Watercolor Glossary

How to Paint


Laid papers
Papers with a patterned texture of parallel impressed lines in each sheet. This pattern results from the pulp resting against wires on the mold screen as the paper is made. "Chain" lines are farther apart and run parallel with the grain direction of the sheet, while "laid" lines are closely spaced and perpendicular to the grain. Wove papers exhibit a more gridded pattern, like that seen in most weaving.

Lead Point
A stylus of lead, or lead alloy, it is the only metal that will mark unprepared paper. With the two advantages of being easily erased and of producing only a faint line, lead point was used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for preliminary sketching in preparation for a drawing in another medium. Lead point's propensity to become blunt very quickly limited its wider use.

Left brain
Refers to a theory in which the left side of the brain is responsible for reading and verbal tasks, while the right brain is the creative side, responsible for art and spatial comprehension.

Life drawing
The act of drawing the human figure from a live (often nude) model, and each such drawing produced. Widely considered an essential component of an artist's education, life drawing trains the simultaneous workings of the eyes, the brain, and the hand; and increases skills needed for representation of the human form -- arguably the most important subject in art in its long history. Life drawing should increase knowledge of the underlying structure of the human figure -- from skeletal to muscle, fat, and skin -- the form to which any costume must correspond. Life drawing establishes the importance of seeing the figure dynamically -- in its cababilities for variety of pose and composition, action and expression. There are many ways to intensify the learning experience of life drawing. One is the practice of gesture drawing -- drawing at relatively great speeds, for as long as five minutes, and as short as a few seconds. Others are continuous-line and contour drawing.

Having the ability to resist fading on long exposure to sunlight. Denotes permanence when applied to pigment.

Limited Edition
This is when the artist promises to not make more than a specified amount of prints. In the old days of printing the artist would destroy the plate or stone that the print was made from so no more could be made. This is still true today of the traditional printing methods, but most prints are made by offset photolithography, called lithographs, and since they are produced by the means of photographing an original, the buyer only has the word of the artist. An edition can be of any length. For the most part, really fine art prints are limited to 200 to 300 prints. Most of the offset prints are more in the area of 1000 copies. Some are far larger than that. There is no limit to the number of prints that could be made on a modern press. In the old days, the number of prints was very limited and the higher the number the poorer the print. However, today, with photo offset the last one is just the same as the first.

May refer to any painter, but more often to itinerant American painters of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, who made literal and naïve portraits. They were largely self-taught. Also, may refer to a painter of miniatures in medieval illuminated manuscripts.

A mark with length and direction(-s). An element of art which refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. Often it defines a space, and may create an outline or contour, define a silhouette; create patterns, or movement, and the illusion of mass or volume. It may be two-dimensional (as with pencil on paper) three-dimensional (as with wire) or implied (the edge of a shape or form). Also see dot, linear, and linear perspective.

linear perspective
A system of drawing or painting in which the artist attempts to create the illusion of depth on a flat surface. The lines of buildings and other objects in a picture are slanted inward making them appear to extend back into space. If lengthened these lines will meet at a point along an imaginary horizontal line representing the eye level. Each such imaginary line is called an orthogonal. The point at which such lines meet is called a vanishing point.

Linen tape
A 3/4 or 1 inch wide acid free tape used as a hinge to adhere mat baords. Comes in rolls with water activated gum adhesive on one side.

literal qualities
The realistic presentation of subject matter in an artwork, along with the elements of art found in it; avoiding distortions, exaggerations, or embellishments. This aesthetic quality is favored by imitationalism. In describing a work, one makes an inventory of its literal qualities.

This is a printing process based on the fact that oil and water don't mix. It originated in Solnhofen, Germany where in 1798, Alois Senefelder discovered that when a greasy crayon was used to draw on a smooth limestone surface and then the surface was covered with water and then with ink, the ink would only stick to the stone where the greasy crayon had drawn marks. Paper could then be pressed on this surface and a print made of the drawing The process was soon refined and rapidly became a favorite printing method of and for artists. It was used by such greats as Goya, Daumier, Géricault, Delacroix, Degas, Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec. In the twentieth century it has been used by such artists as Picasso and Miro.

Local color
The true color of an object or a surface as seen in typical daylight, rather than its color as seen through atmosphere or interpreted by the taste or imagination of the artist. Thus the characteristic local color of a lemon is yellow.

Low art
Refers to the lesser or minor arts, including the decorative or applied arts, with the inference that these are low partly because of shoddy manufacturing in inferior materials of superficial kitsch, simply catering to popular taste, unreflective acceptance of realism, and a certain "couch potato" mentality. The boundary between high and low art has faded in the contemporary art scene. Its place has been taken by discussion of popular or mass culture.

Low relief
In relief sculpture, a very slight extension of a form out of the background.

The depiction of light in a painting. Any school of painting where the central theme is the depiction of lighting effects, such as pointillism and impressionism.

A quality seen in some paintings of a glow coming from within, the illusion that there is actually a light coming out of the picture. Glossy colors are more likely to provide this luminous effect than matte colors.

A high-gloss finish with iridescence. It may refer to a thin glaze (usually metalic) sometimes used on pottery to produce a rich iridescent color, especially reknowned in Persian pottery and in majolica.


Spotted; stained; blotched. Or, defiled; impure. The opposite of immaculate.

A color also known as fuchsia and hot pink; a moderate to vivid purplish red, named after the town of Magenta, in northwest Italy. One of the primary colors.

Also called a bridge, a long wooden stick used by painters as a tool to support and steady the hand that holds the brush, conserving the arm's strength, and protecting the painting's surface.

A public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions. Although usually of a political nature, there is a history in art, especially in modernism during the first half of the twentieth century, of the spokesmen of various avant-garde movements publishing manifestos which declare their theories, motivations and direction, stimulating support for them or reactions against them. These movements have included Futurism, Rayonism, and Surrealism.

Maniplate, manipulation
To manipulate is to change or model by careful use of the hands; to manage shapes and forms in a space, less by additive or subtractive techniques than by moving things around.

A life-size full or partial representation of the human figure. Mannequins are often used for the fitting or exhibiting of clothes. May also refer to a jointed model of a human figure used by artists, especially for use with drapery. This term is derived from an old Dutch word for little person, mannekijn. It was absorbed into English usage at about the same time that English speakers took from the Dutch words the words "easel" and "landscape."

A European art movement and style that developed between 1520 and 1600. It was a style that rejected the calm balance of the High Renaissance in favor of emotion and distortion. Works of art done in this style reflected the tension that marked Europe at this time in history.

A small sculpture made as a preparatory study or model for a full-scale work.

An edge and the area immediately beside it, as of a page. A border.

A visible trace or impression on a surface, such as a line, a dot, spot, stain, scratch, blemish, mar, bruise, crack, dent, boss, or pleat.

Masking fluid
Also known as Maskit and Friskit. A removable latex gum resist used to protect or reserve
selected unpainted areas from wet paint.

A trademark used for a type of fiberboard employed as a surface for painting, but manufactured principally as wallboard for use in insulation, paneling,etc. It is dark brown, with one side that is very smooth, and the other bearingthe texture of an impressed wire screen. Gesso is commonly applied to it as aground, and can be quite permanent.

Refers to the effect and degree of bulk, density, and weight of matter in space; the area occupied by a form such as a building or sculpture. As opposed to plane and area, mass is three-dimensional.

Sometimes called body color. This is the hue that is seen when a pile of the paint is sitting alone.

Masterpiece or masterwork
A work done with extraordinary skill; especially a work of art, craft or intellect which is an exceptionally great achievement. To some, this means the best piece of work by a particular artist or craftsperson. Historically, a piece of work presented to a medieval guild as evidence of an apprentice's qualification to attain the rank of master. Also called masterwork. First known in English in the early 17th century, this word was derived from the Dutch meesterstuk or from the German Meisterstück. The French equivalent is chef-d'oeuvre. Synonymns might include: classic, jewel, magnum opus (Latin for "great work"), ne plus ultra (Latin for "nothing is higher"), nonpareil (French for "without equal"), tour de force (French for "feat of strength"), pièce de résistance (French for "piece with staying power"), summit, prize, treasure, masterstroke, and crowning achievement.

Mat, matt, or matte
A decorative border placed around a picture, often under glass, also called matboard. It serves as a frame or provides contrast between the picture and the frame. Or, to put a mat around a picture. Also, a thin, flat sheet of glass fiber material used to reinforce laminating resin, hollow cast ciment fondu, and modeled concrete sculpture. Surface mat is quite fine, chopped strand mat is coarse, loosely woven fabric. Also, having a dull, flat, non-reflective, sometimes roughly textured finish, perhaps of paint, metal, paper or glass ; the opposite of glossy.

A mat that is typically cut from a heavy cardboard. Matboard serves two very important functions in the overall framing of a picture. First and foremost it protects the artwork and second it showcases and enhances the subject being framed. It is important to protect works of art on paper, photographs, and other framed objects from direct contact with glass. Matboard provides a barrier from the airborne pollutants, moisture, acids and other damaging impurities that can impact the life of the framed piece. Matboard when used correctly also leads your eye into the artwork, enhancing the overall effect. Whenever a work's presentation or storage environment should be of archival quality, be sure to use acid-free matboard. It is more expensive, but is much less likely to discolor artworks over time.

The substance or substances out of which something is or can be made. Examples include: clays, fibers, glass, papers, plastics, metals, pigments, stones, woods, etc. In body art the material might be the artist's body. In conceptual art there might be no material at all.

Drawings are usually measured in inches or millimeters, height preceding width. The term sight size is used when the person measuring the work is unable to lay the tape measure close to the drawing, or when part of the drawing is hidden (by a mat or frame, for example) and the complete extent of the drawing cannot be discerned.

The material or technique used by an artist to produce a work of art. It may also refer to the vehicle or solvent with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint of the proper consistency.  also:  Fluid used to suspend pigment in paints, such as gum arabic, honey, linseed oil, and stand oil.

What is conveyed or signified by something; its sense or significance. An interpretation. However an artist may intend an artwork to impart meaning, and whatever an artist does to pack a work with meaning, in the end, it is the viewer who creates meaning in each and every image.

Ordinary; average to inferior in quality, with a negative connotation.

meta-cognition or metacognition
The ability to think with discernment about what one is thinking. Some propose that meta-cognition represents the seventh and highest level of learning outcomes in the cognitive domain-- the level of understanding just beyond synthesis and evaluation.

metal Nib Pen
The metal pen was not widely used until the second quarter of the nineteenth century, when advanced techniques for stamping, bending, and grinding steel became available.

To cut two pieces of wood at 45¡ so that they align perfectly at right angle.

An activity or a subject in which an artist specializes, or for which he is especially suited; his forté.

middle ground
The part of an artwork that lies between the foreground (nearest to the viewer) and the background.

A period of a thousand years. Because the first millennium CE began with the year 1 CE, 2000 was the final year of the second millennium, and December 31, 2000 was the last day of the second millennium. From the first day of 2001, we have been living in the third millennium CE.

A unit of distance measurement equal to 1/10 of a centimeter, or 1/1000 of a meter. To convert millimeters into inches, multiply them by 0.03937.

There are many theories about the human consciousness, leading some to conclude that the mind is one's soul, spirit, or brain. A psychologist might say that the mind is the portion of the brain in which it performs as the conscious and subconscious. Consciousness manifests as feelings, perceptions, thoughts, will, reasoning, memory, and imagination. The mind includes or relies on the parts of the brain in which we process the input of our senses. Here it is that we pay attention, apply knowledge and creativity, form opinions, make decisions, and direct behaviors. In it dwell and are processed concepts, meanings, ambiguities, fantasies, inspirations, mysteries, and motivations.

A small letter. "Minuscule" appeared in the early 18th century as a word for certain ancient and medieval writing styles which had "small forms." Eventually, it came to be used for any lowercase letter. "Minuscule" then acquired a more general adjectival use for anything very small. "Majuscule" is the counterpart to "minuscule" when it comes to letters, although it is not used as the opposite to miniscule in its last sense.

Refers to liquids that can be mixed in all proportions to each other, and they will be completely soluble in each other.

To cut two pieces of wood (or another material) at 45° so that they align perfectly at right angle.

mixed media or mixed-media
A technique involving the use of two or more artistic media, such as ink and pastel or painting and collage, that are combined in a single composition. The term intermedia is used synonymously.

Generally refers to recent times or the present, or the sense of something being contemporary or up-to-date, recently developed or advanced in style, technique, or technology. Sometimes this refers to something being innovative or experimental.

Striving to be modern in appearance or style but lacking taste or refinement; pretentious. A spelling more common in the 1930s to 1950s.

Modernism or modernism
An art movement characterized by the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts and literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Modernism refers to this period's interest in: • new types of paints and other materials • expressing feelings, ideas, fantasies, and dreams instead of the visual world we otherwise see • creating abstractions, rather than representing what is real • a rejection of naturalistic color • a use of choppy, clearly visible brushstrokes • the acceptance of line, form, color, and process as valid subject matter by themselves • a requirement that the audience take a more active role as interpreter. Each viewer must observe carefully, and get information about the artist's intentions and environment, before forming judgments about the work. Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906) is often called the "Father of Modernism." The modern period is generally thought to have been followed by the one we are in now -- most often called postmodern. Although some prefer to call it "late modern."

As in monochromatic. Being of one color or hue.

A single pictorial composition made by juxtaposing or overlapping many pictures or designs. The art or process of making such a composition. Also, a rapid succession of different images or shots in a movie.

In art criticism, any work of art of grandeur and simplicity, regardless of its size, although it often connotes great size.

Any figure or design, when used either as the central element in a work or is repeated to create an architectural or decorative pattern. Also, a recurrent thematic element in any work.

The appearance of spots or blotches of color in paint or on paper.

Muse and muses
Generally, a guiding spirit or source of inspiration. In Greek mythology, the nine patron goddesses of the arts; daughters of Zeus (principal god of the Greek pantheon, ruler of the heavens) and Mnemosyne (a titan who personified memory.) They were: Calliope (muse of epic poetry and eloquence), Euterpe (muse of music and lyric poetry), Erato (muse of love poetry), Polyhymnia (muse of oratory or sacred poetry), Clio (muse of history), Melpomene (muse of tragedy), Thalia (muse of comedy), Terpsichore (muse of choral song and dance), and Urania (muse of astronomy). They are led by Apollo as god of music and poetry.

mutable Subject to change.


naive Art
Artwork that is produced by artists without formal training. Probably the best-known artist of this type is Grandma Moses. The style is generally childlike and innocent, but will have an unusual sensitive touch and a natural understanding of composition and spatial organization. This style should not be confused with folk art. Folk art contains functional forms that are specific to a culture.

Narrative art
Art which represents elements of a story. Genre and history painting are each types of narrative art. While genre paintings depict events of an everyday sort, history paintings depict famous events. Modernists largely rejected narrative art in the 1950s and 1960s, though it has returned strongly since then, with artists embracing several means of presentation viewed by modernists as theatrical, and therefore inappropriate to the purity of art. These include video and performance art. Narrative may refer to a textual element, either part of or accompanying a work. For instance, photographer Duane Michals (American, contemporary) adds written texts to his series of photographs.

Negative space
Empty space in an artwork, a void.

A color not associated with a hue. Neutral colors include blacks, whites, grays and browns. A hue can be neutralized by adding some of its complement to it.

Broadly used, this may refer to all expressionist art since the original movement known as Expressionism arose in Germany between 1905 and 1925. Abstract Expressionism is an example of a movement which may be referred to as neo-expressionist. Neo-expressionist art stems from Wassily Kandinsky (Russian-German, 1866-1944), its antithesis from the Neo-Plasticism of Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944). Used more narrowly, this term sometimes refers specifically to the primarily German and Italian expressionist art revival of the 1970s and early 1980s. Rejecting both conceptual and minimalist modes, these neo-expressionists returned to gestural, figurative painting. Often steeped in the German history, paintings by A.R.Penck (1939-) and Anselm Kiefer (1945-) are full of symbolism referring to issues repressed by Germans.

Also called De Stijl. An art movement advocating pure abstraction and simplicity -- form reduced to the rectangle, and color to the primary colors, along with black and white. Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944) was the group's leading figure. He published a manifesto titled Neo-Plasticism in 1920. Another member of this movement, painter Theo van Doesberg (Dutch, 1883-1931) started a journal named De Stijl in 1917, which continued publication until 1928, spreading the theories of the group. It also included the painter George Vantongerloo (Belgian,1886-1965), and the architects J.J.P. Oud (1890-1963) and Gerrit Rietveld (Dutch, 1888-1965). Their work exerted tremendous influence on the Bauhaus and the International Style.

The type of paper on which newspapers are typically printed. This is a very inexpensive paper, manufactured from wood pulp, popular for use by students and for the making of sketches and preliminary drawings. It takes charcoal, soft lead pencil, and litho crayon well. Since it turns brown and becomes brittle on relatively short aging, it should not be considered for permanent work. Newsprint is available in pads, single sheets, and rolls.

A subtle difference, distinction, or variation; a subtle quality. Or a sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate gradations of a meaning (as of an attitude or expression) or of a form (as of its values, textures, or shades, tints, or tones of color, etc.) "Nuance" came to English in the late 18th century, having been "nubes" in Latin, then "nue" in Middle French, each meaning "cloud." In later French, "nue" developed into "nuer" meaning "to make shades of color."


A thin but stiff card or cardboard, the kind used in the typical manilla file-folder. Also see bristol board, illustration board, paper, and vellum

A material thing. Something to which attention, feeling, thought, or action is directed, therefore usually conceived as subhuman, unreflective and passive, in contrast to the active subject.

Objectify and objectification
To depersonalize; turning something or someone into an object. The term is very commonly used to describe the dehumanizing oppression of women, non-whites, and the dispossessed. To do the opposite is to subjectify.

Being influenced by facts instead of by emotions or personal prejudices. The opposite of objectification and subjectivity.

Objet d'art
A French term meaning art object; it is often used by English speakers to mean a work of art which is small in size, such as a miniature painting, netsuke, a statuette, or vase. Also see bibelot and masterpiece.

Having a slanting or sloping position or direction; inclined, diagonal. May refer to a style of type that slants to the left, as opposed to the italic style, which slants to the right. Obliques are rarely used in printing except for special effects. (pr. o-bleek') Also see bevel, declivity, font, and projection.

A shape stretched out from a circle or square shape so that it is longer than it is wide.

Offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty. Lewd. Or, more broadly, repulsive or offensive to the senses. Obscenity is the state or quality of being obscene. Also see bad art, coarse, erotica and erotic art, feminism and feminist art, First Amendment rights, fig leaf, beauty, grotesque, love, nude, pain, pornography, sensuality, sex, sybaritic, and voyeurism.

Excessive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion. A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion. Whenever an artist works on a piece or a body of work that involves an impressive number of things or gestures, critics might characterize the artist or the work as obsessive. Many of the greatest works of art took a long time to produce. Anything that involves highly repetitive movements, takes a long time, is highly stylized, took stupendous energy or craftsmanship to produce could be interpreted as having been the product of obsessive behaviour. Unless it is truly deranged or mindless (monotonous), such work might also be described as showing the extent to which the artist can focus his energy. Consider animated filmmaking and art lexicography, for instance. Nevertheless, works by folk, self-taught, mentally ill, and other outsider artists have often been noted as resulting from obsessive behaviors such as seen in horror vacui, and many critics have made powerful cases in support of such work. Also see Aboriginal art, art brut, attention, attitude, effort, expression, expressive qualities, focus, gestalt, meaning, memory, monotony, motivation, naive, paint-by-number, pattern, perception, pique assiette (also called picassiette), point of view, primitive, rhythm, Stendhal syndrome, and stylize.

Obtuse angle
An angle greater than 90° but less than 180°. The first two of the angles below are obtuse. The third one is 90°, also called a right angle. The last of the four is an acute angle.

One-point perspective
A form of linear perspective in which all lines (describing straight edges that go from points nearer to points farther) appear to meet at a single, centralized point on the horizon.

Something that cannot be seen through; the opposite of transparent, although something through which some light passes would be described as translucent.

The quality of being opaque. In painting, the power of a pigment to cover or obscure the surface to which it is applied.

Open shape
In an artwork, space that is not completely enclosed by a line. A mass penetrated or treated in such a way that space acts as its environment rather than as its limit. For example, a doughnut having a hole in its middle has an open shape in its middle.

A condition of logical or comprehensible arrangement among the separate elements of a group. The opposite of disorder or chaos. Types of order: abecedarian, chronology, by color, numerical, periodicity, sequence, by shape, by size, superimposed order, and taxonomy.

An irregular shape, or one that might be found in nature, rather than a regular, mechanical shape.

A unit of dry as well as liquid measurement (in the US). To convert ounces (US dry) into grams, multiply by 28.3495; into pound, divide by 16. To convert ounces (US fluid) into cubic inches, multiply by 1.80469; into liters, x 0.02957; into pint, x 0.0625; into tablespoons, x 2.

Ox bile
Product made from the bile of oxen, used as a wetting agent in watercolors.