The Top 90 Art Terms in Plain English

In Acrylic Painting, Color, Framing, Gouache, Photography, Watercolor by Chris BreierLeave a Comment

DRAWING

Contour Drawing

An example of a contour drawing of a pair of boots.

A contour drawing is a specific technique that involves drawing the outlines of a subject. It’s an exercise that’s commonly given to drawing students to help them focus on the seeing the shapes more accurately.

A blind contour drawing is the same as a regular contour drawing except that you don’t look at the drawing while you’re working on it. Instead, you follow the outlines of the object with your eyes while you draw the same shape on the paper with your hand.

Since you never see the drawing as you work on it, the final drawing will contain many distortions. Lines overlap and the proportions will be inaccurate.

The benefit of contour drawing exercises is that they train the student to look at the subject more often. Many beginning students spend too much time looking at the drawing instead of the subject.

It also helps you to create more confident line work. Your drawings will be more accurate if you draw what you can see with your eyes, instead of what you know about an object.

Hatching and Cross Hatching

This is an example of a drawing that uses cross hatching for shading. Hatching is when the lines all go in the same direction.

There are many ways to shade a drawing. Hatching is a shading technique made up of parallel lines. The spacing between the lines determines the value of the shading. Lines that are very close to each other will produce dark tones.

Cross hatching is similar to hatching. It’s the same concept but the patterns of parallel lines can intersect each other instead of going all in the same direction. It’s a popular pen and ink shading technique.

You can develop your own patterns of cross hatching. Some artists use lines that are uniformly parallel to each other, while others will draw lines that conform to the form of the object they are shading. The lines can drawn in a haphazard manner or drawn perfectly straight, it’s a matter of preference.

Stippling

Stippling is when you use fine points for shading.

A shading technique that’s popular with pen and ink is stippling. Stippling is when you use small dots to create shading. It’s similar to how photographs are reproduced in print by using small dots called halftone dotes. Ink jet printers also work by applying small dots of color ink to paper.

Stippling is a tedious technique and is best suited for small drawings. Each drawing requires thousands of dots. Repetitive stress injuries are a concern because you’re moving your hand in the same manner repeatedly.

You can achieve a similar look by processing a photograph in Photoshop.

Pointillism

Pointillism is a impressionistic art movement that employs the use of stippling to apply paint to a canvas. One of the most popular examples of Pointillism is “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.

Perspective

Perspective drawing is a technique that relies upon the observation that parallel lines converge on the horizon line. For example, the edges of a road appear to converge as they recede.

This type of drawing works well for subjects that are made from straight lines or geometric shapes. Architecture and interiors are good subject matter for perspective drawings.

Vanishing Point

The point where two parallel lines appear to converge on the horizon in a perspective drawing is an example of a vanishing point. See the painting below. All of the red lines converge to one point on the horizon.

One Point Perspective

All of the lines along the street converge to one vanishing point on the horizon line. I outlined the lines in red.

A one point perspective drawing is a drawing that only utilizes one vanishing point on the horizon line. Images of roads or railroad tracks are examples of one point perspective. The lines of the road will all converge to the same point on the horizon. The same applies to railroad tracks. More complex scenes require the use of multiple vanishing points. 

Foreshortening

When you view an object head on, it appears to get smaller as it recedes. This is “foreshortening” and it’s what creates a lot of trouble for beginners who are learning to draw.

Foreshortening typically occurs when you view an object from an extreme angle. The angle makes the object appear shorter than what it is. If you view a car from the side, you will be able to see the entire length of it undistorted. Foreshortening happens when you view the car from behind and slightly to one side. The entire length of the car will be condensed to a much smaller space. That shortening effect is “foreshortening.”

Artists can have problems with foreshortening because your mind knows the car is a certain length but your eyes are telling you something else. Always draw what you can see with your eyes, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Atmospheric Perspective

This distant hills in this painting are lighter because of the atmosphere. “Kershaw Park” Canandaigua NY. Acrylic on Gessobord 5″x7″.

Unlike other forms of perspective techniques, atmospheric perspective has nothing to do with drawing lines that intersect on the horizon.

Instead, atmospheric perspective utilizes the effects the atmosphere has an impact upon the color and value of objects in the distance. For example, a tree in the foreground has colors that are bright and clear, while a tree in the distance has a hazy and lighter appearance. The haziness is created by the moisture and the particles in the air.

Typically, colors tends to shift toward a blue-purple color when viewed through a large volume of air and moisture. This is what gives mountains a slightly blue/purple appearance. The moisture in the air also makes objects appear lighter in value as they recede, especially on humid days.

If you accurately capture these effects in your landscape paintings, you will automatically create depth.

Negative Space / Negative Shapes

I drew the stool by drawing the abstract negative shapes that surround it.

Negative shapes are the shapes that surround the object that you’re drawing. It’s an approach to drawing where you don’t draw the object, instead you draw the shapes that surround the object.

For example, instead of drawing a stool, you draw the empty shapes that the parts of the stool create.

This may seem like a psychological trick, but it works. The reason why it’s effective is because drawing the negative shapes switches your focus from drawing the subject, which is the stool, to drawing the abstract shapes.

Composition

Composition refers to the arrangement of shapes in a work of art. Most artists spend time sketching out different compositions before starting a painting. Many beginners often overlook the composition of a painting and focus solely on technique.

While it may seem as though composing shapes on a canvas is subjective, there are some basic principles that you can learn.

For example, it’s more effective to have an odd number of objects in a painting than an even number. Three pieces of fruit are more interesting than just two. Another principle of composition is the rule of thirds.

Rule of Thirds

A very popular principle of composition is the rule of thirds. If you divide the canvas up into thirds horizontally and vertically, you place the important elements along those lines. 

It doesn’t have to be exact. I generalize this principle to mean that you don’t want to center your subject matter or place it too close to the edges. Centering usually creates uninteresting compositions.

Variety is more important than regularity. The rule of thirds will break up the space into shapes of unequal size.

Symmetrical

This composition is symmetrical. All of the objects on one side are mirrored on the other.

A design is symmetrical if the one side mirrors the other side. Symmetry can work in a painting but it usually conveys formality and uniformity. The interiors of churches are mostly symmetrical. What you see on the one side repeats on the other side.

Asymmetrical

This composition is asymmetrical.

Compositions that have a variety of shapes of unequal sizes that are spaced unevenly are asymmetrical. Most paintings have compositions that are asymmetrical.

The composition can be asymmetrical and still have an overall balance to it. If there’s a large object on the left side, you can balance it out with two smaller objects on the right side. Asymmetrical compositions are usually more dynamic than symmetrical designs.

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