Glossary of Watercolor Terms and Definitions

posted by Misfit July 3, 2016

Some of you may find this boring, but here’s a list of all the watercolor terms and definitions that I’ve collected over the years. You may find it helpful… Or some of these may confuse you even more 🙂  I’ve always found it hard to understand watercolor terms without viewing it -that’s why I started a YouTube Channel so you guys could see what I was doing.   That being said, wanted to give my misfitians as much info as possible to help with their art journey.  ENJOY Dearies!  😀

glossary of watercolor terms and definitions

Here’s a Quick Glossary of Watercolor Terms and Definitions

Background: the further area of the painting where objects appear smaller and have less detail

Binder: the medium that acts as the glue, holding pigment (or color) particles together in your paint

Blotting: the act of using an absorbent material such as tissues, paper towels, brushes, sponges, etc. to pick up paint from a wet or damp wash. This technique can be used to adding highlights or correcting mistakes. 

Charging: the technique of mixing two or more colors directly on the paper instead of premixing on your palette

Cold Pressed: A type of watercolor paper that is known for being slightly rough (or bumpy) in texture.

Complementary Colors: are two colors that lie directly  opposite one another on a color wheel (for example, red and green,yellow and purple).   When these colors are mixed evenly, they produce a neutral gray/brown. When placing these colors next to each other in a painting, you create the strongest possible contrast of color-thus creating an intense/energizing appearance.

Composition: the total form of a work of art-meaning it’s color, arrangement and overall concept.

Dropping in Color: This technique simply  means introducing a color into a wet region of your painting and allowing it to blend and bloom as it wills upon the paper.  The result  of this technique is very unpredictable but can produce interesting and vibrant color gradients that would be impossible when mixing the pigment on the palette.

Dry Brush: a watercolor technique where fairly dry paint is applied to dry paper relying on the hairs of your brush to communicate texture; such as grass, hair, stone, distant foliage, wood, clouds, etc.

Easel: A place where one can stand or rest their painting while working on it.

Foreground: The part in an artwork that appears closest to you. Objects will appear larger and more detailed in this area.

Foreshortening: The technique where one uses the laws of perspective to create an object to appear three dimensional. 

Glazing: Glazing is the process of using a watercolor wash over an existing dried paint on your painting.  This technique’s main purpose is to slightly adjust the color or tone of the previously painted paint. 

Gouache: This is a water-based paint, similar to watercolor, but made made more opaque in form.  It can be used for correcting mistakes, adding white back into a painting, or a number of other ways.

Graded Wash: A wash that smoothly changes in value from dark to light. Most noted in landscape painting for open sky work, but an essential skill for watercolor painting in general.

grain The basic structure of the surface of paper, as in fine, medium and rough grain.

granulation: speckled effect when coarse pigment settles into the paper indentations as the paint dries

hard edge: the outer perimeter of a shape or series of shapes, sharply defined

highlight A point of intense brightness, such as the reflection in an eye.

intensity: a color’s saturation, brightness or strength

hot pressed Hot pressed watercolor paper is pressed flat through hot cylinders; it is the smoothest texture available and preferred by artists who use lots of detail in their artwork. It is just like ironing your cotton shirt with a hot iron.

hue The pure state of any color or a pure pigment that has not had white or black added to it.

landscape A painting in which the subject matter is natural scenery.

layering: applying premixed colors over another wash to change its value or intensity

lifting paint: a technique for removing paint from a surface with a brush, paper towel or tissue in order to correct mistakes, develop textures, create highlights or change values

masking fluid: liquid latex used to preserve the white of the paper and to create textures

medium (pl. media or mediums) 1. Most commonly, an artist’s method of expression, such as ceramics, painting or glass. 2. A particular material along with its accompanying technique; a specific type of artistic technique or means of expression determined by the use of particular materials. 3. Medium can also refer to a liquid added to a paint to increase its ability to be worked without affecting its essential properties.

middle ground (mid-ground) The part of a composition that appears between the foreground and background.

monochromatic A single color (hue) and its tints and shades.

motif A term meaning “subject.” Flowers or roses can be a motif.

muted Suppressing the full color value of a particular color.

negative space 1. The area around an object. 2. The areas of an artwork that are NOT the primary subject or object.

opaque Impenetrable by light; not transparent or translucent

opacity Denotes how much or little of the painting surface will show thru a layer of paint. True pigments tend to be more opaque, where hues tend to be more translucent.

organic Natural, or referring to nature in shape or form. Organic is the opposite of synthetic.

palette The selection of colors an artist chooses to work with or the board or surface on which a painter mixes his or her colors.

pan color A semi-moist solid watercolor sold in a metal or plastic pan. Lighter weight and more portable than

tube colors.

panorama A panorama is any wide view of a space.

paper weights The weight of a stack of watercolor paper expressed in numeric values; the higher the number, the heavier the paper. Watercolor papers are made from cotton rag and when they get wet, the paper will wrinkle up. So, when you paint with 140lb paper it will wrinkle up if you don’t stretch your paper first. However, 300lb paper is thick enough to resist the wrinkling of the cotton fiber; this weight paper does not require stretching prior to painting.

perspective Representing three-dimensional objects and space in two dimensions in a way that imitates depth, height and width as seen with your eyes. Usually refers to linear perspective, which is based on the fact that parallel lines or edges appear to converge and objects appear smaller as the distance between them and the viewer increases. Atmospheric perspective (aerial perspective) creates the illusion of distance by reducing color saturation, value contrast, and detail in order to imply the hazy effect of atmosphere between the viewer and distant objects. Isometric perspective is not a visual or optical interpretation, but a mechanical means to

show space and volume in rectangular forms. Parallel lines remain parallel; there is no convergence.

pigment Any coloring agent, made from natural or synthetic substances, used with a binder in paints or drawing materials. Pigments are derived from both natural and artificial sources. The earliest pigments were mined from colored clays of earth (ochers and umbers), but minerals and plants were also early sources for pigments.

polychrome Poly = many, chrome or chroma = colors. Having many colors; random or intuitive use of color combinations as opposed to color selection based on a specific color scheme.

positive space 1. The area an object occupies. 2. The area that IS the primary subject or object.

primary colors One of the three colors (red, yellow, and blue) that are the basis for all other color combinations. Pigment primaries are red, yellow, and blue; light primaries are red, green, and blue. Theoretically, pigment primaries can be mixed together to form all the other hues in the spectrum.

realism The depiction of figures, objects or scenes with minimal distortion or stylization. Realist artists depict subjects with objectivity and accuracy, rather than interpretation.

representational The term refers to art that depicts recognizable figures or elements of the natural world; unlike abstract art.

rough paper: heavily textured paper

scale The size or apparent size of an object seen in relation to other objects, people, or its environment or format. Also used to refer to the quality or monumentality found in some objects regardless of their size. In architectural drawings, the ratio of the measurements in the drawing to the measurements in the building.

scrubbing: a dry-brush technique used to lift paint from or add color to an area of the surface

secondary color One of three colors created by mixing equal parts of two primary colors (red, blue, and yellow); the secondary colors are violet, orange, and green.

sketch A rough or loose visualization of a subject or composition.

soft edge: fading or disappearing edge

staining colors: colors that absorb into the paper before the water has had a chance to evaporate; they’re difficult to lift and will leave a stain on the paper

still life A painting or other two-dimensional work of art representing inanimate objects such as bottles, fruit, and flowers. Also, the arrangement of these objects from which a drawing, painting, or other work is made.

study A comprehensive drawing of a subject or details of a subject that can be used for reference while painting.

technique An artist’s skillful manipulation or application of materials. Also describes an entire process associated with a particular method, such as watercolor.

temperature: the warmness or coolness of a color, depending on where the color is situated on the color wheel

texture The actual or virtual representation of different surfaces, paint applied in a manner that breaks up the continuous color or tone.

thumbnail sketch A very small, simple sketch usually done before a painting to try out design or subject ideas.

tint: created by adding water to the original color; the more water that’s added, the weaker the intensity 

tone A hue with gray added.

translucent A substance (paint) just clear enough to allow light to pass thru but not clear enough to reveal all form, line and color. A more translucent paint will show more paper thru the paint layer.

transparent Penetrable by light; materials or colors that you can see through.

tube color A liquid watercolor or gouache sold in a tube. Tube colors tend to have more pigment and are typically easier to work

value The lightness or darkness of tones or colors. White is the lightest value; black is the darkest. The value halfway between these extremes is called middle gray.

variegated wash: type of wet-into-wet wash that involves placing colors side by side and then mixing and blending them along their edges

wash In painting, a thin, translucent layer of pigment, usually watercolor. Often used as the first layer of a sky.

watercolor Paint that uses water-soluble gum as the binder and water as the vehicle. Characterized by transparency. Also, the resulting painting.

watercolor brush The principle tool for watercolor painting. Watercolor brushes are a specific type of brush, made with soft hair. Good brushes are made from sable hair (an animal about the size of a weasel). These brushes are quite expensive, so many artists use brushes made of synthetic material such as nylon. Some brushes mix sable with nylon for a compromise between the two.

wet-on-wet The technique of painting wet color into a wet surface (paper). Color applied this way usually dries without a hard edge, diffusing and spreading the wash and creating atmospheric effects.



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