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Watercolor Dictionary

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Glossary of Painting Terms

If you feel like you are left out when others are talking about painting then this page should help improve your understanding, or let you look up individual words you may come across:

 

Notes: Many of these words have other meanings in everyday language or when referring to oil painting etc, so to be clear, these are specifically watercolour terms:

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ARTIST’S QUALITY

Refers to the top quality range of paints by a manufacturer, using only the best available pigments.

 

BACK-RUNS (or Cauliflowers/Blooms)

The complex, hard edged, flowery shapes formed in the paint when drying unevenly. Caused by putting water or very wet paint onto a partially (damp) dry area of paint.

BINDER

A loose term that covers everything mixed with pigment to make watercolor paint smooth, apply well and stick to the paper. Varies between colors and manufacturers but may include gum arabic, glycerin, water, honey and many other substances.

BLENDING

Describes evenly fading an edge softly so it fades out gradually to nothing.

 

BLOCK (or Gummed Pad)

A pad of watercolor paper glued around all sides to prevent your paper buckling as water is added.

 

COCKLING (or Wrinkling or Buckling)

The result of water or paint being put onto un-stretched watercolour paper resulting in bumpy uneven paper as it dries.

COLD-PRESSED (or NOT)

A mid-surface paper, with a slight bump, created by pressing with cold plates.

COOL COLOUR(s)

A colour that tends towards the blue side of the spectrum.

 

EARTH COLOURS

Hues that were traditionally made from actual earth, usually in the warm yellow or brown/red range and heavily granulating. Examples: Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre.

 

​FAN

A brush with a long handle and fan shaped end.

FERRULE

The metal part of a paint brush that holds the bristles.

 

​FILBERT

A flat brush with a curved end.

FLAT WASH

A large area of flat, evenly spread paint without drying lines or variations in tone.

 

FUGITIVE

A paint pigment or hue that is not stable and fades after exposure to light. Many of these have now been re-formulated with modern chemical alternatives. Examples: Alizarin Crimson, Madder Rose

FULL-PAN

A standard-sized large cake/block of pre-dried watercolor paint.

 

GLAZE

A thin, watery layer of paint designed to change the hue (colour) of an underlying painted area without necessarily changing the tone (darkness) although it can also be used to make an area darker.

 

GOUACHE (or ‘Designer’s Gouache’)

Opaque watercolour paints with ‘body’ colour (White) added. Was favored by commercial artists before the use of computer graphics as it is capable of producing flat, opaque areas of colour.

 

GRADUATED WASH

A large area of paint that fades gradually from dark to light.

 

GRANULATION (or ‘granulating colour’)

The process of certain colours with large paint pigments leaving noticeable texture or ‘granulation’ on the paper. Examples: Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue


GUMSTRIP (or ‘Gummed Tape’)

Old fashioned packing tape, paper with a gummed side which adheres when moistened with water, used for stretching paper.

 

GUM ARABIC

Natural, non-toxic substance, made from the sap of the Acacia tree. Used on stamps, in food and to bind watercolour paint pigments during manufacture. Can also be purchased separately in a bottle to slow drying time and add gloss to paints.

 

HAKE

A brush, traditionally oriental, and made with wooden handle and coarse animal hair, scruffier than a normal flat brush.

HALF-PAN

A standard-sized small cake/block of pre-dried watercolor paint.

HOT PRESSED PAPER

Watercolour paper pressed smooth during manufacture by hot plates. Favoured by botanical artists and for pen and wash.

LINE AND WASH

The technique of layering watercolour washes over permanent ink pen.

 

MASK

To block out or reserve an unpainted or previously painted area.

 

MASKING FLUID (also called Frisket)

A type of liquid rubber, applied to the paper and allowed to dry. When over painted it will keep the areas masked free of paint. It is removed when the paint is dry by rubbing.

MEDIUM

Any liquid additive used during painting to adjust the paint in some respect, gum arabic is one, another would be a iridescent fluid.

‘MIXED’ COLOUR

Vague expression which some artists use to describe a muted colour containing all three primary colours ie Grey, Brown (a Tertiary color), also used to describe ready made paint with a mixture of pigments.

MIXED MEDIA

Combining watercolour with another medium, such as Ink, Watercolour Pencil, Gouache, Collage etc.

 

​MOUNT (or Mat in some countries)

To apply a painting to a support OR (more commonly) the heavy card frame that sits between painting and frame: 'to mount' to apply such a card frame.​

 

MUDDY (Painting)

A derogatory term for a painting with too many muted colours and little tonal contrast; dull and unattractive.

 

NEUTRAL COLOR

A grey, brown or cream color, often but not always resulting from mixing all of the primaries together.

‘NOT’ PAPER (also called Cold Pressed)

Standard, mid-textured watercolour paper. NOT stands for ‘Not hot-pressed’

 

PAN PAINTS

Refers to the hard blocks of watercolour sold in boxes as opposed to softer paint sold in tubes.

 

PERMANENT

Often used in color names to denote a previously non-stable color that has been re-formulated or replaced with a more stable, long lasting pigment.

PRIMARY COLOURS

Basic colours that others can be mixed from. Red, Blue, Yellow

(for artists - in science the third primary is green not yellow)

PORTFOLIO

Has two meanings: 1) A large flat case to carry your paintings in and 2) A body of work (unframed), usually for showing to perspective clients or when applying for a college place or job.

PURE WATERCOLOURS

Meaning to paint just in transparent watercolours without any body (white) colour; the purist’s way of painting.

RAKE

A flat brush with a ragged or spaced end to give multiple lines when applying paint.

 

​RESERVE (or Reserving Whites)

The process of keeping some areas of the paper white either by painting carefully round them or using chemical or tape ‘masks’.

 

RIGGER

A brush with very long thin bristles/hairs, traditionally used for painting ships rigging, useful for grass, thin branches, hair etc

 

​ROUGH PAPER

Watercolour paper with heavy texture, favoured by landscape artists and those working in a ‘loose’ style.

ROUND BRUSH

The most commonly used type of watercolour brush with a round base and pointed end.

SCRUBBING OUT

Removing paint from areas of a painting, usually with a stiff, damp brush or rag.

 

SECONDARY COLOURS

Any combination of two primary colours to create Green, Orange, Purple

 

SEMI-OPAQUE

A pigment with reduced transparency.

SHADE

Used by manufacturers to indicate which end of the color spectrum a pigment leans towards eg Ultramarine (Green Shade). This would indicate that the pigment was less purple than a usual Ultramarine, and leaned towards the cooler (yellow/green) end of the spectrum.

SINGLE-PIGMENT

Refers to paint colors that are formulated from a single pigment with binder.

SPLIT-PRIMARY (Paint Set)

Refers to a set containg 6 colors (and possibly some additional colors), the 6 colors being a warm and cool version of each of the primaries (red, blue, yellow). This lets beginners mix a wide range of hues.

STAINING COLOUR

Refers to particular hues known for strongly pigmented, transparent colour that is hard to remove and creates very intense darks. Example: Prussian Blue, these are colors that look like ink.

 

STRETCHED PAPER (or ‘Paper Stretching’)

The process of pre-soaking watercolour paper so it expands, taping it to a board with gummed tape and allow it to dry taut. Prevents the paper wrinkling when painting on it.

 

STUDENT’S QUALITY

Refers to a cheaper quality range of paints by a manufacturer, replacing the most expensive pigments with alternatives and sometimes adding ‘fillers’.

 

TERTIARY COLOUR

A colour that results from mixing a primary color with a secondary color

WARM COLOUR(s)

A colour that tends towards the red/yellow side of the spectrum.

WASH

Any application or layer of paint.

 

​WET INTO WET

A watercolour technique where colours are partially mixed on the paper whilst wet, or one colour is applied onto a wet area. In the USA more commonly called Wet on Wet.

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