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Art Glossary

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Acrylic: A plastic binder medium for pigments that is soluble in water. Developed about 1960.
Airbrush: To apply in a fine spray by compressed air, as paint.
Alabaster: A dense, translucent, white or tinted, fine-grained gypsum.
Alla Prima: A painting technique in which pigments are laid on in one application with little or no underpainting.
Amphora: A large Greek storage vase with an oval body usually tapering toward the base; two handles extend from just below the lip to the shoulder.
Aquarelle: a drawing usually in transparent watercolor.
Aquatint: A print processed like an etching, except that the ground or certain areas are covered with a solution of asphalt, resin, or salts which, when heated, produces a granular surface on the plate and rich gray tones in final print. Etched lines are usually added to the plate after the aquatint ground is laid.
A curved structure used to span an opening.
Art: An esthetically pleasing and meaningful arrangement of elements.
Artist: One who in one of the fine arts.
Art Nouveau: A style of decoration and architecture first current in the late 1890's, characterized by linear depiction of sinuous forms.
Work in the graphic or plastic arts; especially, the hand-making of small decorative or artistic objects.
Azure: Light purplish blue.


Baker Lake: A lake occupying 1,029 square miles in the north-central region of the area which was formerly known as the Northwest Territories, Canada.
A rigid bracelet or anklet, especially one with no clasp.
The lowest element of a wall, dome, or building, or occasionally of a statue or painting.
Bay: A subdivision of the interior space of a building, usually in a series bounded by by consecutive architectural supports.
Bracket: A stone, wooden, or metal support projecting from a wall and having a flat top to bear the weight of a statue.
Bronze: An alloy of copper and tin, used since the early times for sculpture.
Brush Drawing: A work made in ink or wash with a brush usually on paper.



Calligraphy: From the Greek word for beautiful writing. A decorative or formal handwriting executed with a quill or reed pen, with a brush, as in Chinese, Korean, or Japanese works.
Canvas: A heavy, coarse, closely wooven fabric of cotton, hemp, or flax on which a painting is made.
From the Italian word cartone, meaning cardboard. A full-scale drawing for a picture or design intended to be transferred to a wall, panel, tapestry,etc. Or a drawing, usually humorous or satirical, calling attention to some action or person of popular interest.
Carving: The cutting of a figure or design out of a solid material such as stone or wood, as contrasted to the additive technique of modeling.
Casting: A method of duplicating a work of sculpture by pouring a hardening substance such as plaster or molten metal into a mold.
Cast Iron: A hard, brittle iron produced commercially in blast furnaces by pouring it molds where it cools and hardens.
Ceramic: Any of various hard, brittle, heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant materials made by firing clay or other minerals and consisting of one or more metals in combination with a nonmetal, usually oxygen.
Calcium carbonate, either natural or artificially prepared, finely ground to make a white substance used in gesso. It may be pressed in sticks and used in its white form, or mixed with colored pigments to make pastels.
Chasing: A technique of ornamenting a metal surface by the use of various tools.
Chiaroscuro: From the Italian for light and dark. In painting, a method of modeling form primarily by the use of light and shade.
Cire-Perdu Process: The lost-wax process of casting. A method in which an original is modeled in wax and covered in clay. When the clay is dry, the wax is melted out, and the resulting mold is filled with molten metal or liquid plaster.
Clay: A fine grained, firm-natural earthy material used in the making of pottery.
A composition made of cut and pasted scraps of materials, sometimes with lines or forms added added by the artist.
Crafts: Objects made by hand with skill.
Crazy quilt:
A patchwork quilt of pieces of cloth of various shapes, colors, and sizes, arranged in no definite pattern.
To make or decorate a fabric by looping thread with a hooked needle.
To shade with two or more sets of parallel lines.
In sewing or embroidery, a double stitch forming a X. The needlework formed from this type of stitch.


Drawing: A work in pencil, pen, and ink, charcoal, etc., often on paper.
Droleries: French word for jests. Used to describe the interlaced animals and small figures in the margins of medival manuscripts and occassionally in wood carvings on furniture.
Drypoint: A technique of intaglio engraving in which a hard steel needle is used to incise lines in the metal plate, with the burr at the side of the furrows retained.


Elevation: An architectural drawing presenting a building as if projected on a vertical plane parallel to one of its sides.
Egg Tempera: A painting medium in which pigment is mixed with water-soluble glutinous materials such as size or egg yolk. Also called poster color, poster paint. The term is applied especially to early Italian painting, common vehicles of which were yolk of egg, yolk and white of egg mixed together, the white juice of the fig tree, and the like.
Enamel: A colored glassy substance, opaque or translucent, applied in powder form to a metal surface and fused to it by firing. Two main techniques developed: "champleve" (from the French for raised field), in which the areas treated are dug out of the metal surface; and "cloisonne" (from the French for partitioned), in which compartments or "cloisons" to be filled are made on the surface with thin metal strips.
Encaustic: A technique of painting with pigments dissolved in hot wax.
Engraving: A print made by cutting a design into a metal plate (usually copper) with a pointed steel tool known as a burin. The burr raised on either side of the incised line is removed; ink is then rubbed into the V-shaped grooves and wiped off the surface; the plate, covered with a damp sheet of paper, is run through a heavy press. The image on the paper is the reverse of that on the plate. If a fine needle is used instead of a burin, a drypoint engraving is produced.
Etching: A print made by coating a copper plate with an acid-resistant resin and drawing through this ground, exposing the metal with a sharp instrument called a stylus. The plate is bathed in acid which eats into the lines; it is then heated to remove the resin, and finally inked and printed on paper. The techique itself is also called etching.


Faience: Earthware decorated opaque colored glazes.

Fibula: A clasp, buckle, or brooch, often ornamented.
Folk Art: A traditional art originating among the common people of a nation or region.
Foreshortening: A method of reducing or distorting the parts of a represented object which are not parallel to the picture plane, in order to convey the impression of three dimensions as perceived by the human eye.
Fresco: Italian word for fresh. True fresco is the technique of painting on moist plaster with pigments ground in water so that the paint is absorbed by the plaster and becomes part of the wall itself.
Frieze: A continuous band of painted or sculptured decoration.
Frottage: Another term for rubbing.


Genius: A winged semi-nude figure, often purely decorative but frequently representing the guardian spirit of a person or place, or personifying an abract concept or place.
Genre: French word for kind or sort. A work of art, usually painting, showing a scene from everyday life that is represented for its own sake.
Gesso: A smooth mixture of ground chalk or plaster and glue, used as the basis for tempera painting and for oil painting on panel.
Gilding: A coat of gold or of some gold-colored substance applied mechanically or chemically to surfaces of a painting, sculpture, or architectual decoration.
Glaze: A thin layer of translucent oil color applied to a painted surface or to parts to modify the tone. Also, a glassy coating applied to a piece of ceramic work before firing in the kiln, as a protective seal and as decoration.
Gold Leaf: Gold beaten into very thin sheets or "leaves" and applied to illuminated manuscripts and panel paintings, to sculpture, or to the back of the glass tesserae used in mosaics.
Graphite: Soft carbon having an iron-gray color and a metallic luster.


Handmade: Prepared by hand rather than by machine.
A series of parallel lines used as shadings in drawings and prints.
Hierogylph: A picture of a figure, animal, or object, standing for a word, syllable, or sound.


Icon: From the Greek word for image. A panel painting of one or more sacred personages such as Christ, the Virgin, a saint.
Illuminated Manuscript: A manuscript decorated with drawings or paintings in tempera colors.
Illusionism: In artistic terms, the technique of manipulating pictorial or other means in order to cause the eye to perceive a particular reality.
Impasto: From the Italian word meaning "in paste." Paint, usually oil paint, applied very thickly.
Inuit Art: Art of the Native people of Northern Canada and Alaska.


Jewelry: An article or articles for personal adornment.


Knit: A fabric or garment made by joining loops of yarn.


Lantern: A relatively small structure crowning a dome, roof, tower, frequently open to admit light to an enclosed area below.
Lapis Lazuli: From the Latin for stone of blue. A deep-blue stone used for ornamental purposes and for preparing the blue pigment known as ultramarine.
Lithography: A print made by drawing a design with oily crayon or other greasy substance on a porous stone or, later, a metal plate; the design is then fixed, the entire surtace is moistened, and the printing ink which is applied adheres only to the oily lines of the drawing. The design can then be transferred easily in a press to a piece of paper. Invented in 1796 by Aloys Senefelder.


Magna: Paint in the form of pigment ground in an acrylic resin with solvents and plasticizer.
Medium: The material or technique in which an artist works.
Miniature: A very small painting, especially a portrait on ivory, glass, or metal.
Model: The preliminary form of a sculpture, often finished in itself but preceding the final casting or carving. Also, can be the person who poses for an aritst.
Mosaic: Decorative work for walls, vaults, ceilings, or floors, composed of small pieces of colored materials set in plaster or concrete.
Mural: From the Latin word for wall, murus. A large painting or decoration either executed directly on a wall or done separately and affixed to it.


Needlepoint: Decorative needlework on canvas, usually in a diagonal stitch covering the entire surface of the material.
Northern Lights: Also known as the Aurora Borealis. These are high altitude, many-colored, flashing luminosity, visible in night skies of polar and sometimes temperate zones. These lights often are the inspirations for artists' work.



Oil: In art, the medium for the pigments used in oil painting.
Oil Painting: A painting done in oil colors.
Oil Sketch: A work in oil painting done in an informal character, somethimes preparatory to a finished work.



Palette: A thin, usually oval or oblong board with a thumb hole at one end, used by painters to hold and mix their colors.
A wooden surface used for painting, usually in tempera and prepared beforehand with a layer of gesso. Recently panels of masonite or other composite material have come into use.
Painting: The process, art, or occupation of coating surface, canvas or panel with paint.
Pastel: A color of a soft, subdues shade. Also, is a drawing stick made from pigments ground with chalk and mixed with gum water.
Perspective: A technique for representing spatial relationships and three-dimensional objects on a flat surface so as to produce an effect similar to that as perceived by the human eye.
Colored substances found in organic and inorganic sources; many are now prepared synthetically. Pigment when finely divided and suspended in a liquid medium becomes paint, ink, etc. When suspended in a solid medium it becomes crayon, pastel, etc.
Photography: The art of taking and printing photographs.
Print: A picture or design reproduced, usually on paper and often in numerous copies, from a prepared wood block, metal plate, or stone slab.


Quartzite: An extremely compact, granular rock, consisting essentially of quartz.
A bed coverlet or blanket made of two layers of fabric with a layer of cotton, wool, feathers, or down in between, all stitched firmly together, usually in cross-stitch design.


Relief: The projection of a figure or part of a design from the background or plane on which it is carved or modelled.
Rose window: A large, circular window with stained glass and stone tracery, frequently used on facades and at the ends of transepts on Gothic churches.
Rubbing: A reproduction of a relief surface made by covering it with paper and rubbing it with pencil, chalk, etc.


Sanguine: A reddish-brown chalk chalk stick used for drawing.
Scrimshaw: To decorate (whale, irovy, bone, or shells) with intricate carvings or designs.
Sculpture: The art or practice of shaping figures or designs in the round or in relief, as by by carving wood, chiseling marble, modeling clay, or casting in metal.
Serpentine: A greenish, brownish, or spotted mineral used by Inuit carvers.
Silk: The fine, lustrous fibre produced by certain insect larvae and spiders; especially that produced by a silk worm to form its cocoon. Thiss material can be used for garments or stretched and used as an artists canvas.
Sketch: Another word for drawing.
Soapstone: Also known as steatite. A massive, white-to-green talc used in paints, ceramics, and sculpture.
Soapstone, commonly gray or grayish-green in color.
Stencil: A sheet of celluloid, cardboard, or other material in which a design has been cut so that when the ink or paint is passed over the sheet the pattern will be reproduced on the surface placed below.
Still Life: The representation of inanimate objects, such as flowers or fruit, in painting or photography.


Tempera Painting: A painting made with pigments mixed with egg yolk and water. It is applied to panels which had been prepared with a coating of Gesso.
Terracotta: Italian word for cooked earth. An earthenware, naturally reddish-brown but often glazed in various colors and fired. Used for pottery, sculpture, or as a building material or decoration.
Tessera: A small piece of colored stone, marble, glass, or gold-backed glass used in a mosaic.
Among the Native groups in North America, a natural object or animal assu,ed as the emblem of a tribe or family, or the representation of it, such as those carved on the posts or "totem-poles" erected in front of their dwellings.


Wash: A thin layer of translucent color or ink used in watercolor painting and brush drawing.
Watercolor painting: Painting, usually on paper, in pigments suspended in water.
To make cloth by interlacing the threads of the weft and the warp on a loom.
The horizontal threads interlaced through the warp in a wooven fabric.
Woodcut: A print made by carving out a design on a wood block cut along the grain, applying ink to the raised surfaces which remain, and printing from those. The spaces between the lines may be colored by hand, or as in the case with many Japanese woodcuts, by using separate blocks for one or more colors.
Wood engraving:
A technique of engraving on a block of wood cut across the grain. Finely detailed prints result from this method, which is relatively repaid in execution.
Wrought Iron: A comparitively pure form of iron which is easily forged and does not harden quickly, so that it can be shaped or hammered by hand in contrast to molded cast iron.


Yakshi: A tree-nymph or local fertility spirit occuring in Buddhist and Hindu art and religion.


Zodiac: An imaginary belt circling the heavens, including the paths of the sun, moon, and major planets, and containing twelve constellations. Often it is the inspiration for many artists' work.

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