Watercolor Glossary

How to Paint


An early twentieth century art movement which ridiculed contemporary culture and traditional art forms. The movement was formed to prove the bankruptcy of existing style of artistic expression rather than to promote a particular style itself. It was born as a consequence of the collapse during World War I of social and moral values which had developed to that time. Dada artists produced works which were nihilistic or reflected a cynical attitude toward social values, and, at the same time, irrational -- absurd and playful, emotive and intuitive, and often cryptic. Less a style than a zeitgeist, Dadaists typically produced art objects in unconventional forms produced by unconventional methods. Several artists employed the chance results of accident as a means of production, for instance. Literally, the word dada means several things in several languages: it's French for "hobbyhorse" and Slavic for "yes yes". Some authorities say that the name Dada is a nonsensical word chosen at random from a dictionary. Many artists associated with this movement later became associated with Surrealism. Many other movements have been influenced by Dada, including Pop Art and Fluxus.

In papermaking, the upper frame that encloses the wet pulp on the mold. Unlike the mold, the deckle is a frame which is entirely open.

Deckle edge
The rough edge of handmade paper formed in a deckle. Also called featheredge.

The opposite of collage and beginning soon after. The removing of images superimposed on each other, such as the deterioration that takes place when outdoor posters are layered one on top of another and allowed to create a new image through decay of various parts at various rates. Used most effectively by the surrealist Leo Malet, beginning in 1934.

Depth of field
In photography, depth of field is the distance between the nearest point and the farthest point in the subject which is perceived as acceptably sharp along a common image plane. For most subjects it extends one third of the distance in front of and two thirds of the distance behind the point focused on.

Having a slanted direction. Any straight edge or line that is neither horizontal nor vertical is diagonal.

Something which is intended to instruct. Sometimes, to be morally instructive. "Didaktikos" is a Greek word that means "apt at teaching." It comes from "didaskein," meaning "to teach." Something didactic does just that: teaches or instructs. Didactic conveyed that neutral meaning when it was first borrowed in the 17th century, and still does; a didactic piece of work is one that is meant to be instructive as well as artistic. Genre painting and sculpture -- narrative and often allegorical -- is apt to be didactic, especially when its aim is to teach a moral lesson. Didactic now often has negative connotations, because something didactic can be over burdened with instruction to the point of being dull. Or it might be pompously instructive or moralistic.

Die Brücke
A group of German Expressionist artists based in Dresden and Berlin between 1905 and 1913, mostly painters, they depicted landscapes, nudes, and carnival performers in strong colors and broad forms. They also revived the German woodcut tradition, but as a form of personal expression. Die Brücke is German for "The Bridge," and was not intended to be a style, but as a bridge toward a better future. They lived and worked as a community, in emulation of the guilds of the Middle Ages. Die Brücke was founded by four architecture students: Fritz Bleyl (1880-1966), Ernst Kirchner (1880-1938), Erich Heckel (1883-1970), and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976); other members included Emil Nolde (1867-1956) and Kies van Dongen.

Dominant color
Referring in a painting to the overall dominate color or hue.

In art often referred to as a study or sketch. Usually a quickly made drawing or painting made prior to beginning a finished work. Often made to explore ideas of color, form, composition, value, etc.

Dry brush
Applying relatively dry inks or waterpaints lightly over a surface, creating an area of broken color-- the new color having attached to the high spots but not to the low, so that traces of the paper or undercolor remain exposed. This may be done by holding the brush so that the side of its bristles lie flat against the paper, or by pulling it rapidly across the surface. See Frottis.


Earth colors
Pigments, such as yellow ochre and umber, that are obtained by mining; usually metal oxides. Also see color and warm colors.

Departing from the typical or established norm or pattern. A person who deviates markedly from an established norm, especially one exhibiting odd or unconventional behavior.

Where two things meet. Also, edge may refer to a quality sensed in artworks which is other than a smooth decorativeness; and that may be a sense of something unusual, disturbing, controversial, or in any of many other ways more demanding of the audience.

Egg Tempera
The use of egg (either the whole egg, just the white, or just the yolk, but using just the yolk is most common), mixed with water and pigment to make a paint. This process dates back to the Egyptians where there are examples of sarcophagi being decorated with them that are still in tact today. It is painted on solid supports and is capable of great detail as well as many other effects. It is very fast drying so does not lend itself to blending very well. It was the primary form of painting until the introduction of oils. At first, and still some today, oils were painted over the tempera painting to enhance the darker colors. Some of the most famous painters to use the medium in this century have been Andrew Weyeth, Robert Vickery, and Paul Cadmus.

Elements of art
The basic components used by the artist when producing works of art. Those elements are color, value, line, shape, form, texture, and space..

A plane curve, especially either a conic section whose plane is not parallel to the axis, base, or generatrix of the intersected cone, or the locus of points for which the sum of the distances from each point to two fixed points is equal.

Any forcefulness that gives importance or dominance (weight) to some feature or features of an artwork; something singled out, stressed, or drawn attention to by means of contrast, anomaly, or counterpoint for aesthetic impact. A way of combining elements to stress the differences between those elements and to create one or more centers of interest in a work. Often, emphasized elements are used to direct and focus attention on the most important parts of a composition -- its focal point. Emphasis is one of the principles of design. A design lacking emphasis may result in monotony.

Encaustic is a form of painting done with beeswax. It dates back to the Egyptians and Greeks, (the word comes from the Greek word encaustikos, meaning "to burn in"). It is not used much today because of the difficulty of the process. The most famous of modern painters to work in this medium is probably Jasper Johns. The paintings created by this process are very permanent and will withstand almost everything except extreme heat and cold. The medium is especially suited to impasto and knife work. The paint is made by mixing beeswax with pigment and a resin such as damar varnish. These are mixed while being heated on some sort of hot plate to about 150°-200° F. The paint is then allowed to cool into paint sticks. A palette is prepared by rubbing the dry sticks of paint on a heated palette. The hot, liquid paint is then painted on a rigid surface. When the paint has dried (this happens very fast), and the painting is done, the whole painting is then laid on a flat surface and a heat lamp is passed over the surface until the whole thing has fused together and to the support. This is a very tedious process, requires a lot of equipment, and if not done properly, could be dangerous.

Boredom; listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest and motivation, resulting in lack of effort.

A tool used in the erasure of parts of drawings. Graphite pencil drawings are erased with any of several types of rubber. (It was after this use that the substance called rubber received its name.) Lighter parts of charcoal drawings can be erased with either a kneaded eraser (also called putty rubber) or a kneaded piece of fresh bread. Wax crayons and lithographic crayons cannot be erased unless they are on non-absorbent surfaces.

Removal, usually of written or drawn marks, by rubbing, wiping, or scraping. The goal of erasure is typically to remove all traces of something, although one finds it practical to compromise at partial erasure.

Eye-hand coordination
Movement of the hand as directed by the eye and brain.

expression and expressionism
(with a small e -- the more general sense) An attitude conveyed by the set of a person's facial features. Also, a quality of inner experience, the emotions of the artist (expressive qualities) communicated through emphasis and distortion, which can be found in works of art of any period.

(with an upper-case E -- the more specific sense) An art movement dominant in Germany from 1905-1925, especially Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, which are usually referred to as German Expressionism, anticipated by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828), Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890), Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) and others.


F stop
The ratio of the focal length of a lense to the effective diameter of its aperture.

Having a deliberately false or misleading appearance; forgery, counterfeit; not authentic, not genuine. Or, to intentionally forge, counterfeit.

Sometimes used to indicate an imaginative, subjective world of inner expression that transcends mere fantasy or science fiction. The paintings of Richard Dadd (English, 1817-1886) and Kenny Scharf (American, 1958-), are often described as fantastic in this sense.

The creative imagination, or what it produces. Art characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements. From imagined events or sequences of mental images, such as daydreams to the more psychologically charged delusions and hallucinations. In psychological criticism, fantasy can be either creative or adjustive (i.e., compensatory).

An early twentieth century style of painting in France. The name Fauves, French for "Wild Beasts," was given to artists adhering to this style because it was felt that they used intense colors in a violent, uncontrolled way. The leader of the Fauves was Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954).

French for false, artificial, fake. English speakers say "faux" to give a high-toned quality to what is often an imitation of a natural material -- leather, fur, metal, or stone for example. Although faux materials are usually less expensive than the real thing, there can be other advantages to them: durability, uniformity, weight, color, and availability perhaps. There can be allegorical advantages too (falsity can have its purposes!) particularly when juxtaposed with opulence. Faux finishes are painted simulations of other materials -- the look of their colors and textures. Examples include: stones (marble, granite, sandstone, malachite, porphyry, serpentine, lapis, etc.), wood (also called faux bois -- false wood), masonry, and metal (gold, silver,and bronze, along with all of their potential patinas). A faux marble might be a substitute like terrazzo or scagliola, each of which employ marble dust in a plaster binder to result in a hard material that will take a polish. See the article on "marbling" for a discussion of marbling papers as well as faux-marbling as a painting technique.

The metal or plastic device that aligns and anchors paintbrush bristles or hairs in an adhesives. The ferrule is attached to the handle by crimping or by binding wires.

An object believed to have magical powers, especially one capable of bringing to fruition its owner's plans; sometimes regarded as the abode of a supernatural power or spirit.

Fibonacci Sequence or Fibonacci Numbers
In their simplest form, a sequence of numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 337, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, etc., in which each successive number is equal to the sum of the two preceding numbers. Named after Leonardo Fibonacci (1175-c.1250), an Italian mathematician, they have unusual characteristics with possible applications in botany, astronomy, and psychology, as well as in the arts. (Golden Mean)

Describes artwork representing the form of a human, an animal or a thing; any expression of one thing in terms of another thing. Abstract artwork is the opposite of figurative art in certain ways.

In two-dimensional works of art, the visual unity, yet separability, of a form and its background. Also see figuration and figurative.

A flat brush with a rounded point.

Fin de sicle
French for "end of the century." During the twentieth century, this referred to the art of the 1890s-- especially the art of aestheticism and Art Nouveau, which is sometimes known as "decadent art." An artist who epitomizes this period is Aubrey Beardsley (English, 1872-1898). As the end of the twentieth century has drawn near, this term has been used increasingly to refer to the 1990s.

The quality of a smooth, even, broad surface; a surface without curvature; especially a horizontal one. Also, lacking variety in tint or shading; uniform. Not glossy; mat (also spelled matte). And, it may refer to a flat-shaped brush. Although it is an oversimplification of their position, modernist artists and artwriters of the 1960s and early 1970s agreed that the essential characteristic of painting was its flatness, a point of view especially formulated by the critic Clement Greenberg (American, 1909-). This led to post-painterly abstraction on the one hand and to minimalism on the other.

Foam core or foam board
A stiff sheet of styrofoam laminated with paper on both of its sides. It may be of any of several thicknesses. Although more expensive than cardboard, it is preferred over them for its lighter weight, its stiffness, and for the ease with which it can be cut. It is often employed as a surface on which to mount two-dimensional work, and as a material with which to construct three-dimensional work (such as architectural models). Also see bristol board, carding, card stock, corrugated, matboard, and oaktag.

Focal length
In photography, the distance between the lens (its rear nodal point) and the focal plane (the film's or paper's surface).

Focal plane
In photography, an image line at right angle to the optical axis passing through the focal point. This forms the plane of sharp focus when a camera is set on infinity. Also see aperture, camera, focal length, and f/stop.

Focal point
The portion of an artwork's composition on which interest or attention centers. The focal point may be most interesting for any of several reasons: it may be given formal emphasis; its meaning may be controversial, incongruous, or otherwise compelling.

A point of convergence, such as the point at which rays of light converge in an optical system, or from which they diverge; also called focal point. The clarity of an image, such as when rendered by an optical system; or to make an image clear. Also see focal length, focal plane, and photography.

A unit of distance measurement equal to a third of a yard, or to twelve inches. To convert feet into meters, multiply them by 0.3048. To convert square feet into square meters, multiply them by 0.0929; into square yards, divide them by 9. To convert cubic feet into cubic inches, multiply them by 1728.0; into gallons (US dry), x 6.42851; gallons (US liquid), x 7.48052. Abbreviated ft. or with a ' (inches can be abbreviated in. or with a").

The area of a picture or field of vision, often at the bottom, that appears to be closest to the viewer. Also, to give priority to one aspect of a thing over another.

A way of representing a subject or an object so that it conveys the illusion of depth -- so that it seems to go back into space. Foreshortening's success often depends upon a point of view or perspective in which the sizes of near and far parts of a subject contrast greatly.

An aesthetic and critical theory of art which places emphasis on form -- the structural qualities instead of either content (sometimes called literal or allegorical qualities) or contextual qualities. According to this point of view, the most important thing about a work of art is the effective organization of the elements of art through the use of the principles of design. Also known as structuralism, in the 1960s and early 1970s formalism was so entrenched as the most powerful critical approach, that artists frequently produced works that were particularly attentive to it, and even now some think of modernism as more or less synonymous with formalism. Critic Clement Greenberg (see flat) is frequently cited as an instigating force, but formalism can be traced back through many artists, including J. A. M. Whistler (American, 1834-1903. See aestheticism, art for art's sake, and fin de siècle) to the philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Found image, found material, or found object
An image, material, or object, not originally intended as a work of art, that is obtained, selected, and exhibited by an artist, often without being altered in any way. The cubists, dadaists, and surrealists originated the use of found images / materials / objects. Although it can be either a natural or manufactured image / material / object, the term readymade refers only to those which were manufactured. Also known in the French, objet trouvé.

Drawn by hand, without the use of any mechanical device -- without the aid of a straight-edge, compass, protractor, French curves, computer equipment, etc. This is the opposite of mechanical drawing.

An adjective used to describe the extent to which a dry drawing medium crumbles and flakes.

The technique of rubbing with crayon or graphite on a piece of paper which has been placed over an object, or an image achieved in this way. Also simply referred to as rubbing. Such impressions are usually made from such highly textured subjects as leaves, wood, wire screen, gravestones, and manhole covers. It was a technique especially employed by surrealists, one of whom, Max Ernst (German, 1891-1976), first introduced frottage in his works in 1925, often employing such rubbings as part of a collage, or combining frottage with painting techniques.

French verb frotter, meaning to rub which refers to the technique of watercolor painting on textured paper with a dry brush allowing the texture of the paper to show.

As in pigment. Meaning to fade, not permanent in light. Opposite of lightfast.

Fugitive colors
Short-lived pigments and dye -- capable of fading or changing, especially with exposure to light, to atmospheric pollution, or when mixed with certain substances; in each case the result of a chemical change. Examples are the colors in magazine photographs and inexpensive construction papers, especially the yellows, and then reds. While student works are generally forgiven the use of such inexpensive poor-quality pigments, professional artists' works are expected to be made with permanent pigments.