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A Glossary of Painting Terminology


Here is a handy list of definitions of terms you will come across as you explore the world of fine art painting. Print this out and keep it handy – it’s a invaluable reference.

Archival: Suitable for use in creation or care of artifacts of potential or actual antique value; likely to resist natural deterioration when used according to sound practices

Binder: A substance that allows pigment to adhere to a surface

Fat over Lean: The principle in oil painting that suggests each layer of paint should contain more oil than the one beneath. Awareness of this concept helps ensure permanence.

Drier: Metallic salts which, when mixed with a drying oil speed oxidation and reduce drying time (Also called “siccatives”)

Drying Oil: An oil which solidifies through oxidation to produce a film

Emulsion: A mixture of fatty substances and water achieved through a third substance (an emulsifier) which attaches dissimilarly charged molecules that would normally not mix

Fresco: Painting in fresh plaster with pigments diluted with water; the curing plaster locks pigment permanently into surface

Glazing/Glazes: The application of a transparent, darker color over a lighter underpainting; adding color transparently

Ground/Painting Grounds: A properly prepared surface, ready to accept paint. Usually consists of sizing and priming, but can also include a tone.

Imprimatura: A thin veil of lean paint applied over a ground in the very earliest stages of painting

Megilp (Meguilp, Macgelp): An oil jelly medium popular in the 18th and 19th century; made by mixing “black oil” (linseed oil cooked with lead) and mastic varnish; considered by many modern technical experts to be risky and unsuitable for permanent painting. Gamblin manufactures a “Neo-megilp” unrelated to the original, but intended to approximate the working properties of the historic medium.

Medium: Category of material in which an artist works; can also refer to an additive mixture used to modify the properties of artists’ colors.

Permanent: Retaining the same color and physical properties many years into the future

Pigment/Pigments: a substance of specific color which, when processed by grinding into small particles can impart color to a mixture. Pigment particles should not chemically react with the medium into which they are mixed, nor should they dissolve into solution, instead remaining physically distinct from the vehicle, as bricks are distinct from mortar.

Priming: A preparation that allows good sticking power for paint, and a consistent surface free of irregularities

Scumbling: Applying lighter, semi-translucent color over a darker underpainting (related to glazing)

Sizing: A starch or glue that stiffens fibers and isolates them from direct contact with colors

Stabilizer: an additive that preserves good working properties and prevents undesirable changes in paint during storage

Stable: Remaining unchanged, in the finished state intended by the artist

Support/Supports: That which gives physical structure for artist’s colors- canvas, paper, panel

Thinner: A liquid for diluting colors that will evaporate completely, leaving no residue.

Varnish: A clear, glossy protective coating created by dissolving a resinous substance in a solvent

Vehicle: The component of paint that allows pigment to be applied to a surface; imparts workability and fluidity (the vehicle can also be the binder, though this is not necessarily so)

Artist Painting Surfaces

Digital Paper Terminology

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