Glossary of Art Terms


Acrylic paint is a water-soluble medium made from a combination of pigments and synthetic resin derived from an acrylic acid. Acrylic paint can be applied to almost any surface. It is water-soluble which gives it the advantage of drying faster than oil paints. Using acrylics as a painting medium became popular in the US in the 1950s.


An aquatint is an etching technique that produces soft tonal areas. A resin dust is applied to a copper or zinc plate, which is then heated to adhere the granules to the metal. A liquid acid-resist ground is then brushed on those areas that are not to be affected when the plate is immersed in the acid bath. The liquid ground can also be applied in stages over the tonal areas to control the depth of tone. Gradation technique can be used by itself or combination with other intaglio processes such as etching or engraving depending on the desired effect. Aquatint was invented in the late 1700’s by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince and became very popular with British printmakers in the early 1800’s and has been used in printmaking by well-known artists over the centuries.


All photography was originally monochromatic and most were in black and white. Color photography was introduced in the mid 1800’s but black and white photography remains most popular today.


Charcoal has been in use since prehistoric times. It is a natural medium made from kiln fired willow twigs. It is black in color with variations in intensity created by levels of hardness. The softer the charcoal the more easily it smudges and can be blended to create a tonal quality. Compressed charcoal is the hardest form and can be made into pencils, which allows for a finer, sharper line and greater detail. Charcoal is often used for sketching but many great artists have produced finished drawings.


A chromolithograph is a lithographic process with the addition of colors. To achieve a multi-colored print a lithographic stone is used for each color sometimes employed as many as twenty-five stones. Heavy oil-based inks were used to create the textured richness of an original oil painting. Chromolithographs were very popular during the later part of the 19th century particularly in the reproduction of oil paintings, children’s books, posters, advertising art and fine art publications.


A collograph is a print made from a handmade plate built up in the manner of a collage. Various materials of the artists choosing are glued or attached to a thin piece of wood or cardboard plate. The completed plate, after being varnished or shellacked for stability, is inked, wiped and printed in the same fashion as an etching. This can be a very creative technique with many textures and tones depending on the material used. Because of the fragility of the material collographs are usually printed in small editions.


Dry point is an intaglio process similar to etching but without the use of chemicals. A hard steel needle is used to incise a design into a copper or steel plate resulting in lines edged by metal burrs. The finished print will have soft, velvety lines that resemble a pen and ink drawing. Dry point etching yields fewer prints than other intaglio methods as the burrs are not very strong. This is an intaglio process and there will be a plate mark.


An engraving is an intaglio process in which the artist works directly without the use of chemicals. A sharp engraving tool is used to cut directly into a copper or steel plate resulting in a sharp image with fine details and a distinct plate mark.


An etching is produced from a metal plate that has been prepared with a waxy acid-resistant ground. A sharp tool is used to create a design, which exposes the metal beneath the ground. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath that cuts the incised lines into the plate. The plate is then inked, wiped and printed on paper with the use of a special press. The etching process was invented around the 14th century but was perfected as an art form by Rembrandt in the mid 1600s.

GICLEE (Fine Art Editions)

A giclee is a fine art reproduction of an original work of art or photograph. A high-resolution scan of an original piece is printed from a professional inkjet printer. Fade resistant archival inks are sprayed or squirted onto a selected surface such as a canvas fine art or photo-based paper. Some of the advantages of this relatively new technology is that the quality of the print does not diminish with the quantity, the artwork can be reproduced in any size and the color accuracy is excellent and consistent. Giclee prints can be found of the walls of some of the great museums and galleries and have been known to sell at auction for over $20,000.


Very popular in the 1900s, an image is printed on paper that is coated with a gelatin emulsion, which contains light sensitive silver salts. This technique is still used today.


A photomechanical process by which an image is chemically affixed to a metal plate and then etched.


There are several techniques in printmaking that are referred to as the intaglio process. What they all have in common is that the image is printed on paper from a design that has been incised or etched into the surface of a metal plate. The printed image stands in relief and a plate mark is evident. Some of the intaglio techniques are etching, engraving, aquatint and mezzotint.


Invented in Germany in 1796, lithographs are produced by drawing an image with grease based crayons or oily inks on a fine-grained limestone slab or a smooth metal plate. The surface is treated with chemicals that fix the image and allow it to accept ink and the non-image areas to repel the ink. A special lithograph press is used to print the image. Because this is a planographic technique there is no plate mark.


Mezzotint is a reverse engraving process in which the artist works from black to white resulting in a richly textured image with velvety tonal areas. A tool called a rocker which has a curved serrated blade is worked over the entire surface of a copper or steel plate. The tiny holes and burrs that are covering the plate hold up with ink creating a soft dark tone when printed. The plate is then scraped and burnished to create a variety of tones and highlights, ranging from a deep black to white. This is a result of more or less ink being captured by the surface on the metal plate. The artist can create sharper details by mixing techniques with etching or engraving. A mezzotint is an intaglio process and a plate mark will be evident.


A work of visual art that involves the use of two or more artistic mediums in a single composition. There are no rules as to what an artist can use to create a finished piece.


A monotype is a one of a kind image inked or painted directly on a smooth surface and then printed on an etching press or pressed by hand onto a sheet of absorbent paper. Second impressions are rarely successful.


Applying oil paints to a surface such as canvas, linen, wood or masonite board. Linseed, walnut and poppy are some of the natural oils used as a vehicle to bind the pigment. Oil paints are slow to dry permitting the artist to blend colors and build up the composition.


Created and executed by the artist or under his supervision and not a reproduction.


A colored crayon rolled or pressed into square or round sticks from a paste of finely ground pigment, water and non-greasy gum binder. Chalk is added to get variations of tone with the deepest tones being pure pigment. Pastels are applied directly to a surface and can blended, smeared or rubbed to create a painterly effect. They are the simplest and purest form of painting.


An archivally permanent way of reproducing a photographic image because of its high quality, excellent details and sensitive tones. It was also used for original fine art prints and photo reproductions of paintings and other media. Photogravure was very popular in the mid 1880’s and was brought to a very high standard throughout the 20th century. Famous photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Curtis and Paul Strand favored this technique.


Pochoir, meaning stencil in French, is the process of using stencils to add color to a design that has been printed in outline on paper. The artist or printer dabs or brushes paint, usually watercolor or gouache, across the stencil openings. Influenced by the introduction of Japanese printmaking into France during the early 1900s, this highly specialized art form was extremely popular during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. Book illustration, interior design, fashion plates, playing cards and paper are some of the fields that used this technique.


Printmaking is a process in which the artist creates an impression on a selected medium such as stone, wood, or metal and transfers it onto paper through various techniques. Multiple prints can be made of a simple design either in black and white or in color. Each impression may be signed and numbered by the artist, in the lower margins with a pencil. The medium is then defaced to prevent further use resulting in a limited edition or the artist may choose to produce an open edition without limitations to quantity. Either way each piece is printed by the artist or with the assistance of a master printer, under the direction of the artist. Each piece of paper is considered an original print.


A reproduction is a copy of an original work of art and produced by a photomechanical process. There are no limitations to quantity and the quality varies with the type of paper used and the color saturation. The value of a reproduction can vary depending on the artist, availability and the original date of printing.


A restrike is a re-printing on an image, original plate, stone or block after an edition has been exhausted. These later impressions are often produced after the death of an artist and can be printed in unlimited quantities. During the later part of the 19th century, printers began to deface or cancel the plates therefore no further prints could be produced although this practice is up to the discretion of the artist.


A three dimensional work of art created from any type of material. It can be carved, assembled, welded, cast, molded, etc. It may be any size and presented on any surface including being hung from above.


A serigraph or a silkscreen print is a versatile print making process that can produce textures similar to oil painting, acrylic, pastel or gouache. A thin fabric such as silk is stretched tightly across a frame and a stencil is used to paint an image on the material. A new screen is required for each color. A squeegee filled with ink is pulled across the screen transferring it to the surface it is to be printed onto.


A reproduction of an original poster.


Color or pigments are finely ground and mixed with water. The support for these paints can be paper, plastics, vellum, leather, fabric, wood or canvas. The watercolor medium produces delicate, translucent paintings with brilliant colors. Watercolor painting is perhaps the oldest form of painting in history. It was not until the 18th century that watercolor grew from a simple wash drawing into a technique of complete painting. Over the centuries famous artists have produced many noteworthy watercolor paintings including Cezanne, JMW Turner, John Singer Sargent, and Winslow Homer.


Woodcut or woodblock print is the oldest form of printmaking dating back to the 3rd century in China. A design is drawn on the face of a block of wood. The negative spaces are carved or scooped away leaving the image to be printed in relief. The block is inked using a roller or dauber and a sheet of paper is laid on the inked block. The woodcut can be transferred to the paper by hand, using pressure from the back of a wooden spoon or similar object or it can be printed on a mechanical press.


Wood engraving is a relief method of printmaking. The artist uses a sharp tool to incise a design into the polished end of a hardwood block. Because of the hardness of the wood, highly detailed images can be obtained. A conventional press can be used and thousands of copies printed. In 1790 Thomas Bewick created the first illustrated book (The General History of Quadrupeds) that used wood engraving. Consequently wood engraving became the chief means of decorating and illustrating books and periodicals. During the 1850s, Harpers Weekly, the most popular news periodical of the day, became known for the wood engravings that accompanied the news. Today these illustrations give us a unique perspective on history and are considered highly collectable works of art. Frederick Remington, Winslow Homer, Thomas Nast and Gustave Dore are a few of the well-known artists who started their careers as illustrators.