Art Dictionary

Abstract Art. An artwork that is not representational but communicates through colours, marks and other visual elements.

Aesthetic. The idea of what is beautiful or pleasing to the eye.

Assemblage. A three-dimensional artwork made by joining materials and objects together.

Background. The part of an artwork that seems the farthest away.

Balance. The arrangement of the elements in a work of art which create a sense of equilibrium. Balance is a principle of art.

Bird’s Eye View. A point of view looking down directly from above.

Blend. To mix more than one colour/color together.

Canvas. A thick, woven material used for painting on. Often wrapped around a frame.

Cityscape. An artwork that represents the physical aspects of a city or urban area.

Collage.  An artwork made of paper, picture, fabric or other materials that have been glued to a flat surface.

Composition describes the different ways elements of an artwork are arranged.

Colour/Color.  How we see an object in terms of the way it reflects or emits light. We use colour categories, with names such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple.

Colour Wheel (UK) Color Wheel (USA) An arrangement of colours in a circle that reveals the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colours.

Continuous Line Drawing is a type of line drawing where the drawing implement is not taking off the page until the drawing is complete.  It is often a fast paced way of working resulting in fluid mark making.

Contour Drawing is a type of drawing where only the outlines of shapes within the subject of the drawing are drawn. (See also continuous lines drawing)

Critique. A process of using judgement, analysis, interpretation and description to evaluate an artwork.

Cross Hatching is a drawing technique where sets of parallel lines are placed over each other to create different tones/values.

Direct Observation is drawing from life rather than drawing from a photograph.

Foreground. The part of the artwork that seems to be closest to you.

Forms are three-dimensional and occupy space or give the illusion that they occupy space.

Real Forms occupy space, such as sculptures or buildings.

Implied Form.  An artwork can have implied form if it appears to have depth.  This can be created with perspective, tone/value or colour.

Frottage is the technique of taking a rubbing from a textured surface to create an artwork or parts of an artwork.

Gradation. Gradually transitioning from one colour hue to another, or from one shade to another.

Gumstrip is a gummed tape, essential for stretching watercolour paper.  It can also be used for constructing card sculptures.

Horizon Line – The line in an artwork where the sky and land appear to meet.

Hue means both a colour and a tint or shade of a colour.

Illusions in art trick the viewer into believing what they think they see.

Installation Art.  Art made for a specific location that is often large and mixed media. It is often there for a temporary period of time.

Illustrator.  A person who draws or creates pictures for magazines, books, advertising, etc.

Landscape.  An artwork showing an area of land.

Line.  A line is a path made by an object moving across a surface.

Line Drawing.  A line drawing is a drawing made of only lines. It does not include any shading.

Media. A type of art material e.g. watercolour, charcoal, pastels.

‘The artist worked with a range of different media such as charcoal and pastels.’

Medium. (Media is the plural of this art word) A type of art material, e.g. watercolour, charcoal, pastels.  ‘Watercolour is a popular painting medium’.

Metamorphosis Art – is art that shows one object transform into another, either in stages or across the object.

Middle Ground. The middle layer of an artwork that appears to be between the foreground and background.

Mod Podge – is a white runny glue.  It is similar to PVA (see below) only with more water in it, so not as strong.

Movement or Art Movement.    A style in art with a specific common philosophy or goal, followed by a group of artists during a specific period of time.

Natural Forms An object found in nature that has not been changed or altered.

Observational Drawing.  Drawing what you see, not what you think you see.

One Point Perspective is a type of linear perspective in which all objects in a scene converge towards a single vanishing point on the horizon, creating an illusion of depth and spatial organization.

Pattern.  A pattern is a design in which shapes, lines, colours or forms are repeated. The part that is repeated is called a motif. Patterns can be regular or irregular.

PVA Glue – is a strong, white, runny glue.  PVA stands for Polyvinyl Acetate.

Perspective – refers to the representation of objects in three-dimensional space on the two-dimensional surface of a picture.

Relief Sculpture. An artwork where elements project out from a base surface.

Rule of Thirds is a method for creating compositions that divides an image into 9 sections with two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines.  The most important aspects of the composition should be placed along these lines and/or at their intersections.

Scale refers to the actual size of an artwork or the size of the objects in an artwork.

Sculpture.  A three-dimensional artwork made by either carving, modelling, casting, or constructing.

Shape is an area enclosed by a line.

Space is the area between or around objects in an image.

Still Life.  A painting or drawing that shows an arrangement of objects.

Stippling – The art of making a drawing out of numerous, tiny dots.

Tessellation.  A tessellation is an arrangement of shapes that fit together in a pattern without any gaps.

Texture is the surface quality of an object.  It can be real or implied.

Real Texture is a texture you can touch.  For example, a surface that feels rough.

Implied Texture is not actually real.  It looks like texture but if you felt it, it would feel smooth.

Tint.  Any colour to which white has been added.

Tone generally means how light or dark something is.  It can also mean a colour created by mixing a pure hue with grey.

Tone Drawing.  A tonal drawing is a drawing that includes shades of varying lightness and darkness.

Two Point Perspective is a type of linear perspective that uses two vanishing points on the horizon to create an illusion of depth and spatial organization in a two-dimensional image.

Shade.  Any colour to which black has been added.

Value generally means how light or dark something is.  It can also mean a colour created by mixing a pure hue with grey. (For UK see ‘Tone’.)

Bisque.  Clay that has been fired once but is not glazed.

Ceramics.  The art of making objects from clay and hardening them in a kiln.

Clay. Clay is a malleable product from the earth made from decomposed rock.  It has the ability to hard when exposed to intense heat. There are different types of clay such as earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.

Coil. A rope-like length of clay that is used to make a coil pot or sculpture.

Firing.  The process of heating clay in a kiln to a high temperature to harden it.

Glaze.  A vitreous coating applied to ceramics. Vitreous means like glass in appearance.

Kiln.  The furnace in which clay is fired to harden it.

Leather Hard. Is the condition of clay that has been partially dried so that shrinkage is complete. It has a similar consistency to leather and can be handled without deforming.

Score – To score a piece of clay means to scratch hatch marks into it as part of the joining process. (Usually slip is also added, see below)

Slab Built. A method of making ceramic from flat slabs of clay.

Slip. A creamy mixture of clay and water used, with scoring, to join two pieces of clay.

Studio Pottery.  Ceramics made by individual artist-potters in small batches, usually in their own studio.

Baren.  A hand tool, originally from Japan, used to gently rub the back of the paper when taking a relief print.

Bench Hook.  A piece of equipment that hooks onto the work surface used to hold pieces in place.  In printing, it holds the printing plate (such as a piece of lino) in place whilst cutting.

Brayer or Roller. (Brayer – USA term) (Roller – UK term) A small, rubber roller used to ink the surface of a printing plate.

Collagraph – A type of print method where a collage has been created and a print is taken from the surface.  It can be either or both an intaglio or relief print.

Etching A type of intaglio print method where a printing plate has had parts of its surface cut into by acid.

Intaglio Printing.  A type of printing where ink is applied to a printing plate that has recessed areas.  The ink is wiped away leaving ink in the recessed areas only.  Ink is transferred to paper under the pressure of a printing press.

Lino* Print.  A lino print is a type of relief print created from a piece of lino that has had parts of its surface cut away leaving a raised surface that can be printed.

Lino* Cutting Tool. A sharp tool used to cut away the surface of lino to create a relief surface.

*Lino is an abbreviation for Linoleum.  Linoleum was invented in the mid-1800’s as a floor covering and in the 1890’s artists started using it as an artistic medium.

Monoprinting. A type of printmaking where the image can only be made once.

Monotype. A type of printmaking where a non-absorbant surface is drawn onto, usually with printing ink, and then one print is taken by transferring the image onto paper.

Printing Board. A flat board used to mix printing inks or rolled with a thin layer of printing ink that can be applied to a printing plate.

Printing Plate.  The flat surface to which ink is applied to transfer an image to paper. They can be made of metal, card or plastic depending on the type of printing process.

Relief Printing.  A type of printing where a printing block or plate has ink applied to its surface and not it’s recessed areas, and a print is taken from the inked surface.


This online art dictionary for schools has been created so that art teachers can direct their students to an easy to understand and accurate definition for an art word.  It’s a great way to embed art literacy into your curriculum.

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