Commonly Used Painting Terms
Below is a list of terms to supplement the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section.
Negative Space - An area or space that surrounds an object that gives it its form.
Dry Brush - This technique is used when you load your brush with very little paint and you lightly skim the surface of the canvas to add color, blend a color or soften a color. You use a very light touch for this technique.
Scumbling - This technique is when you use a series of unorganized overlapping strokes in different directions to create things like clumps of foliage, clouds, hair, grasses, etc. The direction of the stroke is not important.
Glazing (Wash) - A glaze or a wash is a very thin layer of paint applied on top of a dry area of the painting to create mist, fog, haze, sun rays, or to soften an area that is too bright. This mixture is made up of water a small amount of color. It may be applied layer on top of layer to achieve the desired affect. Each layer must be dry before applying the next.
Value - Value is the intensity of a color. Different values of color are used to create softness and to create depth in a painting. To achieve depth or distance use lighter values in the background and darker values as you come closer to the foreground. You change the value of a color by adding white.
Wet On Wet - This is a painting technique where you blend colors together while the first application of paint is still wet. This technique is mostly used when we use our large hake brush to blend large areas, such as, skies and water.
Wet On Dry - We use this technique most often in acrylic painting. When your background color is dry, you apply the topcoat over it by using one of the blending techniques, such as, dry brushing, scumbling, or glazing.
Underpainting or Blocking In - These two terms mean the same thing. The first step in all paintings is to block in or underpaint the darker values of the entire painting. Then you begin applying the next values of color to create form and depth of each object.
Highlighting or Accenting - This is one of the final stages of your painting. You use pure color or brighter values of colors to give your painting its final glow. You usually apply these highlights carefully on the sunlit edges of the most prominent objects in the painting.
Dabbing - This is a technique mostly used for creating leaves, ground cover, flowers, etc. You use a bristle brush and dab it on your table or palette to spread out the end of the bristles like a fan. Then load the brush with the appropriate color and gently dab on the color to create the desired effect.
Complements of Color - Complements of colors are colors that you use to create good color balance in a painting. They are always opposite each other on the color wheel. It takes practice to understand the use of complements, but a good rule of thumb is to remember that whatever predominant color you have in your painting use its complement or a form of its complement to highlight, accent or gray that color. For example, if your painting has a lot of green in it, the complement of green is red or a form of red like orange, red orange, yellow orange, etc. If you have a lot of blue in your painting, the complement to blue is orange or a form of orange, such as, yellow orange, red orange, etc. The complement to yellow is purple or a form of purple. Each complement varies depending on which colors you use. It would be a good idea for you to pick up a simple color wheel at your local art store and familiarize yourself with all the different complements.
Gesso - Gesso is a white paint generally used for sealing your canvas before you begin painting. A thick white opaque gesso (Grumbacher brand) often is used instead of white paint because it blends so much easier. Gesso is often referred to in mixing colors. Keep in mind when the word gesso is used we are referring to the color white. You don’t have to use gesso for white. Titanium white is the standard white that is on the supply list. Please feel free to use it if you prefer.
Scrubbing - Scrubbing is similar to scumbling, except the strokes are more uniform in horizontal or vertical patterns. You can use dry brush or wet on wet techniques with this procedure. You mostly use it for underpainting or blocking in.
Mixing - This is self-explanatory but there are a couple of ways to mix. First, if you know you need a particular color that you will use often it is a good idea to pre-mix that color and have it handy. You can mix with your brush but at times a palette knife works best. You can be your own judge. Second, at times you will blend on the canvas. If underpainting, for instance grass, you may put 2 or 3 colors on the canvas and scumble them together to create a muddled background or different colors. This also works well in skies. (Note: When mixing acrylics always try to mix your paint to a creamy consistency. This mixture really helps in blending or mixing colors.)
Feathering - Feathering is a technique for blending to create very soft edges. You achieve this affect by using a very light touch and barely skimming the surface of the canvas with your brush. Works great for highlighting and glazing.
Double Load or Triple Load - This simply refers to a procedure where you put two or more colors on different parts of your brush. You mix these colors on the canvas instead of on your palette. This is used more for wet on wet techniques, such as the sky or water.