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Art Essay Glossary

Artist's copy. The copy of a three-dimensional object that is retained by the artist or publisher. Similar in nature to an artist's proof, it is usually the same as the edition but is a separate or additional publication.

acid bath
A process that produces recessed areas in the plate surface that holds ink. A metal plate is immersed in a shallow tray containing an acid solution that chemically dissolves the metal not protected by an acid resist.

airbrushed drawing
In lithography, an image-making technique in which tusche is blown onto a plate or stone instead of being applied by brush or pen. The tool used is an airbrush, which is generally attached to an electric compressor that can supply air to a precision spray gun. Airbrushes are particularly useful when creating an even gradation of tone or color.

anodized aluminum
Aluminum that has been electrochemically processed to change the molecular structure and alter its color to dark gray. The process hardens the surface, making it stain- and scratch-resistant.

Artist's proof. A proof that meets the right to print impression or standard used for the edition but is retained apart from the edition by the artist or publisher.

An intaglio technique that produces effects similar to a watercolor wash, creating both even tones and/or tones with gradation or blending effects. The process entails adhering fine particles of resin to a metal plate as an acid resist. After the plate has been treated in an acid bath, the acid-resistant material is removed. The resulting etched, or bitten, surface is composed of textured areas rather than lines. Aquatint is often used in combination with other intaglio techniques.

An art object that uses three-dimensional found objects. An extension of collage, this technique became popular towards the end of the 1950s.


A method of preparing an aluminum lithography plate that contributes to the resistance of grease and oil by providing a special even texture receptive to holding a drawing on the matrix.

Ben Day dots
A shading medium that creates a textural and/or tonal effect. Invented by Benjamin Day in 1879, it may be incorporated into a print by imposing a transparent sheet of dots on the image at some point during the photographic reproduction process.

An engraving tool with a knob-like wooden handle and a metal shaft that has a sharply beveled point that cuts a V-shaped groove into a metal printing plate and provides a clean rich line for printing.

An intaglio tool with a wooden handle and a metal shaft that has a smooth, hard end. It can be used to flatten the roughened printing plate by pressing against it, thereby lightening a line or a tonal area.


Cancellation proof. A proof that is printed after the edition and any states are signed. This proof is usually pulled from the most characteristic "key" element after the artist or printer has defaced it. When three-dimensional objects are made from a mold, the mold is destroyed after fabrication of the edition.

The process of making an art object by pouring liquid material into a mold. When the material has hardened, the mold is removed. A primary type of casting is the lost wax process.

cast paper
A three-dimensional paper made by dipping a shaped mold into a vat of paper pulp or by pouring or patting pulp in or around a shaped mold. Once the pulp has dried, it is separated from the mold. Molds can be constructed from a variety of materials such as found objects, wire, plastic screening, plaster, rubber, wood, or ceramic. See handmade paper.

chine collé
A method that uses glue during the printing process in order to adhere a thin, often Oriental, sheet of paper to a heavier sheet. The fragile paper is able to take a finer impression than the more substantial paper beneath. In contemporary prints, chine collé is often used for purely aesthetic purposes, exploiting the visual qualities of the collé paper rather than its ability to reproduce fine impressions.

Each Gemini publication bears an embossed, dry-stamped, or printed form of the Gemini chop. It is generally placed adjacent to the artist's signature and is accompanied by a copyright mark.

Change, Inc. impression. A proof meeting the right to print impression or standard used for the edition that is intended for distribution to Change, Inc., a tax-exempt non-profit organization that supports professional artists in financial emergency.

cold pressed
A kind of paper surface made by pressing a sheet of finished paper between cold cylinders to produce a slight texture.

A technique that incorporates fragments of commercially printed paper into compositions. Introduced into fine art by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso circa 1909, collage was later developed by artists of the Dada and Surrealist movements to include found objects. Today any material fixed to a surface may be termed collage.

continuous tone
A photographic image, either positive or negative, that contains a full gradation of tonalities.

Collaboration proof. A proof meeting the right to print impression or standard used for the edition that is intended for distribution to a special group of artists or craftspeople.

Color progressive proof. A series of proofs intended to illustrate the development of the completed print by showing each color as added one by one.

Color trial copy. A three-dimensional object created during the proofing period that is a study related to the color to be used in the production of the edition.

Color trial proof. Generally, these proofs have the same printing elements as those in the edition. However, they may deviate from the edition through a sequence or color variance, or through added or deleted elements as in the trial proof. A color trial proof may have been pulled at any time during the proofing period or during the printing of the edition. They are signed if the artist feels they are a unique and desirable variation. There is often an overlap in intent between trial proof and the color trial proof.

A pattern, usually cut from a sheet of wood or metal, based on the artist's sketch. It acts as a template by which shapes can be accurately reproduced.



Objet trouve, see: Found Object.
Oceanic art
From the South Pacific, including Australasia.
the total output of an artist. Also: a work of art.
Offset litho
lithographic technique in which ink is transferred from a plate to a rubber roller, and then onto the paper.
Oil painting
A medium where pigments are mixed with drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppyseed, which found great favour due to its brilliance of detail, its rich colour, and its wider tonal range. Popularized during the 15th century in Northern Europe (whose climate did not favour fresco works), foremost pioneers of oil paint techniques included (in Holland) Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, and (in Italy) Leonardo Da Vinci.
There are various types of oil which are used as binders and drying agents (oil plus pigment dries by a process of oxidation by absorbing oxygen from the air) by oil painters. Linseed oil, made from flax seeds, adds gloss and transparency to paints and dries very thoroughly (within 3-5 days), making it ideal for underpainting. Stand oil is a thicker type of linseed oil, with a slower drying time (7-14 days), which is often diluted with (eg) turpentine, and used for glazing to produce a smooth, enamel-like finish with minimal traces of brushmarks. Poppyseed oil, much paler, more transparent and less likely to yellow than linseed, is often employed for white or lighter colours. Poppyseed oil takes longer to dry than linseed oil (5-7 days), so it is perfect for working wet on wet. Walnut oil is a thin, pale yellow-brown oil (dries in 4-5 days) which is commonly used to make oil paint more fluid.
Orders of Architecture
the five Classic orders, each composed of a column, having a base, shaft, capital, and entablature with architrave frieze, and cornice. There are three orders of Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. These were adapted by the Romans, who added Tuscan and Composite.
Origami paper folding
Reputedly invented in Japan around 1600, the the Chinese version known as "zhezhi" may be older.
Ottonian art
Murals, illuminated manuscripts and architectural sculpture of the period 919 to early 11th century, under the Ottonian emperors.
Outsider art
Refers to works by those outside of mainstream society. Outsider art broadly includes folk art and ethnic art as well as by prisoners, the mentally ill and others neither trained in art nor making their works to sell them.
The final layer of paint that is applied over the under painting or under layer after it has dried. The idea behind layers of painting is that the under painting is used to define the basic shapes and design so that the overpainting can be used to fill in the details of the piece.

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Bristles may derive from a variety of animals including boar, wolf, squirrel and badger as well as synthetic. Red sable hair is considered the finest. Different shapes are employed for different types of painting tasks: larger, more indistinct areas of painting such as the sky in landscapes were typically done with flat or round-tipped hogs hair brushes, while specific detail was painted with fine pointed sable brushes. In addition, feathers were sometimes employed to smooth out areas of paint to remove visible brushwork. Badger Brushes were used to blend adjacent areas of different tones.
a term coined by the art historian Heinrich Wolfflin to describe one of two contrasting styles in painting: linear, which emphasizes contours; painterly, which emphasizes colour and tone; hence painterliness.
process of applying paint. Also: object produced by applying paint to a flat support, e.g. a wall or canvas.
For history and famous painters, see Fine Art Painting.
slab of wood, metal or glass used by the artist for mixing paint. Also: figuratively: the range of colours used by the artist. See: Colour Mixing Tips.
Palette knife
spatula-shaped knife for mixing or applying thick, bodied paint.
Panel painting
refers to the use of wooden panels, as support: a practice which was widespread until the appearance of canvas during the 15th century. In Flanders, Holland, France and England, oak panels were most popular; in Germany and Austria oak, beech, lime, chestnut, and cherrywood was used; while in Italy poplar was also employed. Dry seasoned planks were primed with several coats of "size" - a glue derived from animal skins - and gesso, a combination of powdered calcium sulfate (gypsum) and animal glue. One advantage of panels, was their extremely smooth surface, which made them ideal for painting fine detail.
painting of a view or landscape; especially large-scale painting around a room, or rolled on a cylinder.
Papier Colle ("pasted paper")
collage of paper/card, first used in 1912 by Georges Braque.
Parietal Art
Prehistoric paintings, engravings or relief sculptures on cave walls and ceilings.
Crayon made from pigment mixed with gum and water and pressed into a stick-shaped form, or work executed in this medium. Because pastel tends to be light and chalky in tone, the word is also used to describe pale, light colours.
idealized landscape painting or country scene.
small models made as preliminaries to larger models, when making sculpture.
Performance Art
Contemporary form; see also Happenings.
A term which refers to the "depth" of a picture - that is, the illusion of three-dimensional space on the picture's two-dimensional surface - whereby forms in the background appear smaller than those in the foreground. The "single point" or linear perspective system was pioneered by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) in Florence in relation to his architecture. Mathematically constructed so that all receding parallel lines seem to converge towards each other, eventually meeting at a single point (the vanishing point), this method of perspective was employed by artists from the early 15th century onwards. Curiously, Dutch and Flemish painters of the early 15th century developed their own independent method of perspective.
Primitive rock carvings and engravings.
metal boss or disc, worn as an ornament or decorating a horse's harness. Commonly seen in Hallstatt and La Tene style Celtic art.
Now a fine arts medium.
picture combining juxtaposed photographic images.
a hyper-realistic style of painting in which an image is created in such detail that it resembles a photograph.
Pictographs (Prehistoric)
Also called pictograms, they are images typically on rock faces which express an idea or information.
quaint, charming. From the 18th century onwards "The Picturesque" acquired a more specific meaning, particularly in connection with landscape painting, and architecture; it suggested a deliberate roughness or rusticity of design, and was to some extent transitional between Classicism and Romanticism.
representation of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ.
the colour element in paint. Pigments can consist of a wide variety of ingredients, including minerals, natural/artificial dyestuffs, and other synthetic compounds. See: Colour Pigments: Types, History.
Plains Art
describes the native American Indian art practised by the Sioux, Commanche and Blackfeet tribes, on the Western Plains of the United States.
used in art to describe anything that can be molded or modeled; the opposite of Glyptic.
Plastic art
three-dimensional forms of art such as sculpture, pottery, and architecture.
Plein air painting
refers to the spontaneous outdoor method of painting from nature - usually landscapes - as perfected by Claude Monet among others.
sketch, especially one made outdoors.
Polymorphic painting
multiform painting, produced by some modern kinetic artists. The appearance of the work changes according to the position of the observer.
Pop Art
Sixties movement led by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. See: Andy Warhol's Pop Art.
painted work (usually an altarpiece) of more than three panels; see also Diptych, Triptych.
hard, refined ceramic stoneware, invented by the Chinese in the 7th century. See Chinese Porcelain.
Portrait Art
Drawn or painted image of a person, usually naturalistic and identifiable; hence portraiture, portraitist. See also Bust.
Poster Art
Either advertising lithographic designs, propaganda posters or reproductions of famous paintings. For more details, see: History of Poster Art.
Potter's wheel
Horizontal revolving disk used to shape clay by the ceramicist.
A form of ceramic art, in which wet clay is shaped, dried, glazed and fired in a kiln to create a variety of vessels, and ornaments. For history and styles of Antiquity, see: Greek Pottery.
adherent of the French late 17th-century theory of poussinism: the supremacy of line (draftsmanship) over colour.
Prehistoric art
Creative expression of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods of the Stone Age. For a chronological dateline, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.
Primary colours
red, blue, and yellow; the colours that can be mixed to produce other colours, but cannot themselves be produced from mixtures.
Primitivism/Primitive art
Paintings and drawings by people outside the influence of traditional Western styles. Also: works by intuitive painters or sculptors with a "naive" style commonly due to their lack of formal arts training.
any image, pattern, or lettering produced on fabric or paper by a variety of graphic processes. Also: (verb) to make an impression or image by such a process. Usually means letter-printing; printmaking involves producing an image that is aesthetically pleasing, or illustrative.
A term which applies to fine art printing processes, such as etching, engraving, lithography, woodcut, and silkscreen, in which multiple images are replicated from the same metal plate, stone, wood or linoleum block, or silkscreen, with monochrome or colour printing inks.
in painting, sculpture and architecture, this describes the ratio between the respective parts and the whole work, as annunciated (for instance) in the Canon of Proportion, a mathematical formula establishing ideal proportions of the various parts of the human body.
Protestant Reformation Art
A less overt, more humble, smaller-scale type of religious art, triggered by Luther's revolt (1517) and exemplified by the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt and Jan Vermeer.
A term meaning the origins of a work of art, specifically its history of ownership since its creation. Museum curators and fine art research experts at auctioneers like Christie's and Sotheby's study a work's provenance to establish its authenticity.
Public Art
A loose term which, in practice, means artworks financed out of the public purse. Can also mean works (usually sculpture) sited in public places, such as the Chicago Picasso.

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