Art Terms



The characteristic of a painting surface which allows it to absorb moisture or paint. In watercolor paper this would often be based on the rag (cotton) content of the paper and the surface sizing.

Abstract Art

Art forms that are altered significantly from their appearance in the natural world. Although derived from recognizable natural objects, the appearance may seem distorted. The forms are changed in order to emphasize the elements of line, color, shape, texture, and value to create an emotional response in the viewer. Abstract paintings must be looked at with the thought of “how does it make me feel” rather than the literal “What is it?”


This is a term generally applied to traditions established in academies and universities. It also refers to any art form which is developed using set standards and rules. Today there is becoming a greater disparity in the teaching methods used by universities and private academies.


Relates to value or variations in light and dark. No consideration is given ot the other two properties of color which are hue and intensity (chroma.)

Acid Free Paper

Acid free paper contains a neutral pH, which prevents it from darkening with age. Sometimes referred to as “archival paper,” most limited edition prints and watercolors use this type of paper.


Acrylic paint is made by floating various pigments in a synthetic plastic binder. Acrylics are unique in that they are water-soluble when wet, but become hard and insoluble when fully dry. Although acrylics were invented in the 1930s, they really came into their own and were further developed for fine art painting in the 1950s through 1970s. Because of its fluidity, acrylic paint can be easily used in the same manner as watercolor, but does not need to be covered by glass when framed. However it can also be applied impasto to create rich thick textures common to oil paintings.

Additive Color

Color created by superimposing light rays. The three primaries are red blue and green, which combine to form pure white. The secondaries then are cyan, yellow, and magenta.This is the color method used by scanners and for computer screens, and is also known as RGB (Red, Green, Blue.)

Adjacent Colors

Those colors which are positioned closest to one another on the standard color wheel. This term also refers to any two colors located next to each other in a painting. See “simultaneous contrast.”

Advancing Colors

Warmer hues such as yellow, orange, and red, give the visual appearance of “advancing” towards the viewer in a picture plane. Cool colors tend to receed.

Aerial Perspective

Sometimes referred to as Atmospheric Perspective, this term refers to the effect created by moisture in the air and how it affects our perception of objects in the distance. Due to atmospheric conditions objects further away from the viewer appear lighter in value, less detailed, cooler in temperature, and duller (or grayer) in intensity. Landscape painters can use this effect to create the illusion of space and depth on a two-dimensional surface.

Alla Prima

Alla Prima is an italian phrase meaning “at the first.” In art it refers to a painting technique in which the painting is completed wet in wet in one sitting with no underpainting, or build up of glazes. This style was used widely by the impressionist painters and is popular with today’s plein air painters.

Amorphous shape

A shape which has no distinct form, or certain dimensions. In art an amorphous shape would be opposed to geometric shapes. The term is commonly used in art to define shapes which mimic the naturally developed curves found in living organisms

Analogous Colors

Colors which are very closely related in hue, either near each other or adjacent to one another on the color wheel.

Applied Art

Applied Art is a term for the design or decoration of functional objects so as to make them aesthetically pleasing. It is used in distinction to fine art, although there is often no clear dividing line between the two terms.


An engraving method related to etching but producing finely granulated tonal areas rather than lines. The term applies also to a print made by this method. There are several variants of the technique, but in essence the process is as follows. A metal plate is sprinkled with acid-resistant varnish, which is fused to the plate by heating, and when the plate is immersed in an acid bath the acid bites between the tiny particles of resin and produces an evenly granulated surface. The design is created by drawing on the plate with add-resistant varnish, and great variety of tone can be obtained by immersing in acid and varnishing in turn (the longer the add bites, the darker the tone). Aquatint was invented around the middle of the 18th century, and in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was highly popular in England for reproducing watercolours (colour could be added by hand or by using several plates with different coloured inks). It has also been used as an original creative medium (sometimes in conjunction with other graphic techniques) by many distinguished artists, including Goya, Degas, Picasso, and Rouault. Courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.

Arches Paper

Arches or D’Arches is a specific brand of high quality artists paper. It is one of the most popular watercolor papers and comes in various weights and surface textures.


Art, in its broadest meaning, is the expression of creativity or imagination, or both. Throughout the written history of mankind, various constrictions have been applied to the broad concept. Most individuals know what they consider to be art, and what they believe is not art. Additionally, groups, such as academia, have a vaguely shared notion of what is, or is not, art. The word art is often used to refer to the visual arts and arts is used to refer to visual art, literature, music, dance — the fine arts. However, such distinctions are the subject of many discussions and debates. Art seems to be almost universal throughout the human race — integral to the human condition. There are no cultures that do not participate in it to some extent, and child art is created by all from about the first birthday.

Art Board

A specialized type of painting surface consisting of high quality artists paper which is permanently mounted to a stiff cardboard. Paintings and drawings done on this type of board will not warp or bend, and pastels will not shake off due to bending as in regular paper.


Without symmetry. Meaning a shape or design which is not identical on either side of a vertical or horizontal axis. Assymetrical shapes convey motion, while symmetrical shapes remain static.


ASTM is the acronym for the American Society for Testing and Materials. ASTM is a nationally recognized independent group that establishes standards and testing methods by which many products and materials are rated. ASTM’s established standards are widely used in rating quality and permanency of pigments and paints used by artists.

Atmospheric Perspective

Sometimes referred to as Aerial Perspective, this term refers to the effect created by moisture in the air and how it affects our perception of objects in the distance. Due to atmospheric conditions objects further away from the viewer appear lighter in value, less detailed, cooler in temperature, and duller (or grayer) in intensity. Landscape painters can use this effect to create the illusion of space and depth on a two-dimensional surface.


Back Runs

Many watercolor artists refer to these as “oozles” or back washes. Back runs occur when a fresh brushload of wet paint hits a still damp wash. The wet paint forces the original wash into an irregular, cauliflower-like pattern caused by the pigment floating to the new edge. Unless planned for, back runs create challenges for watercolorists. This effect can be avoided entirely by allowing washes to completely dry before applying new paint. Alternately the entire surface can be re-wetted and this problem will be avoided.

Back Wash

An unusual cauliflower shape created when fresh watercolor paint is added to a still-damp wash. See “Back run” for complete description.


A sense of equilibrium or unity established in artwork by distribution of art elements (line, shape, texture, value, color) according to various art principles. In many artists this is an intuitive rather than a studied procedure.


The period in art history from about 1600 to about 1750. In this sense the term covers a wide range of styles and artists. In painting and sculpture there were three main forms of Baroque: (1) sumptuous display, a style associated with the Catholic Counter Reformation and the absolutist courts of Europe (Bernini, Rubens); (2) dramatic realism (Caravaggio); and (3) everyday realism, a development seen in particular in Holland (Rembrandt, Vermeer). In architecture, there was an emphasis on expressiveness and grandeur, achieved through scale, the dramatic use of light and shadow, and increasingly elaborate decoration. In a more limited sense the term Baroque often refers to the first of these categories. The development of the Baroque reflects the period’s religious tensions (Catholic versus Protestant); a new and more expansive world view based on science and exploration; and the growth of absolutist monarchies. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


In paints, this is the substance that holds or “binds” pigment particles together and allows them to bond to a painting surface. In watercolors this material is water-soluble gum.

Biomorphic Forms

Forms which have irregular contours resembling the freely developed forms of living organisms.


In watercolor this term applies to the movement of pigment through a water wash to create a “wet in wet” effect. It also applies to the migration of pigment through any painting surface.


A type of fan brush used to soften edges or blend colors and tones.


Blending is the visual effect of a smooth gradual transition from dark to light, or from color to color. In watercolor this is most easily achieved through the addition of clear water to a wash.

Blocking In

This is a term sometimes used to describe the technique of laying down large broad washes of color, usually to describe the beginning stages of a painting.


A technique used to remove excess moisture from paper, paint, or a wash. Any absorbent material such as a squeezed out brush, paper towel, or tissue can pick up the dampness. Blotting is often used to pick out very fine details or to lighten large areas. Watercolorists should be extremely careful using this technique as extremely hard edges can be formed, which draw attention to themselves, distrupting the unity of a painting. I always have a towel (blotter) next to my water can to draw excess water from by brushes.

Bristle Brushes

Bristle brushes are made of hog hair and are stiff enough to push around large quantities of thick oil paint on a canvas surface.

Byzantine art

The art ofthe Byzantine Empire, which had its capital in Constantinople (Byzantium), from the 5th century to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Based largely on Roman and Greek art, Byzantine art also absorbed a wide of influences, notable from Syria and Egypt. Byzantine art was essentially a spiritual and religious art, its forms highly stylized, hieratic and unchanging (central images were thought to derive from original portraits). It also served to glorify the emperor. Among its most distinctive products were icons, mosaics, manuscript illuminations, and work in precious metals. The strong influence of the Byzantine style on medieval Italian painting can be seen in the works of Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.



An elegant, decorative method of lettering or handwriting using differences in line character, width, and expressiveness. These same kinds of flowing rythmical lines found in artworks are also referred to as calligraphic lines.

Camera Obscura

Ancestor of the photographic camera. The Latin name means “dark chamber,” and the earliest versions, dating to antiquity, consisted of small darkened rooms with light admitted through a single tiny hole. The result was that an inverted image of the outside scene was cast on the opposite wall, which was usually whitened. For centuries the technique was used for viewing eclipses of the Sun without endangering the eyes and, by the 16th century, as an aid to drawing; the subject was posed outside and the image reflected on a piece of drawing paper for the artist to trace. Portable versions were built, followed by smaller and even pocket models; the interior of the box was painted black and the image reflected by an angled mirror so that it could be viewed right side up. The introduction of a light-sensitive plate by J.-N. Niepce created photography. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


A woven cloth used as a support for painting. The best-quality canvas is made of linen; other materials used are cotton, hemp, and jute. It is now so familiar a material that the word ‘canvas’ has become almost a synonym for an oil painting, but it was not until around 1500 that it began to rival the wooden panel (which was more expensive and took longer to prepare) as the standard support for movable paintings (the transition came later in Northern Europe than in Italy). Canvas is not suitable for painting on until it has been coated with a ground, which isolates the fabric from the paint; otherwise it will absorb too much paint, only very rough effects will be obtainable, and parts of the fabric may be rotted by the pigments. It must also be made taut on a stretcher or by some other means. Definition courtesy of theWeb Gallery of Art


A full-scale preparatory drawing for a painting, tapestry, or fresco. In fresco painting, the design was transferred to the wall by making small holes along the contour lines and then powdering them with charcoal in order to leave an outline on the surface to be painted. In the 19th centurry designs submitted in a competition for frescos in the Houses of Parliament in London were parodied in the magazine Punch. From this the word has acquired its most common meaning today – a humorous drawing or parody. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

Cast Shadow

The dark area that occurs on a surface as a result of an object blocking a light source. In art the cast shadow can be an effective device to identify forms. The cast shadow is more distinct and usually warmer at the base of the object blocking the light and becomes less distinct and cooler as it moves away from the object. In general a cast shadow will be darker than the shadow side of the object casting it.

Central Perspective

A scientific and mathematical method of three-dimensional representation developed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1376 -1446) at the beginning of the 15th century. Relative to the observer, all the converging lines lead toward a single vanishing point at the centre of the composition. An illusion of depth is created on two-dimensional picture surfaces by precise foreshortening and proportioning of the objects, landscapes, buildings and figures that are being depicted, in accordance with their distance from the observer. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


One of the oldest drawing materials, charcoal is actually carbonized wood made by charring willow, vine, or other small wood pieces in an airtight chamber. It is still widely used today as a drawing medium, as well as for underlaying drawings in oil painting.


An Italian term for “light and dark.” In art this term generally denotes a technique of gradual gradation from light to dark values, giving the illusion of a rounded three-dimensional form. This technique was widely used and highly developed by the Renaissance painters who used dramatic lighting to create high contrast of light and dark.


Chroma refers to the purity or brightness of a color. The chroma of a color is relatively higher the less white or gray it contains. Chroma can be described by the degree of saturation of a color or the intensity of the color. Any pure tube color will have it’s chroma altered by the addition of any other color. The most common method of reducing the chroma or “dulling” the color is by adding its complement. Any two complements combined will neutralize eath other or reduce the chroma.


Relating to the culture of ancient Greece and Rome (classical Antiquity). The classical world played a profoundly important role in the Renaissance, with Italian scholars, writers, and artists seeing their own period as the rebirth (the “renaissance”) of classical values after the Middle Ages. The classical world was considered the golden age for the arts, literature, philosophy, and politics. Concepts of the classical, however, changed greatly from one period to the next. Roman literature provided the starting point in the 14th century, scholars patiently finding, editing and translating a wide range of texts. In the 15th century Greek literature, philosophy and art – together with the close study of the remains of Roman buildings and sculptures-expanded the concept of the classical and ensured it remained a vital source of ideas and inspiration. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


Color is the visual response we have to various wavelengths of sunlight. Color has three physical properties which are Hue (red, yellow, blue, green etc.), Value (light or dark), and Chroma (Intensity, purity, or visual strength.)

Color Tetrad

Four colors equally spaced on the color wheel that include a primary plus its complement and a complementary pair of intermediates. A Tetrad sometimes refers to any organization of color forming a rectangle which could include a double split complement.

Color Triad

Any three colors found equally spaced around the color wheel forming an equilateral triangle. A standard 12-color color wheel has a primary triad, a secondary triad, and two intermediate triads.

Color Wheel

Common to all beginning art students the color wheel describes the characteristics of primary, secondary and tertiary colors by positioning them on a circle or wheel. The three primaries of red, yellow, and blue form an equilateral triangle with secondary colors located between them. Colors opposite one another on the wheel are said to be complementary.

Complementary Color

Complementary colors lay exactly opposite each other on the color wheel. A Primary color is complementary to a Secondary color  which is always a mixture of the two remaining primaries. For example, red and green (yellow and blue) are complementary, as are blue and orange (yellow and red). By placing complementary colors next to one another in a painting, the chroma of each color appears intensified. A related term is “Simultaneous Contrast” which refers to the fact that any two colors placed next to each other will intensify the differences between the two.

Conte Crayon

A widely used type of drawing stick, similar to pastel or charcoal but with a firmer consistency more like a crayon but less waxy. Conte crayons can be purchased in varying degrees of hardness, and in several earth colors plus white and black.


In art we refer to the contour as the line which defines the outermost limits of an object or a shape. We sometimes refer to this as the Outline. In nature we can only identify the contour or outline of a shape because of differences in value, color, or texture. There are no lines in nature, only the outline create where a positive shape ends and a negative shape begins.


In art, Contrast refers to differences in values, colors, textures, shapes, and other elements. Contrasts create visual excitement and add interest to works of art.

Converging Lines

Visually, two parallel lines will merge together at some point, as they recede away from the viewer.

Cool Colors

Dealing with the temperature of colors, cool colors generally apply to blues or greens. In a painting cools will recede while warms will advance in the picture place. For example because of atmospheric perpective or moisture in the air, distant mountains appear blue and give the appearance opf receding.


Skill, or quality of workmanship in the use of art materials or tools.

Cross Hatching

In drawing this refers to the technique of making a series of parallel lines which are crossed by parallel lines at various other angles. By controlling the number and placement of strokes, the effect of tonal gradations and texture can be achieved.



Deckle refers to the characteristically tapered and rough edges of watercolor paper. Sometimes called ‘barbs’, deckle often has the appearance of torn paper. The effect of a deckle can be acheived by tearing heavy paper against a hard surface or metal straght-edge.

Decorative Art

In general, decorative art uses elements of art to “decorate” or ornament the surface of an object. Decorative art emphasizes the flatness of the surface.


An arrangement of elements of art organized according to design principles to create a unified whole. Another term is Design.

Direct Painting

Paintings which are completed in one sitting. See “alla prima.”


A principle of art which emphasizes one element of art over the others in a piece of art. Dominance is an important principle in order to create visual interest.


Any technique which utilizes tools to create lines. Often these lines are combined to create value gradations, such as in cross-hatching. Often done in pencil, drawings can be finished products, or used as a preparatory method to plan finished paintings. Roland Lee uses pencil drawing extensively in his travel sketch books which are completed on location. Drawing is a fundamental pre-requisite to being able to paint well.

Dry Brush

Tehnically, the Dry Brush technique utilizes no water or medium, only paint to wet the brush. However in practice some water or medium is needed to make the paint flow at all. The texture of the paper, the brush hairs and the angle of the stroke create broken areas of paint. The effect is highly textured and is used for creating a variety of textured surfaces such as foliage, bark, stone, clouds, etc..



An easel is the stand on which a painting is supported while the artist works. Watercolor easels must be fully adjustable so they can be tilted to allow washes to run or lay flat to keep washes from running. A more complete definition follows: Stand on which a painting is supported while the artist works on it. The oldest representation of an easel is on an Egyptian relief of the Old Kingdom (c. 2600-2150 BC). Renaissance illustrations of the artist at work show all kinds of contrivances, the commonest being the three-legged easel with pegs, such as we still use today. Light folding easels were not made until the 18th and 19th centuries, when painters took to working out of doors. The studio easel, a 19th-century invention, is a heavy piece of furniture, which runs on castors or wheels, and served to impress the c1ients of portrait painters. Oil painters need an easel which will support the canvas almost vertically or tip it slightly forward to prevent reflection from the wet paint, whereas the watercolourist must be able to lay his paper nearly flat so that the wet paint will not run down. The term ‘easel-painting’ is applied to any picture small enough to have been painted on a standard easel. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.”

Elements of Art

There are different schools of thought, but basically the Elements of Art include Line, Shape, Texture, Color, and Value. These are the building blocks or language of visual imagery. They are present in all Styles of Art and are combined according to various “Principles of Art” to create unified compositions.


A two-dimensional scale drawing of the side view of a structure.

En Face

When the subject of a portrait is facing the artist full face it is called en face.



The metal part of a paint brush that keeps the hairs in place.


Figure refers to a human or animal life form in a composition.


A coating which is sprayed or diffused on the surface of drawings, charcoals, or pastels to prevent the pigment from dusting off or shifting. A Matte Fixative has a dull finish while a Gloss has a shine to it. Workable Fixative allows more work to be done on the drawing after it is applied.

Flat Color

Flat color refers to any area of a painting that contains one single hue and value. With only one color with no variation the area appears flat.

Flat Wash

In watercolor, the technique of applying a uniform wash of consistent value and color by controlling the water content and stroking the brush back and forth in smooth motions.


The characteristic that allows paints to flow or move on the surface of the substrate. In watercolor of course the amount of water used on the paper or on the brush greatly affects the fluidity.

Focal Point

That part of a painting which draws the viewer’s attention as the main area of visual interest.


In a landscape painting the foreground is considered to be that part of the scene which is closest to the viewer, and usually appears in the lower part of the picture plane. Foreground objects are always more detailed, larger, and have darker darks and lighter lights than objects in the distance. This is due to the laws of linear perspective and aerial perspective. In a realist painting the foreground sometimes gives the viewer a place to “step into” the painting.


Wall painting technique in which pigments are applied to wet (fresh) plaster (intonaco). The pigments bind with the drying plaster to form a very durable image. Only a small area can be painted in a day, and these areas, drying to a slightly different tint, can in time be seen. Small amounts of retouching and detail work could be carried out on the dry plaster, a technique known as a secco fresco. Save in Venice, where the atmosphere was too damp, fresco painting was the habitual way of decorating wall surfaces in Italy, both in churches and in private and public palaces. During the 16th century a liking for the more brilliant effect of large canvases painted in oils, and to a lesser extent for tapestries, diminished the use of frescoes save for covering upper walls, covings and ceilings. The technique of buon fresco, or true fresco, involved covering the area with a medium-fine plaster, the intonaco, just rough enough to provide a bond (sometimes enhanced by scoring) for the final layer of fine plaster. Either a freehand sketch of the whole composition (sinopia) was drawn on the wall, or a full-scale cartoon was prepared and its outlines transferred to the intonaco by pressing them through with a knife or by pouncing – blowing charcoal dust through prickholes in the paper. Then over the intonaco enough of the final thin layer was applied to contain a day’s work. That portion of the design was repeated on it either by the same methods or freehand, and the artist set to work with water-based pigments while the plaster was still damp; this allowed them to sink in before becoming dry and fixed. (Thus ‘pulls’ or slices of frescoes could be taken by later art thieves without actually destroying the colour or drawing of the work.) It is usually possible to estimate the time taken to produce a fresco by examining the joins between the plastered areas representing a day’s work. Final details, or effects impossible to obtain in true fresco pigments, could be added at the end in ‘dry’ paints, or fresco secco, a technique in which pigment was laid on an unabsorbent plaster; the best known example of an entire composition in fresco secco is Leonardo’s Last Supper. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Colors which are less lightfast and fade more rapidly than more permanent brands. Alizarin Crimson for example is a fugitive color and fades rapidly especially with exposure to ultraviolet rays.



A type of art where the subject matter draws primarily from everyday life such as home life, domestic scenes, family relationships, or neighborhood scenes.

Geometric Shape

Shapes which are derived from geometry such as squares, rectangles, circles, triangles etc. The opposite would be Biomorphic or Amorphic forms which have undefined contours, such as are found in living organisms.


Gicless are editioned prints that are made to look like as close to the original as possible. Giclees are made with artist quality paper, pigmented inks and printed on high resolution printers.


Paint applied so thinly that the base beneath it is visible through the layer.


The substance used in watercolor paints to keep them moist and pliable. In painting and architecture, a formula meant to provide the aesthetically most satisfying proportions for a picture or a feature of a building.

Golden Mean (Golden Section)

The golden section is arrived at by dividing a line unevenly so that the shorter length is to the larger as the larger is to the whole. This ratio is approximately 8:13. The golden section (sometimes known as the golden mean), which was thought to express a perfect harmony of proportions, played an important role in Renaissance theories of art. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Gothic, which may well have originated with Alberti as a derogatory term and which certainly corresponds to Vasari’s ‘maniera tedesca’ (‘German style’), is properly the descriptive term for an artistic style which achieved its first full flowering in the Ile de France and the surrounding areas in the period between c. 1200 and c. 1270, and which then spread throughout northern Europe. It is characterized by the hitherto unprecedented integration of the arts of sculpture, painting, stained glass and architecture which is epitomized in the great cathedrals of Chartres, Amiens, and Reims or in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. In all the arts the predominantly planar forms of the Romanesque are replaced by an emphasis on line. There is a transcendental quality, whether in the soaring forms of the pointed arches or in the new stress on the humanity of Christ, which similarly distinguishes it from the preceding Romanesque style. In thinking of Nicola (d. c. 1284) or Giovanni Pisano (d. after 1314) there is same danger of forgetting what had happened in French sculpture half a century or more earlier, and likewise it is hard to remember that the spectacular achievements of early Renaissance art are a singularly localized eddy in the continuing stream of late gothic European art. By northern European standards few Italian works of art can be called gothic without qualification, and the story of 13th and 14th century Italian architecture is as much one of resistance to the new style as of its reception, whether directly from France or through German or central European intermediaries. In sculpture and in painting, the Italian reluctance to distort the human figure, conditioned by a never wholly submerged awareness of the omnipresent antique heritage, gives a special quality to the work of even those artists such as Giovanni Pisano or Simone Martini who most closely approached a pure gothic style. Nevertheless, the vitalizing role of Northern gothic art throughout the early Renaissance and the period leading up to it should never be underestimated. The artistic, like the cultural and commercial, interaction was continuous and much of the Italian achievement is incomprehensible if seen in isolation. It is not merely at the level of direct exchanges between one artist and another, or the influence of one building; painting, manuscript or piece of sculpture upon another, that the effects are to be felt. The streaming quality of line which is so characteristic of Brunelleschi’s early Renaissance architecture surely reflects a sensitivity to the gothic contribution which is entirely independent of, and lies much deeper than, the superficial particularities of form. The counterflow of influence and inspiration from South to North must likewise not be underrated. In particular, the contribution of Italian painters from Duccio and Simone Martini onwards is central to the evolution of the so-called International Gothic style developing in Burgundy, Bohemia and north Italy in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


Gouache is opaque watercolour, known also as poster paint and designer’s colour. It is thinned with water for applying, with sable- and hog-hair brushes, to white or tinted paper and card and, occasionally, to silk. Honey, starch, or acrylic is sometimes added to retard its quick-drying property. Liquid glue is preferred as a thinner by painters wishing to retain the tonality of colours (which otherwise dry slightly lighter in key) and to prevent thick paint from flaking. Gouache paints have the advantages that they dry out almost immediately to a mat finish and, if required, without visible brush marks. These qualities, with the capacities to be washed thinly or applied in thick impasto and a wide colour range that now includes fluorescent and metallic pigments, make the medium particularly suited to preparatory studies for oil and acrylic paintings. It is the medium that produces the suede finish and crisp lines characteristic of many Indian and Islamic miniatures, and it has been used in Western screen and fan decoration and by modern artists such as Rouault, Klee, Dubuffet, and Morris Graves. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

Graded Wash

Graded wash smoothly transitions in value from dark to light. A common technique used in landscape painting for open sky washes.

Grand Manner

Term applied to the lofty and rhetorical manner of history painting that in academic theory was considered appropriate to the most serious and elevated subjects. The classic exposition of its doctrines is found in Reynolds’s Third and Fourth Discourses (1770 and 1771), where he asserts that ‘the gusto grande of the Italians, the beau idéal of the French, and the great style, genius, and taste among the English, are but different appellations of the same thing’. The idea of the Grand Manner took shape in 17th-century Italy, notably in the writings of Bellori. His friend Poussin and the great Bolognese painters of the 17th century were regarded as outstanding exponents of the Grand Manner, but the greatest of all was held to be Raphael. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

Graphic Art

Graphic arts generally refers to two-dimensional art forms such as drawing, printmaking, or the craft of pereparing artworks for reproduction.


The drawing medium made from a mixture of graphite and clay. Drawing pencils are classified from harder to softer by the designations of 8H,6H, 4H, 2H, HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B. Graphite sticks are basically just thicker graphite without wood covering.

Grid system

A useful mthod of scaling up a drawing on the painting surface using a series of perpendicular grid lines to create rectangles.


A painting done entirely in one colour, usually gray. Grisaille paintings were often intended to imitate sculpture.


The surface on which a painting is done. Usually this refers to laying down a tone of color across the whole surface to create a neutral unifying background on which to build up the painting.



In a drawing, print or painting, a series of close parallel lines that create the effect of shadow and texture. The term crosshatching referes to lines which overlap to accomplish this effect.

High Key

When the majority of the values in an artwork is lighter than middle gray on the value scale.


Highlight is a point of intense light in a composition. Highlights are used to draw the eye or create drama and dimension.

Hudson River School

The Hudson River School is the term given to a group of American landscape painters, working from 1825 to 1875. The 19th-century romantic movements of England, Germany, and France were introduced to the United States by such writers as Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper. At the same time, American painters were studying in Rome, absorbing much of the romantic aesthetic of the European painters. Adapting the European ideas about nature to a growing pride in the beauty of their homeland, for the first time a number of American artists began to devote themselves to landscape painting instead of portraiture. First of the group of artists properly classified with the Hudson River school was Thomas Doughty; his tranquil works greatly influenced later artists of the school. Thomas Cole, whose dramatic and colourful landscapes are among the most impressive of the school, may be said to have been its leader during the group’s most active years. Among the other important painters of the school are Asher B. Durand, J. F. Kensett, S. F. B. Morse, Henry Inman, Jasper Cropsey, Frederick E. Church, and, in his earlier work, George Inness. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Hue is color or pigment in its purest form, not to be confused with value and tone.



The systematic study and identification of the subject-matter and symbolism of art works, as opposed to their style; the set of symbolic forms on which a given work is based. Originally, the study and identification of classical portraits. Renaissance art drew heavily on two iconographical traditions: Christianity, and ancient Greek and Roman art, thought and literature. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Thick, texture rich, application of acrylic or oil paint with a palette knife or heavy brush stroke. Impasto leaves a dimensional texture to the composition.

Incredible Art Board

Incredible Art Board is a wonderful new product used for mounting watercolor paper prior to painting. It is as light as foam-core board but has a hard waterproof surface on both sides which prevents it from warping or buckling. It accepts staples and lasts through hundreds of uses. Roland Lee uses it exclusively for his watercolor paintings.

Inert Pigment

Inert pigment, also called filler, is a powdered additive used to extend the quantity of paint with altering the color or value. Cheaper paints, such as student varieties, often contain large amounts of inert pigment. While paints with fillers are cheaper they are of lesser quality.


Coloured fluid used for writing, drawing, or printing. Inks usually have staining power without body, but printers’ inks are pigments mixed with oil and varnish, and are opaque. The use of inks goes back in China and Egypt to at least 2500 BC. They were usually made from lampblack (a pigment made from soot) or a red ochre ground into a solution of glue or gums. These materials were moulded into dry sticks or blocks, which were then mixed with water for use. Ink brought from China or Japan in such dry form came to be known in the West as ‘Chinese ink’ or ‘Indian ink’. The names are also given to a similar preparation made in Europe. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.

Italianate Painters

Group of 17th-century northern European painters, principally Dutch, who traveled in Italy and, consciously adopting the style of landscape painting that they found there, incorporated Italian models and motifs into their own works. Chief among the Italianates were Bartholomeus Breenbergh, Andries and Jan Both, Nicolaes Berchem, and Jan Asselijn. The Both brothers, of Utrecht, were to some degree rivals of the Haarlem-born Berchem. Andries painted the figures that populated Jan’s landscapes. Berchem’s own compositions were largely derived from the Arcadian landscapes of the French painter Claude Lorrain; a typical scene would contain shepherds grazing their flocks among classical ruins, bathed in a golden haze. Upon his return to Holland, Berchem occasionally worked in cooperation with the local painters and is said to have supplied figures in works of both Jacob van Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.



Works produced in an artists youth.



Key, either high key or low key, is used to describe the overall lightness or darkness of a painting.



Landscape paintings are those in which the subject matter is natural scenery.


Lightfast refers to a rating given according to the permanency of oil and watercolor paints. Pigments are rated lightfast on a roman numeric scale of I-IV. Paints with lightfast ratings of I and II are the most permanent, while IV are the least permanent. Lightfast pigments resist fading on long exposure to sunlight. For watercolorists, lightfastness is an important reason to choose more expensive pigments, since watercolor has a greater tendency to fade than oils when placed in direct sunlight or under a flourescent lighting source.

Linear Perspective

Linear Perspective is the term applied to using visual clues to give the viewer the illusion of depth or distance in a painting. It is based on the fact that two parallel lines (such as a railroad  tracks) will converge to a single vanishing point on the horizon, and objects become smaller as they receed in the distance. Example in a Roland Lee painting of Lake Powell reflections.

Low Key

When the majority of the values in an artwork is darker than middle gray on the value scale.



A movement in Italian art from about 1520 to 1600. Developing out of the Renaissance, Mannerism rejected Renaissance balance and harmony in favor of emotional intensity and ambiguity. In Mannerist painting, this was expressed mainly through severe distortions of perspective and scale; complex and crowded compositions; strong, sometimes harsh or discordant colors; and elongated figures in exaggerated poses. In architecture, there was a playful exaggeration of Renaissance forms (largely in scale and proportion) and the greater use of bizarre decoration. Mannerism gave way to the Baroque. Leading Mannerists include Pontormo, Bronzino, Parmigianino, El Greco and Tintoretto. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


Using a product to cover a surface that you do not wish to receive paint. A simple example is masking the edges of a painting with masking tape, to create a clean edge for framing. Masking fluid is used for masking out acual areas on the painting with a latex glue.

Masking Out

The process of using masking fluid (Maskoid) tape or other materials to prevent paint from touching the painting surface during a broad wash. After the wash is dried, the mask is removed to reveal the white paper.


Sometimes we refer to the type of painting material used as a medium, such as watercolor, acrylic, oils, tempera, etc. Broadly, then this becomes a method of separating types or categories of visual art based on the materials used to create it. The term “medium” also refers to the agent that binds pigment in paint. In addition medium is a term used to describe the substance used to change the fluidity or consistency in paints. In watercolors the binder is “gum arabic,” but the medium that changes fluidity is simply “water.


Mezzotint is the term used to descrive a method of copper or steel engraving in tone. A Dutch officer, Ludwig von Siegen, is given credit for the invention of mezzotint c. 1640. The process then came into prominence in England early in the 18th century. Mezzotint involves uniform burring with a curved, sawtoothed tool by cradling it back and forth until the surface of the plate presents an all-over, even grain. This yields a soft effect in the print. The picture is developed in chiaroscuro with a scraper and a burnisher, every degree of light and shade from black to white being attainable. In pure mezzotint, no line drawing is employed, the result being soft without the sharp lines of an etching. Mezzotint was often used for the reproduction of paintings, particularly, in England, for landscapes and portraits. The process is essentially extinct today. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


Making an object seem three-dimensional by using color and lighting effects.


The technique of describing the form of a solid object by shading it.


Negative Space

Negative space can refer to many things, but as defining a general composition the negative space is the area that is not the primary subject. The primary subject or object is defined by the negative space surrounding it.


A style in European art and architecture from the mid 18th century until the end of the 19th century. Based as it was on the use of ancient Greek and Roman models and motifs, its development was greatly influenced by the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and by the theories of the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768). Intellectually and politically it was closely linked to the Enlightenment’s rejection of the aristocratic frivolity of Rococo, the style of the Ancien Régime. Among Neoclassicism’s leading figures were the French painter Jacques-Louis David (1744-1825), the German painter Anton Raffael Mengs (1728-1729), and the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822). Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

Non-staining Colors

Colors that can be easily lifted from the paper without dying the underlying paper fibers are referred to as non-staining colors.


Oil Paint

A painting medium in which pigments are mixed with drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppy. Though oils had been used in the Middle Ages, it was not until the van Eyck brothers in the early 15th century that the medium became fully developed. It reached Italy during the 1460s and by the end of the century had largely replaced tempera. It was preferred for its brilliance of detail, its richness of colour, and its greater tonal range. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


An unusual cauliflower shape created when fresh paint is added to a still-damp wash. See “Back run”


Opaque paint in not transparent. It is dense enough to totally hide whatever lies beneath it. Gouache is the watercolor form that implements opaque paints. Acrylics and Oils are opaque as well.

Original Painting

Not a reproduction of any kind, an original painting is the artists own work making an original painting much more valuable than any type of print.


In art we refer to the Outline as the line which defines the outermost limits of an object or a shape. We sometimes refer to this as the Contour. In nature we can only identify the contour or outline of a shape because of differences in value, color, or texture. There are no lines in nature, only the outline create where a positive shape ends and a negative shape begins.



The selection of colors an artists chooses to work with are called the palette. The palette may differ for each painting, or an artist may have a favorite combination of colors, or palette he or she uses. Also known as a palette is the object that holds the paints and the artist mixes paints on.


Term in painting for a support of wood, metal, or other rigid substance, as distinct from canvas. Until the adoption of canvas in the 15th century nearly all the movable paintings of Europe were executed on wood, and even up to the beginning of the 17th century it is probable that as much painting was done on the one support as on the other. Painters who worked on a small scale often used copper panels (Elsheimer is a leading example), and in the colonial art of South America copper and tin and even lead and zinc were used. On a larger scale, slate has occasionally been used as a support, notably by Rubens for his altarpiece for Sta Maria in Vallicella (the Chiesa Nuova) in Rome; the picture he originally painted was said to reflect the light unpleasantly and slate was used for the replacement to produce a more matt finish. For wood panels the Italian masters of the Renaissance preferred white poplar, while oak was the most common wood used in northern Europe. Many other types were used, however; analysis of the contents of art galleries has yielded a long list, including beech, cedar, chestnut, fir, larch, linden, mahogany, olive, and walnut. In the 20th century cedar, teak, and dark walnut are favourites, and modern painters have also used plywood, fibre-board, and other synthetic materials as supports. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.

Picture Plane

In the imaginary space of a picture, the plane occupied by the physical surface of the work. Perspective appears to recede from the picture plane, and objects painted in trompe-l’oeil may appear to project from it.


The coloured powder mixed with binding agents such as oil, glue, or resin to make paint. Pigments can be man-made, or derived from natural materials.

Positive Space

The opposite of negative space, positive space refers to the object or subject of artwork

Primary Colors

The primary colors, red, yellow and blue are the building blocks of every other color in the spectrum. However, you cannot make red, yellow or blue by mixing any other colors.

Professional Grade Materials

This term is generally applied to paints, brushes, and materials which are of the highest quality and most permanence. Because of these qualities they are generally more expensive than so called student grades.” Many manufacturers have complete lines of Professional and student grade paints.


Quality Control

Technique for maintaining that the quality of a work remains high throughout the entire process.



A sculptural work in which all or part projects from the flat surface. There are three basic forms: low relief (bas-relief, basso rilievo), in which figures project less than half their depth from the background; medium relief (mezzo-rilievo), in which figures are seen half round; and high relief (alto rilievo), in which figures are almost detached from their background. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

Relief (Textural)

Projection of three-dimensional forms as used in collage and impasto.


A French label given to an Italian cultural movement and to its repercussions elsewhere; also, on the assumption that chronological slices of human mass experience can usefully be described in terms of a dominant intellectual and creative manner, a historical period. For Italy the period is popularly accepted as running from the second generation of the 14th century to the second or third generation of the 16th century. Though there is something inherently ridiculous about describing a period of 250 years as one of rebirth, there is some justification for seeing a unity within it, if only in terms of the chronological self-awareness of contemporaries. For Petrarch the challenge to understand and celebrate the achievements of ancient Rome led him to scorn the intervening centuries which had neglected them; he saw them as an age of intellectual sleep, of ‘darkness’, and his own as potentially one of light, of an energetic revival of interest in, and competition with, too long forgotten glories. Thanks to his fame not only as a scholar but also as a poet and a voluminous correspondent, this sense of living in an age of new possibilities was rapidly shared by others who worked within the intellectual framework which came to be known as Humanism. Perhaps the sense of living in a new mental atmosphere can be compared to the exhilaration that followed the realization that Marxist analysis could be used to look afresh at the significance of intellectual and creative, as well as political, life. The humanistic enthusiasm lasted so long, however, because its core of energy, the historical reality of antiquity, was so vast and potent, because it was uncontroversial (save when an assassin borrowed the aura of Brutus, or a paganizing faddist mocked Christianity), and because the scholarly excitement about the need to imitate the achievements of the Roman (and, increasingly, Greek) past was sustained by evidence from contemporary art and literature that it could be done. Even when the Wars of Italy had inflicted grievous humiliations on Italian pride, Vasari could still see a process of restored vigour in the arts, which had begun early in the 14th century, as only coming near its close with the death of Michelangelo in 1564. Vasari’s Lives became a textbook of European repute. It was his contention that he was describing what followed from the rinascita or rebirth of the arts that launched the word on its increasingly inclusive career. For long, however, it was a ‘renaissance’ of this or that, of arts, of scholarship, of letters. Not until the publication in 1855 of the volume in Jules Michelet’s Histoire de France entitled ‘La Renaissance’ was the label attached to a period and all that happened in it; not until the appearance of Jacob Burckhardt’s still seminal Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy in 1860 was it ineluctably identified in particular with Italy and more generally with a phase of human development thought to be markedly different in kind from what went before and what came after. Thereafter, ‘Renaissance’ became a mercurial term: not just a label for a period or a movement but a concept, a concept redolent (in spite of Burckhardt’s precautions) of Individualism, All-Roundness, even Amoralism; man had escaped from the medieval thought-dungeon, and the world (and its expanding physical and mental horizons) was his oyster; culture was linked to personality and behaviour; the Renaissance became both the scene and the work of Renaissance Man. To a northern European world (whence the alertest scholars and popularizers came), morally confined by Protestantism and social decorum, ‘Renaissance’ became a symbol of ways of conduct and thought that were either to be castigated (John Ruskin, whose The stones of Venice of 1851-53 had anticipated the art-morality connection) or envied (John Addington Symonds’s avidly nostalgic Renaissance in Italy, 1875-86). A term that had become so liable to subjective interpretation was bound to attract criticism. During this century it has been challenged chiefly on the following points. (1) There is no such thing as a self-sufficient historical period. Much that was characteristic of the Middle Ages flowed into and through the Renaissance. Much that was characteristic of the Renaissance flowed on until the age of experimental science, of industrialization, mobilized nationalism, and mass media. (2) Renaissance art and literature did not develop so consistently that they can be seen in one broad Vasarian sweep. There was an early, a ‘high’ and a late stage (all variously dated) in terms of artistic and literary aims and style. (3) There is not a true, let alone a uniform, congruence between, ‘culture’ and ‘history’ during the period; ‘Renaissance’ culture came late to Venice, later still to Genoa, both thriving centres of political and commercial activity. (4) To define a period in terms of a cultural élite is to divert attention unacceptably from the fortunes of the population as a whole. Though thus challenged, mocked (the ‘so-called Renaissance’), aped (the ‘Carolingian’ or ‘Ottonian’ renaissance, etc.) and genially debased (‘the renaissance of the mini-skirt’), the term retains most of its glamour and much of its usefulness. It is surely not by chance that ‘rebirth’ rather than the 18th century and early 19th century ‘revival’ (of arts, letters, etc.) was the term chosen, because it applies to a society the resonance of a personal, spiritual and perhaps psychological aspiration: the new start, the previous record – with all its shabbiness – erased. It is for this additional, subjective reason a term to be used with caution. The challenges are to be accepted, however, gratefully, as having led to an enormous extension of knowledge and sensitivity. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Resist uses the scientific known that oil and water don’t mix. A resist is any material, such as wax or grease, that repels paint. Batik and Lithography are examples of fabric resists.


A style of design, painting, and architecture dominating the 18th century, often considered the last stage of the Baroque. Developing in the Paris townhouses of the French aristocracy at the turn of the 18th century, Rococo was elegant and ornately decorative, its mood lighthearted and witry. Louis XV furniture, richly decorated with organic forms, is a typical product. Leading exponents of the Rococo sryle included the French painter Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), and the German architect Johann Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753). Rococo gave way to Neo-classicism. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Style of art and architecture prevailing throughout most of Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries, the first style to achieve such international currency. The dominant art of the Middle Ages was architecture, and ‘Romanesque’, like ‘Gothic’, is primarily an architectural term that has been extended to the other arts of the period. As the name suggests, it indicates a derivation from Roman art, and sometimes Romanesque is used to cover all the developments from Roman architecture in the period from the collapse of the Roman Empire until the flowering of the Gothic roughly AD 500-1200. More usually, however, it is applied to a distinctive style that emerged, almost simultaneously, in several countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain – in the 11th century. It is characterized most obviously by a new massiveness of scale, reflecting the greater political and economic stability that followed a period when Christian civilization seemed in danger of extinction. Romanesque painting and sculpture are generally strongly stylized, with little of the naturalism and humanistic warmth of classical or later Gothic art. The forms of nature are freely translated into linear and sculptural designs which are sometimes majestically calm and severe and at others are agitated by a visionary excitement that can become almost delirious. Because of its expressionistic distortion of natural form, Romanesque art, as with other great non-naturalistic styles of the past, has had to wait for the revolution in sensibility brought about by the development of modern art in order to be widely appreciated. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


A term loosely applied to literary and artistic movements of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Resulting in part from the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the romantic movements had in common only a revolt against the prescribed rules of classicism. The basic aims of romanticism were various: a return to nature and to belief in the goodness of humanity; the rediscovery of the artist as a supremely individual creator; the development of nationalistic pride; and the exaltation of the senses and emotions over reason and intellect. In addition, romanticism was a philosophical revolt against rationalism. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Secondary Colors

The secondary colors are hues that can be produced by mixing two of the primary colors. The secondary colors are green, violet and orange. Blue and yellow yield green. Blue and red yeild violet, and red and yellow yield orange.

Sedimentary Pigments

Sedimentary paints contain rough granules of pigment which can sometimes separate in a wash or combined with other pigments causing a wonderful textural effect. This effect is enhanced by using rough watercolor paper which allows the sediment to settle into the pockets on the surface. Sometimes watercolor paints are grouped into either Sedimentary or Staining depending on their characteristics.


metal pencil made of copper, brass, or bronze with a silver tip fused to it. Silverpoint drawing must be done on a specially prepared surface. Silverpoint was already in use as a drawing instrument in the 14th century, and the delicate, light-gray lines produced by the silver tip, which were all identical in thickness, made it a particularly popular artistic tool throughout the course of the 15th century. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


A coating usually consisting of a mixture of gelatin, water, and a preservative which can be used either in or on the surface of a paper. Its purpose is to create a certain hardness, or softness which affects the ability of the paper to accept paint and water. Many artist soak watercolor papers in the bath tub to remove sizing prior to painting.


A sketch is a rough or loose drawing of a subject, usually done quickly. The sketch method is a useful tool for capturing quick studies of on-location subjects. A Thumbnail sketch is a small study used to plan a larger drawing or painting. Roland Lee completes many on-location sketches in his travel sketchbooks.


A method of painting or drawing where the artist makes a series of small dots or spots of paint to build up values and visual texture.


Technically a substrate is a base upon which there is a chemical process applied to change the surface. In painting we usually use the term “Substrate” to mean the type of surface on which paint is applied. For example watercolor paper, canvas, linen, copper, hardboard, gessoed board, “Yupo” etc.



As applied to watercolor “Technique” describes the methods used by the artist to create paintings–especially methods of applying pigment, using brushes or other suitable tools, to special watercolor paper. Generally speaking watercolors are unique in that the paint is transparent, meaning one can only apply dark paint over light paint, rather than light over dark as in opaque mediums. Because of this unique characteristic many specialized methods of approaching watercolor painting must be used.


A method of painting in which the pigments are mixed with an emulsion of water and egg yolks or whole eggs (sometimes glue or milk). Tempera was widely used in Italian art in the 14th and 15th centuries, both for panel painting and fresco, then being replaced by oil paint. Tempera colors are bright and translucent, though because the paint dried very quickly there is little time to blend them, graduated tones being created by adding lighter or darker dots or lines of color to an area of dried paint. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art


A style of painting especially associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow but some are dramatically illuminated by a concentrated beam of light usually from an identifiable source. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.


Four colors equally spaced on the color wheel that include a primary plus its compliment and a complimentary pair of intermediates. A Tetrad sometimes refers to any organization of color forming a rectangle which could include a double split compliment.


Texture can be actual as would be produced with thick paints and brush strokes, or visually represented with paint that breaks up a continuous tone.

Thumbnail Sketch

A small, usually quickly produced pencil drawing, used to try out designs and compositions. If the thumbnail sketch “works” compositionally the final product will as well. See an example in this demonstration painting of Lake Powell.


Mixing a color with white forms a tint of the color. Mixing a color with black makes a shade of the color.

Transparent Watercolor

The technique of using only transparent water media, as opposed to opaque paints such as gauche, tempera, acrylics etc. In this style of painting thin glazes are built up gradually using progressively darker pigments over lighter passages.


Any three colors found equally spaced around the color wheel forming an equilateral triangle. A standard 12-color color wheel has a primary triad, a secondary triad, and two intermediate triads.

Tromp l’oeil

A french term meaning “to deceive the eye”. Tromp l’oeil describes a type of painting which, through various naturalistic devices, creates the illusion that the objects depicted are actually there in front of us. Dating from classical times, tromp l’oeil was revived in the 15th century and became a distinctive feature of 17th-century Dutch painting. It is still widely used today to decorate exterior walls of buildings and interior walls of homes.



The thin transparent laying in of color in a painting. Done first, the underpainting should be well thought out as some of the underpainting may show in the final piece.

Utrecht Shool

Principally a group of three Dutch painters – Dirck van Baburen (c. 1590-1624), Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), and Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-1629) – who went to Rome and fell fully under the pervasive influence of Caravaggio’s art before returning to Utrecht. Although none of them ever actually met Caravaggio (d. 1610), each had access to his paintings, knew his former patrons, and was influenced by the work of his follower Bartholomeo Manfredi (1580-1620/21), especially his half-length figural groups, which were boldly derived from Caravaggio and occasionally passed off as the deceased master’s works. Back in the Netherlands the “Caravaggisti” were eager to demonstrate what they had learned. Their subjects are frequently religious ones, but brothel scenes and pictures in sets, such as five works devoted to the senses, were popular with them also. The numerous candles, lanterns, and other sources of artificial light are characteristic and further underscore the indebtedness to Caravaggio. Although Honthorst enjoyed the widest reputation at the time, painting at both the Dutch and English courts, Terbrugghen is generally regarded as the most talented and versatile of the group. Definition courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.



The relative lightness or darkness of colors. Values range by the amount of grey in a color.

Vanishing Point

In perspective, the point on the horizon at which sets of lines representing parallel lines will converge.

Variegated Wash

A loose wet wash where colors are not first mixed on the palette, but allowed to mingle or blend on the paper, creating random variegated effects. Roland Lee uses this method to create dramatic, realistic skies.



A transparent layer of highly diluted color that is brushed on. Wet brush on wet paper  is a common wash method.


Watercolor is unique in that it uses the white of the paper to determine values and is traditionally painted in a light to dark manner. The painting getting darker as more transparent layers are added. Watercolor paints are made of pigments suspended in water with a binder. A more complete historical perspective of watercolor follows: Pigment ground in gum, usually gum arabic, and applied with brush and water to a painting surface, usually paper; the term also denotes a work of art executed in this medium. The pigment is ordinarily transparent but can be made opaque by mixing with a whiting and in this form is known as body colour, or gouache; it can also be mixed with casein, a phosphoprotein of milk. Watercolour compares in range and variety with any other painting method. Transparent watercolour allows for a freshness and luminosity in its washes and for a deft calligraphic brushwork that makes it a most alluring medium. There is one basic difference between transparent watercolour and all other heavy painting mediums – its transparency. The oil painter can paint one opaque colour over another until he has achieved his desired result. The whites are created with opaque white. The watercolourist’s approach is the opposite. In essence, instead of building up he leaves out. The white paper creates the whites. The darkest accents may be placed on the paper with the pigment as it comes out of the tube or with very little water mixed with it. Otherwise the colours are diluted with water. The more water in the wash, the more the paper affects the colours; for example, vermilion, a warm red, will gradually turn into a cool pink as it is thinned with more water.


This watercolor technique is sometimes also referred to as wet-on-wet, or wet-into-wet. It refers to the process of applying pigment to paper by first wetting the watercolor paper thoroughly, and applying a wet brush loaded with pigment to the wet paper. As the pigment spreads it creates very soft edges and gradations in value. If the pigment is sedimentary, the particles will flow in the water until they settle into the pockets of the paper, or until the water evaporates, leaving the pigment adhered to the paper. This is a wonderful technique for painting water, skies, and objects in the distance affected by aerial perspective. See also “variegated washes”.



Of or relating to the color yellow. From the Greek word xanthos meaning yellow.



A tendency on the binding media to tint yellow.


Zinc White

White pigment created from zinc oxide. In watercolor this is also called Chinese white.

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