Vocab to Know - From Average to Pro

Vocab to Know - From Average to Pro

1 simple way to ease and finally indulge in the art of painting is by brushing up on vocabulary words. 

This will be beneficial to you in that you wont feel like such an outsider, you'll hear words you've heard before. Subconsciously you'll connect the dots, boosting your confidence and faith to accomplish what you set out to do. 

Though, vocabulary words may sound a bit middle school, in my opinion you should never stop learning. 

So lets get started. 

If you want to continue on to the vocabulary words below be my guest, but if you want them to stick make time for this project I created. 

 - Project - 

Step 1. Get your hands on some watercolor paper cards, thicker cards if you're an acrylic painter or just some regular flash cards. 

Step 2. Write the definition on one side.

Step 3. Here's the fun part. For the other side of the card, on the opposite side of the definition think about the definition. 

Step 4: Based on the definition for that card determine what you can draw/ paint on the opposite side to stick the definition in your brain foreverrrrr. 

For example: If one of my vocabulary words says "Gradated Washes". Write the definition on one side and on the other side make an actual gradated wash of color. 

 - Glossary of Common Watercolor Terms -

Analogous colors: colors that are closely related on the color wheel.

Casein: a fast-drying, water-soluble paint derived from milk protein, or casein.

Charging: technique that involves mixing two or more colors directly on the paper instead of premixing on a palette.

Cold-pressed paper: lightly textured paper that absorbs paint and water.

Complementary colors: colors directly across from each other on the color wheel.

Drybrush technique: brushwork done on the dry surface of the paper.

Flat Wash: brushing successive strokes of color on a wet or dry surface, with each stroke placed next to the other, to create an even layer of color.

Glazing: applying thin, transparent washes of one color over another color.

Gradated wash: a wash in which the value  gradually changes from dark to light.

Granulation: speckled effect when coarse pigment settles into the paper indentations as the paint dries.

Gouache (or body color): an opaque watercolor that can be applied thick or thin.

Hard edge: the outer perimeter of a shape or series of shapes, sharply defined.

Hot-pressed paper: smooth, slick paper that doesn’t easily absorb paint and water.

Hue: a color’s common name (for example, cadmium red).

Intensity: a color’s saturation, brightness or strength.

Layering: applying premixed colors over another wash to change its value or intensity.

Lifting paint: a technique for removing paint from a surface with a brush, paper towel or tissue in order to correct mistakes, develop textures, create highlights or change values.

Lost and found edges: also called broken or inferred edges; used to create and suggest movement.

Masking fluid: liquid latex used to preserve the white of the paper and to create textures.

Palette: surface on which watercolors are mixed and/or stored.

Palette knife: small spatula-style knife used to apply or remove paint, or to add texture.

Pan Paint: small cakes of watercolor paint that come in half-pan or whole-pan sizes.

Pigment: dry coloring matter, usually an insoluble powder, that’s mixed with water and gum Arabic to create paint.

Rough paper: heavily textured paper.

Soft edge: fading or disappearing edge.

Scrubbing: a dry-brush technique used to lift paint from or add color to an area of the surface.

Staining Colors: colors that absorb into the paper before the water has had a chance to evaporate; they’re difficult to lift and will leave a stain on the paper.

Temperature: the warmness or coolness of a color, depending on where the color is situated on the color wheel.

Tint: created by adding water to the original color; the more water that’s added, the weaker the intensity.

Transparent paint: consists of pigment mixed with gum arabic, glycerin and a wetting agent. 

Value: a color’s relative lightness or darkness. 

Variegated wash: type of wet-into-wet wash that involves placing colors side by side and then mixing and blending them along their edges. 

Wet-into-dry wash: also known as a glaze or layering wash; a wash that’s applied to a dry surface.

Wet-into-wet wash: painting on a wet surface and letting colors blend as they may; looks strong and vibrant while wet but loses intensity when the colors dry. Make sure your brushes hold lots of water for this technique. 

YUPO: a “plastic” paper that doesn’t easily absorb paint and water.

 - Glossary of Common Acrylic Terms - 

Artist grade paint: Also known as professional grade paint. This is the best quality paint with the highest amount of pigment, and consequently the most expensive.

Binder: Paint is made up of pigment and binder and the binder is what holds the paint together.

Complementary colours: Complementary colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel (see the image below). Examples of pairs of complementary colours include red and green, orange and blue, and yellow and purple.

Craft paint: This is the cheapest kind of acrylic paint and contains the least pigment. It’s available in a huge range of colours.

Fluid paint: Also known as soft body paint. As the name suggests, this paint has a more fluid texture than heavy body. Fluid acrylics tend to level out on the painting surface, meaning they don’t hold brush strokes or texture.

Gesso: Gesso is a gritty substance that is painted onto canvases or other surfaces and helps the acrylic paint stick. White gesso is commonly used, but black and clear are also available.

Ground: Also known as the primer. The ground is used to prepare the surface for painting on. Gesso is a ground.

Heavy body paint: Heavy body paint has a thicker texture than fluid paint, and is spreadable like soft butter. It often comes in tubes (or in tubs in larger quantities).

Hue: A hue is a pure colour, like those you would find on a colour wheel. (See the colour wheel image above.)

Impasto: Impasto is a technique commonly associated with oil painting, and it involves applying paint thickly, often with a palette knife, so lots of texture remains.

Medium: This is something that is added to acrylic paint to achieve a certain outcome, such as making the paint dry more slowly or look glossier.

Opacity: If something is opaque, it isn’t see through. The higher the opacity of the paint, the less you will be able to see through it to what is behind (ie the canvas or another colour).

Open time: The open time is how long the paint remains wet on the canvas. This isn’t very long for acrylic paint. To blend colours together you need to either work quickly or use a medium to slow the drying time.

Palette: A flat surface used to hold your paint ready for painting. This might be plastic  or treated wood, or even a piece of wax paper! Stay-wet palettes are really useful when working with acrylics, as they hold a piece of damp paper that stops the paint drying so quickly.

Permanence: This is how well the paint holds up over time in terms of fading and colour-shift. The higher the permanence rating, the better a paint should last.

Pigment: This is the substance in paint that gives it its colour. Some paints are more expensive because the pigment is an expensive material. Better quality paints also tend to be more expensive because they contain more pigment.

Primary colour: There are three primary colours from which all other colours can be mixed. These are red, yellow, and blue. You can’t mix pure red, yellow, or blue from other colours.

Primer: Also known as the ground. The primer is used to prepare the surface for painting on. Gesso is a primer.

Professional grade paint: Also known as professional grade paint. This is the best quality paint with the highest amount of pigment, and consequently the most expensive.

Secondary colours: These are made by mixing the primary colours. They are as follows:

  • yellow + blue = green
  • red + yellow = orange
  • blue + red = purple

Soft body paint: Also known as fluid paint. As the name suggests, this paint has a softer texture than heavy body. Soft body acrylics tend to level out on the surface, meaning they don’t hold brush strokes or texture.

Shade: To make a shade, you add black to a colour.

Student grade paint: These paints are ideal for experimenting with as a hobbyist. Although they have less pigment than artist grade paints, you can still achieve good colour mixes and make great paintings.

Tertiary colours: These 6 colours are made when you mix a primary colour and its nearest secondary colour. They are as follows:

  • yellow + green = yellow-green
  • yellow + orange = yellow-orange
  • red + orange = red-orange
  • red + purple = red-purple
  • blue + purple = blue-purple
  • blue + green = blue-green

Tint: To make a tint, you add white to a colour.

Tone: To make a tone, you add grey to a colour (so you’re adding black and white).

Tooth: This is the texture of the painting surface. If you look closely at a canvas, you can see it has quite a rough texture. This helps the paint stick to the surface. You can give a smooth surface some tooth (teeth?!) by painting it with gesso.

Transparency: If something is transparent, it’s see through. The higher the transparency of the paint, the more you will be able to see through it to what is behind (ie the canvas or another colour).

Underpainting: Acrylic paintings are generally made up of layers. The underpainting is an initial layer of paint that is intended to be painted over. (Like underwear on a person, you can’t see the underpainting but it’s important nonetheless!)

Wash: This is thinned-down paint used to cover a large surface.

Ref. Birchandbutton

 - Glossary of Common Oil Terms -

Alkyd mediums – (Pronounced: al-kid) an alkyd is a synthetic resin that can be added to oil paint to speed up the drying time of the paints. 

Alkyd Paints – these paints are commonly known as fast drying oil colour and can be handy if you work quickly or have a tight deadline for a client! 

Pro tip: Alkyd oil paints have been developed more for the hobby market so the quality of the pigments used can often be less intense than standard artist quality paints. Gamblin have produced a lovely paint called ‘fast matte.’ It is both fast drying, artist quality and dries with a matte finish. This is very handy if you are going to paint on top with standard oils because the matte surface gives you a ‘grab’ for the paint to form a strong bond.

(nerd alert – the Alkyd is called a resin because it dries by solvent evaporation, rather than oxidation (exposure to air) like an oil.

Alla Prima – (Pronounced: ah-luh pree-ma) this is an Italian phrase that describes a painting created entirely in one sitting, it translates as ‘at the first’. Usually, there isn’t any underpainting to the piece and is created in one go.

Binder – the substance mixed with the dry pigment which holds together (binds) the pigment colour and helps the paint to stick to the support. For oil paint, the binder is usually cold-pressed Linseed oil. (For egg tempera painting, the binder is an egg, yes, egg!)

Bloom – a dull, progressively opaque, white effect that can appear on varnished surfaces if the paintings are kept in damp conditions.

Brushwork – this describes the characteristic way that each artist paints. It is like your personal signature to your painting.

Campitura – An even, opaque, flat tone applied to the canvas by mixing coloured pigment with white gesso primer layer to create a tinted coloured ground.

Chiaroscuro – (Pronounced: key-ARE-oh-SCURE-oh) an Italian word literally meaning “light dark”. Most usually used to describe a painting created with strong contrasts, such as Caravaggio.

Cold pressed linseed oil – oil often used in the grinding process of oil paints, the oil is extracted from Flaxseed, without the use of heat. The process takes longer than extracting using heat but is a purer oil.

Colour Field Painting – a style of painting prominent from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, featuring large “fields” or areas of oil colour, meant to evoke an aesthetic or emotional response through the colour alone.

Copal – this is a natural resin, used in making varnishes and painting mediums.

Couche – a thin layer of medium or oil that you can paint thin glazes into whilst the medium is still wet, commonly called ‘laying down a couche’

Craquelure  – (Pronounced: krak-loo r) this is the term used to describe the tiny cracks and fine lines covering the surface of old oil paintings. They are caused by the shrinking and movement of the ground and the oil paint surface.

Crazing – very fine surface cracks or lines that appear on the surface of a varnish film due to unequal drying times.

Dammar – a natural resin, used in making mediums and varnishes. Dammar can also be spelt Damar.

Dead colouring – a term used to describe the under-painting of a painting, when using a lean oil paint mix. The mix is usually diluted with turpentine or OMS which evaporates quickly leaving a matte appearance. It allows you to quickly establish the tonal values using a thin application.

Drier – a material that speeds up the drying time of the oil paint. Traditionally, driers were cobalt driers, but now they are often Alkyd resin dryers.

Dry Brush – an effect when you have very little moisture on your brush to apply the paint. When you use a dry brush you need more of a scrubbing motion and it leaves a broken colour effect.

Drying time – how long the paints take to dry. Different oil paints contain different quantities of oil binder, depending on how easily the raw ingredients ‘mix in’ with the oil. So some paints are fast dryers (such as Burnt umber) and others are slow drying (Ivory black).

Drying oils: oils such as Linseed oil, Walnut oil and Poppy oil that have the chemical properties of creating a solid, elastic surface when exposed to air (oxidization). Non-drying oils – unsuitable for oil painting are Olive oil and Almond oil.

Egg tempera painting – egg (either whole, yolk or white) can be used as a pigment binder. Tempera painting was very popular until the late fifteenth century.

Fat – this describes the oil content in paints, for example, Burnt umber has a ‘low fat’ oil content, so it is a fast drying oil paint because there is less oil in the paint mixture to oxidise and dry. Ivory black has a ‘high fat’ oil content so takes longer to dry.

Fat over lean – means that each succeeding layer of paint should have more ‘fat – oil’ than the preceding layer. If you are painting in an indirect method (working in layers rather than all in one go – alla prima) you need to adhere to this rule to prevent cracking.

Film – a fine layer of paint or varnish that has hardened. Too little binder in the paint can cause a ‘weak paint film’.

Flat colour – paint applied in a solid, flat colour, like the paint on your wall at home.

Fugitive pigment – a phrase used to describe a pigment’s impermanence and tendency to fade or change colour under the influence of natural effects such as sunlight, heat, water, etc.
Reynolds famously has many portraits that have lost the skin tones because he used Alizarin crimson which was a fugitive pigment, however, modern Permanent Alizarin crimson has a permanence A.

AA       – Extremely Permanent

A         – Permanent

B         – Moderately Durable

C         – Fugitive

Note: this should not be confused with Lightfastness which is how the pigment is affected by light alone, although often they tend to cross over.

Gallery Tone – the yellowish colour of old paintings usually caused by the ageing of natural resins used in a painting or varnish.

Gesso – traditional oil gesso is a mixture of glue (usually rabbit skin) water, and chalk (calcium carbonate) used to create a flexible, yet absorbent surface for the oil paint to be applied onto.

Glass Muller – a glass muller is needed when grinding paint by hand and to coat the dry pigment in medium. The base of the muller has been sandblasted to form a slight roughness and is usually slightly curved. The surface you grind on to, usually glass, can often be slightly textured to help with the grinding process.

Gloss – the appearance in sheen of the paint or varnish. For example, Alizarin crimson has a glossy surface when dry.

Glazes – the term used for a thin, transparent layer of paint. Glazes are used on top of one another to build up depth and modify colours in a painting. A glaze must be completely dry before another is applied on top. Traditionally glazes were used on top of a black and white under-painting called a Grisaille, thin layers of colours were then applied once the initial form had been established. The best paints to use for glazes are pigments that have a translucent quality.

Grinding colours – a process of grinding dry pigment with a binder, usually mixed initially with a palette knife and then mulled down to a thinner, smoother consistency with a glass muller or marble slab.

Grisaille – (Pronounced: griz-zai) a monochromatic oil painting which is often used in underpaintings or as a black & white painting technique.

Ground – a thin layer of paint, applied to a support to make it ready for painting, can be white but I prefer to use a coloured ground.

Half paste – a semi-translucent coat of paint that allows the dry underpainting to appear as if through a mist. Sometimes called a Velatura.

Hue – labelling on a paint tube that denotes a combination of less expensive pigments that closely imitates the mass tone of a more expensive pigment, not to be confused with Hue when describing colours, as in the perceived colour of an object, the lemon has a yellow hue.

Impasto – the texture created in a painted surface by the movement of the brush. Impasto usually implies thick, heavy brushwork, but the term also refers to the crisp, delicate textures found in smoother paint surfaces.

Imprimatura – (Pronounced: im-pree-muh-tur-uh) an initial stain of oil colour painted on a white ground which provides you with a transparent toned ground. It is similar to a coloured ground but more transparent. It comes from the Italian for ‘first paint layer’. Often, the initial stain of colour painted on a ground is left visible in areas of the finished painting.

Inpainting – this is a painting technique commonly used by conservators to unify a painting that has suffered paint loss and refers to paint applied over damaged areas only.

Laying out – refers to either ‘laying out your colours’ on to palette (setting the paint out) or, laying out your composition, which was traditionally done with cut out drawings on paper.

Lean – a term used to describe the low oil content in paints and mediums. Thinning with solvent results in a lower oil content to the paint mix, therefore a leaner mix.

Lean paint – a paint layer or paint that has a reduced oil (fat) content.

Lightfastness – lightfastness is the chemical stability of the pigment under long exposure to light. Artist quality paints are often rated according to the Blue Wool Scale (U.K) or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)


I – Excellent lightfastness
II – Very good lightfastness
III – Fair lightfastness

Lining – a conservation term for placing a new canvas on the back of a deteriorating original oil painting.

Litharge – a powdered form of lead used in making black oil (used as a basis for various Old Master mediums)

Mahl stick – (Pronounced: mar-hl) a wooden stick used to lean on when painting fine details. It has a long handle with a pad at one end, you rest this end on a dry area of the canvas to help steady your painting arm when painting a detailed, controlled part. You can simply make your own by tightly wrapping a cotton wool in a ball around the end of a length of wooden dowel. Cover the cotton wool with a piece of fabric or chamois and you will be Old Master a go-go!

Mass Tone – the undiluted colour of a pigment or paint when it’s in a large blob. Also known as mass colour.

Medium – the mixture that you add to your paint to dilute it, or to change consistency, drying time & working properties.

Monochrome – a painting created in a range of tints and tones of a single colour.

Natural varnish: tree resins (Mastic and Dammar), fossil resins (Copal and Amber), and insect resin secretions (Shellac).

Oiling out – this is where you paint a very thin coat of medium over the painting to bring the colours back to how they looked when you first painted them.

Paint body – description of the consistency of the paint, a thicker paint is described as having “a lot of body”. Just the same as Golden paints describe their thicker acrylics as ‘heavy body’.

Painting Knives – similar to Palette knives, but used more for applying paint directly to the canvas rather than mixing colours. 

Plein air – (Pronounced: plen-air) a painting created outside rather than in a studio. The term comes from the French ‘en plein air’ meaning ‘in the open air’.

Pigment – pigment is the substance or powder that makes up the colour of a paint. Pigments are either organic (carbon-based) or inorganic (mineral based).

Priming – the application of sizes and/or grounds to a support to prepare the painting’s surface, modify its absorbency, texture and colour before you start painting.

Refined Linseed Oil – made from the seeds of the flax plant. It adds gloss and transparency to paints and is available in several forms. It dries very thoroughly, making it ideal for underpainting and initial layers in a painting. Refined linseed oil is a popular, all-purpose, pale to light yellow oil which dries within three to five days.

Retouching – the work done by a restorer to replace areas of loss or damage in a painting.

Scumble – very thin layer of opaque or semi-opaque paint that partially hides the under-layer. Scumbling is the painting technique where a thin or broken layer of colour is brushed over another so that patches of the colour beneath show through. It can be done with a dry brush, or by removing bits of paint with a cloth. Curious about this technique? Click here

Sfumato – (Pronounced: sfoo-mah-toe) from the Italian word for “smoke.” Sfumato is a technique of painting in thin glazes to achieve a hazy, cloudy atmosphere, often to represent objects or landscape meant to be perceived as distant from the picture plane.

Sight-size – a painting technique where the key idea is that your eye needs to be able to see both the canvas and the subject in one glance, so they both appear the same size. This makes it easier to flick your eyes between the subject and your painting for judging shape, proportions and colours. The artists viewing position is roughly 6 – 12 feet away from the setup, so you step forward to make a mark and then step back to observe your painting again. This results in a more painterly, naturalistic finish.

Sinking in – this happens when the paint medium is absorbed by the underlying layer of paint, this could be due to a too absorbent or unevenly applied absorbent ground. The resulting appearance is a visually inconsistent surface, some parts shiny, some parts matte.

Size – a glue applied to fabric (canvas) or paper before priming to seal and protect it from the corrosive oil in the ground and paint. It’s also used to seal wood panels before painting.

Acrylic Size is available which is water-based, odourless, archival and comes premixed. Animal lovers avert your eyes!!! Traditionally artists used rabbit skin glue, be warned if you want to give this a go as we did at art college, it is very, very, smelly, as to apply it you have to warm it up.

Turpentine (spirits) – the traditional solvent or thinner for a drying oil (such as Linseed oil) distilled from the resin from certain trees, e.g the European larch, white fir, and American longleaf pine. It is used to ‘cut through’ the oil in oil paints, however, due to this ability, it has a strong solvent smell so is best used in a well-ventilated area. Alternatively, I would suggest using an Odorless Mineral Spirit such as Gamsol, a safe solvent that allows oil painters to use most traditional painting techniques without compromising on the vapours.

Underpainting – the initial stage or first layer of an oil painting commonly executed using a monochrome or dead colour as a base for the composition.

Value – the lightness or darkness of a colour, rather than the actual colour.

Varnish – a final layer that can be applied to a finished painting. A varnish protects a painting from environmental dirt and dust and is removable for cleaning and conservation purposes.

Velatura – (Pronounced: vella-tora) essentially glazing with an opaque paint. A method of adjusting colours by applying semi-opaque or opaque layers of paint over an area of dry paint. It’s a bit like a mix between a scumble and a glaze.

Verdaccio – (Pronounced: ver-dar-cheo) an Italian name used to describe a muted earth green used for creating a complete monochromatic underpainting. Often used as a nice base to apply warm, pinker tones on top of portraits.

Yellowing – this effect on oil paintings is usually caused by one of three reasons: excessive use of linseed oil medium; applying any of the varnishes that are prone to yellow with age; or most often – an accumulation of dirt embedded into the varnish.

Ref: willkempartschool 

And there you have it.
Go make some flashcards!
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