed as a negative and then used to create a positive on light-sensitive paper. Today the more common technique uses an image sensor to create an electrical charge in very small areas, or pixels, and then organizes the collection of pixels to reproduce the image electronically.


A genre of representational painting in which the level of detail and accuracy is so great, the painting appears to be a photograph.


A simplified picture representing an object, such as a person or a horse. A pictograph is a symbolic representation of an object that retains some visual similarity to the object it represents, though the same is not true of all symbols.


A substance, originally created from natural products but increasingly using man-made products, that has a colour and when added to a binder (such as water, oil or other fluids), transforms the appearance of the compound, whether it is to be used in a liquid form, such as paint, or in more a solid form, such as pastel crayons.


A white powder made from limestone (if fine) or limestone and fine sand (if course) used for spreading on a flat surface for murals, sculpting into three-dimensional forms, or the as a mold for making reproductions of other sculptures.


A painting technique using very small distinct points of colour, whether strokes or dots, which when viewed from a distance blend to create the illusion of an image, shading, etc.

Pop art

From “popular,” this art movement, which began in the 1950s, uses everyday images or objects, often consumer products, as the subject.


An image of a person, historically in a posed, formal position.


The positioning of the subject of the image, often a live figure, such as person.

positive (photographic)

A photographic term for images produced from the use of a negative image to a surface such as photographic paper. The positive image replicates the original scene photographed.

positive space

The space in a painting dedicated to the subject of the image.


A period and style in art that came after, and in response to Modern Art, pulling back from abstraction and Conceptual art and returning to some element of realism.

primary colour

Three base colours—blue, red, and yellow—make up the primary colours. All other colours are some combination of two or more of these colours.


The act of producing, or the end product of, a variety of printmaking techniques starting with an original image on stone, screen, woodblock, or metal (see etching; intaglio) that is reproduced on paper or another surface multiple times. The total number of images produced is an edition.


Printmaking is the art of reproducing an original using one of several techniques (see etching; intaglio; lithography; screenprinting; woodcut) usually on paper but often on fabric or other materials.


An image in which the subject, often a human head, is viewed from the side.


The relationship of the various parts to each other, such as width and height in a painting.

public art

Art of any form, but often sculpture, displayed in public spaces.



The relationship between two elements or objects expressed as the number of units the first contains of the second. For example, a compound with two parts oil to one part pigment would be expressed as 2:1.


Some element in a work that is representational in its depiction of an object or scene.


In science, refraction refers to the bending of light as it passes between mediums of varying density and the resulting change in intensity or light. In art, the term is stretched to describe the effect on the eye where in varying conditions the presence of the same colour or material can appear different.


Relief is a type of sculpture in which the subject of the image extends from the background surface. In contrast to three-dimensional sculpture, which may be viewed from each side, relief always has one side which is attached to the background material.


A representational image, often done to scale and executed in perspective of a structure.


A visual depiction of an object or scene.

representational art

Art that depicts forms as they exist in the natural world.


An exhibition of an artist’s body of work usually showing the chronological progression of the artist’s style.

rubbing / frottage

A technique to make impressions of a texture or relief by laying paper or canvas over it and rubbing with charcoal or crayon or rolling with paint.


salon hanging

An art exhibition display technique using the entire wall space of the exhibition, often from floor to ceiling, with a goal of showing as many works, or as many works together, as possible, or both.

saturation (colour)

The depth or density of a colour relative to grey; the colourfulness of a colour relative to its own brightness.


The ratio of the size of a model or rendering to the object or scene it depicts, such as a rendering of a building being .25 of an inch (for the rendering) to one foot (for the size of a wall, for example).

screenprinting / silkscreen or serigraph

A printmaking technique that uses a screen made of silk that has been treated with a non-porous material that leaves an image on the exposed portions of the screen. Ink is then forced through the screen with a squeegee, creating a positive image on the surface below. Screenprinting and silkscreen are often used in commercial applications and often start with a photograph and end with a commercial printing machine. Serigraphs, by contrast, are produced by the artist from the original work on the screen through to production of each piece, leading to a general view of screenprinting and silkscreening as commercial reproduction techniques and serigraphy as a fine art technique.


A three-dimensional work of art.

secondary colour

A colour produced by mixing two primary colours. For example, green is a secondary colour produced by mixing the primary colours yellow and blue.


A visual representation of the artist produced by the artist.


A colour mixed with black. The colour is darkened. See also: tint; tone


A photographic device that opens and closes the aperture (opening) of a camera lens to allow light to expose the film.


Art produced for a specific location. See also: in situ


A substance that can dissolve another material. Solvents are commonly used in art to thin paint.


When paint has been thinned with a significant amount of solvent, the canvas absorbs the paint; the paint stains the canvas instead of adhering to its surface.


An impervious material cut with images or designs that when placed on a prepared surface (such as textile, paper, or wall) and spread with ink or paint, does not allow the deposit of colour to the material beneath.

still life

Representational art depicting inanimate objects.


Rock that is used for carving. Stone ranges in softness and texture.

street art / graffiti

“Scratches” in Italian, graffiti or street art is produced on walls and other surfaces using various mediums, including spray paint, exterior paint, and chalk, and ranges from stencils and abstractions to realistic murals.


The combination of technique, materials, and content that in total produce a type of art that may be distinguished from other art.


The mental processes that occurs below the level of a person’s perception or control. Surrealists often work from dream images, which are considered an aspect of the subconscious.

subject matter

The content or narrative elements of an art work.


Something possessing a quality of such greatness it is beyond the measures of the perceiver. The sublime is often associated with the experience of awe, such as a person might experience when perceiving a mountain landscape, for example.


The surface, such as canvas, paper, or wood panel, an artist uses to create two-dimensional works.


A literary, intellectual and artistic style from the early 20th century emphasizing dreams or fantasies combined with spontaneous methods of representing the imagery and unexpected or unrelated objects in one painting as they might appear in a dream. Surrealists draw heavily on notions of the subconscious and as such, may use techniques such as automatism.


A simplified design that represents a larger concept, such as in idea, emotion, or perspective.



A weaving technique using crosswise yarns to create patterns or representational images.


Skills applied in a way that may be duplicated to produce similar results each time.


Paint that employs a medium, such as milk or egg, that may be diluted with water and upon drying becomes insoluble such that pigment is not picked up by overpainting.


In painting, any colour with white added. The colour is lightened. See also: shade; tone


A painting or bas-relief sculpture in a circular shape.


Any colour with both black and white (which is grey) added. The colour is greyed down.


Allowing the passage of light.


A collection of three related pieces of art, often hinged together. See also: diptych

trompe l’oeil

From the French for “deception of the eye,” representational painting that gives the illusion of reality and often uses perspective techniques to suggest depth in a two-dimensional painting or mural.

turpentine burn

A turpentine burn is made by soaking a rag in solvent and scrubbing the canvas directly. This technique re-dissolves the paints on the surface.


The craft of arranging type (letters, numbers, and punctuation marks) to be printed.



In painting, the initial layer of paint on a ground that is intended to be painted over in a method of working in layers. The colour is often but not always a monochrome base for composition. See also: overpainting


value (colour)

Value is the tone or lightness of a colour.

vanishing point

In linear perspective, the point on the horizon line where receding parallel lines appear to converge.

vantage point

The place from which a selected scene or situation is viewed.


In painting, a liquid that is brushed or sprayed on a solid surface that dries to a transparent film that serves as a protective coating. Depending on the mixture, the degree of shine can range from matte to glossy. See also: finish

vellum / parchment

Similar to paper in look, parchment is created from thinly stretched goat, sheep, or calf skin. Vellum is a specific type consisting of thinly stretched calfskin.

vernacular art

A genre of art and outdoor constructions made by untrained artists who do not recognize themselves as artists.

vernacular photography

The images made by amateur, unknown, or hobby photographers that capture everyday life and common things such as vacation and family photos and class portraits.


The fluidity or density of a liquid or paste. In painting, the viscosity of oil and acrylic paints is altered by adding oil, water, solvents, or mediums.


warm colours

From colour theory, the portion of the colour wheel dominated by red and yellow and that includes some browns that generate a sense of warmth. Warm colours appear to dominate, advance, or be more active in an image. See also: cool colours


A diluted ink or paint used to provide a thin layer of colour that is translucent.


“Watercolour” refers to a type of paint, a medium consisting of water and a water-soluble pigment, and the resulting artwork using this type of paint.


A process in metalworking in which two pieces of metal are heated to the point where each is at a melting point and then pressing them together to form a joint.


A printmaking technique in which a relief cutting in wood is rolled with ink or paint and stamped or pressed to another surface, leaving an image where the block was not cut or textured.