Art Terminology

 The following is a 'short' list of terms used in the art world. For those interested in more complete terminology, please click on the link and visit ArtLex.com .  Please keep in mind that the terms are sometimes used a bit differently in various areas of the world.

Printmaking Processes

Intaglio - The process of incising a design beneath the surface of a metal or stone. Plates are inked only in the etched depressions on the plates and then the plate surface is wiped clean. The ink is then transferred onto the paper through an etching press. The reverse of this process is known as relief printing.

Planographic - The process to print impressions from a smooth surface rather than creating incised or relief areas on the plate. The term was devised to describe lithography.

Relief - All printing processes in which the non-printing areas of the block or plate are carved, engraved or etched away. Inks are applied onto the projected surface and transferred onto the paper. The reverse process is known as intaglio printing.

 

Printmaking Techniques (back to top)

Aquatint - Printing technique capable of producing unlimited tonal gradations to re-create the broad flat tints of ink wash or watercolor drawings by etching microscopic cracks and pits into the image on a master plate, typically made of copper or zinc. Spanish artist Goya used this technique.

Dry point - Printing technique of intaglio engraving in which a hard, steel needle incises lines on a metal plate, creating a burr that yields a characteristically soft and velvety line in the final print.

Engraving - Printing technique in which an intaglio image is produced by cutting a metal plate or box directly with a sharp engraving tool. The incised lines are inked and printed with heavy pressure.

Etching - Printing technique in which a metal plate is first covered with an acid-resistant material, then worked with an etching needle to create an intaglio image. The exposed metal is eaten away in an acid bath, creating depressed lines that are later inked for printing.

Lithography - Printing technique using a planographic process in which prints are pulled on a special press from a flat stone or metal surface that has been chemically sensitized so that ink sticks only to the design areas and is repelled by the non-image areas. 

Mezzotint - A reverse engraving process used on a copper or steel plate to produce illustrations in relief with effects of light and shadow. The surface of a master plate is roughened with a tool called a rocker so that if inked, it will print solid black. The areas to be white or gray in the print are rubbed down so as not to take ink. It was widely used in the 18th and 19th centuries to reproduce portraits and other paintings, but became obsolete with the introduction of photo-engraving.

Monotype - One of a kind print made by painting on a sheet of metal or glass and transferring the still-wet painting onto a sheet of paper by hand or with an etching press. If enough paint remains on the master plate, additional prints can be made, however, the reprint will have substantial variations from the original image. Monotype printing is not a multiple-replica process since each print is unique.

Serigraphy (Silk-screen) - A printing technique that makes use of a squeegee to force ink directly onto a piece of paper or canvas through a stencil creating an image on a screen of silk or other fine fabric with an impermeable substance. Serigraphy differs from most other printing in that its color areas are paint films rather than printing ink stains.

Woodcut - Printing technique in which the printing surface has been carved from a block of wood. The traditional wood block is seasoned hardwood such as apple, beech or sycamore. Woodcut is one of the oldest forms of printing dating back to the 12th century.

 

Common Art Print Terms (back to top)

Acid-free Paper or Canvas - Paper or canvas treated to neutralize it's acidity in order to protect fine art and photographic prints from discoloration and deterioration.

Impression - Art made by any printing stamping process.

Limited Edition - Set of identical prints numbered in succession and signed by the artist. The total number of prints if fixed or "limited" by the artist who supervises the printing.

Montage (Collage) - An artwork comprising of portions of various existing images such as from photographs or prints and arranged so that they join, overlap or blend to create a new image.

Multiple Originals - A set of identical fine prints in which the artist personally conceived the image, created the master plates and executed or supervised the entire printing process. Example: etching.

Original Print - One-of-a-kind print in which the artist personally conceived the image, created the master plates and executed the entire printing process.

Provenance - Record of ownership for a work of art, ideally from the time it left the artist's studio to it's present location, thus creating an unbroken ownership history.

Remarque - Small sketch in the margin of an art print or additional enhancements by the artist on some or all of the final prints within an edition.

Restrike - Additional prints made from a master plate, block, lithograph stone, etc. after the original edition has been exhausted.

 

Print Proof Types (back to top)

Proofs are prints authorized by the artist in addition to the limited signed and numbered edition. The total size of an art edition consists of the signed and numbered prints plus all outstanding proofs. If a set of proofs consists of more than one print, numbers are inscribed to indicate the number of the prints within the total number of the particular type of proof, (e.g., AP 5/20 means the fifth print in a set of twenty identical prints authorized as artist proofs). Proofs are generally signed by the artist as validation of the prints.

Artist's Proof  - Print intended for the artist's personal use. It is common practice to reserve approximately ten percent of an edition as artist's proofs, although this figure can be higher. The artist's proof is sometimes referred to by it's French épreuve d'artist (abbreviation E.A.). Artist's proofs can be distinguished by the abbreviation AP or E.A., commonly on the lower left of the work.

Cancellation Proof - Final print made once an edition series has been finished to show that the plate has been marred/mutilated by the artist, and will never be used again to make more prints of the edition.

Hors d'Commerce Proof - Print identical to the edition print intended to be used as samples to show to dealers and galleries. Hors d'Commerce (abbreviated to H.C.) proofs may or may not be signed by the artist.

Printer's Proof - Print retained by the printer as a reference. Artists often sign these prints as a gesture of appreciation.

Trial Proof - Pre-cursor to a limited edition series, these initial prints are pulled so that the artist may examine, refine and perfect the prints to the desired final state. Trial proofs are generally not signed.

 

Art Styles and Art Movements (back to top)

Abstract - A 20th century style of painting in which nonrepresentational lines, colors, shapes, and forms replace accurate visual depiction of objects, landscape, and figures. The subjects often stylized, blurred, repeated or broken down into basic forms so that it becomes unrecognizable. Intangible subjects such as thoughts, emotions, and time are often expressed in abstract art form.

Art Nouveau - A painting, printmaking, decorative design, and architectural style developed in England in the 1880s. Art Nouveau, primarily an ornamental style, was not only a protest against the sterile Realism, but against the whole drift toward industrialization and mechanization and the unnatural artifacts they produced. The style is characterized by the usage of sinuous, graceful, cursive lines, interlaced patterns, flowers, plants, insects and other motifs inspired by nature.

Cubism - An art style developed in 1908 by Picasso and Braque whereby the artist breaks down the natural forms of the subjects into geometric shapes and creates a new kind of pictorial space. In contrast to traditional painting styles where the perspective of subjects is fixed and complete, cubist work can portray the subject from multiple perspectives.

Expressionism - An art movement of the early 20th century in which traditional adherence to realism and proportion was replaced by the artist's emotional connection to the subject. These paintings are often abstract, the subject matter distorted in color and form to emphasize and express the intense emotion of the artist.

Impressionism - An art movement founded in France in the last thirty years of the 19th century. Impressionist artists sought to break up light into its component colors and capture the sense of  its  play on various objects. The artist's vision was intensely centered on light and the ways it transforms the visible world. This style of painting is characterized by short brush strokes of bright colors used to recreate visual impressions of the subject and to capture the light, climate and atmosphere of the subject at a specific moment in time. The chosen colors represent light which is broken down into its spectrum components and recombined by the eyes into another color when viewed at a distance . 

Magical Realism - An art movement of the 20th century ( 1940's - 1950's ) characterized by depictions of everyday reality, but with the element of fantasy or wonder greatly accentuated ( in use of color, clarity of perspective or in treatment of the subject ). In painting, this movement combines fantastic or dreamlike elements with realism. A few artists known for this style are Paul Cadmus, Andrew Wyeth and Emile Deschler.

Pop Art - A style of art which seeks its inspiration from commercial art and items of mass culture (such as comic strips, popular foods and brand name packaging).

Pre-Raphaelite - The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was created in 1848 by seven artists: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, James Collinson, John Everett Millais, Frederic George Stephens, and Thomas Woolner. Their goal was to develop a naturalistic style of art, throwing away the rules and conventions drilled into students' heads at the Academies. Raphael was the artist considered to have attained the highest degree of perfection, so much so that students were encouraged to draw from his examples rather than from nature itself; thus they became the "Pre-Raphaelites". The group popularized a theatrically romantic style, marked by great beauty, an intricate realism, and a fondness for Greek and Arthurian legend. The movement itself did not last past the 1850's but the style remained popular for decades, and influenced the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Symbolists, and even the Classicists.

Realism - A style of painting which depicts subject matter (form, color, space) as it appears in actuality or ordinary visual experience without distortion or stylization.

Romanticism - An art style developed in the late 18th to the mid 19th centuries which was a reaction against Classicism.  Emphasizing the personal, emotional and dramatic through the use of exotic, literary or historical subject matter. A dominant European style for many years, and was the pre-cursor to the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Surrealism - An art style developed in Europe in the 1920's, characterized by the use of  the subconscious as a source of creativity to liberate pictorial subjects and ideas. Surrealist paintings often depict unexpected or irrational objects in an atmosphere of fantasy, creating the sense of being in a dream.

Symbolism - An art style developed in the late 19th century characterized by the inclusion of symbols and ideas, usually spiritual or mystical in nature, which can represent the inner beliefs and traditions of people.

Trompe l'oeil (To Fool the Eye) - A style of painting in which architectural details are rendered in extremely fine detail in order to create the illusion of dimensional reality. This form of painting was first used by the Romans thousands of years ago in frescoes and murals and was extremely popular during the Renaissance and continues today.

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