Glossary of Art Terms

The Qart.com glossary is meant as a reference guide. The material is based on information found in a variety of reliable sources as well as our experience. Should you want something added or find something you feel incorrect, please be in touch here.


Art Movements

Abstract: Abstract art usually doesn’t show people, animals, or places only as they appear in reality. Artists utilize color and shape to show emotions and impressions instead of concrete images. Some abstract art is also called “non-objective art,” in which the viewer does not see specific objects.
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Art Nouveau: Developed in England toward the end of the 19th century, Art Nouveau is an ornamental style used in reaction to the sterile Realism that came before it and the pure functionality and mechanization that the Industrial Revolution was creating. It is usually characterized by graceful lines and nature-inspired motifs.
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Cubism: Mainly used in paintings, Cubist art shows its subjects using mostly geometric shapes. Early in the movement, Cubists customarily used muted colors, but after 1914 brighter colors became more acceptable.
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Expressionism: This generally refers to art in which the arts is trying to express certain feelings about things; the artist is more interested in conveying an emotion or emotions than in depict in a concrete scene.
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Impressionism: Developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in France, Impressionism is a style that skims over details in landscapes and outdoor scenes. It gives the general impression of the scene, as if one were to take just a quick glance at it.
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Pop Art: Abbreviated from the term "Popular Art," Pop Art refers to the depiction of everyday things in a colorful, vibrant, or even brash manner. Pop Art is customarily inspired by popular culture.
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Realism: Realist art is that which depicts things exactly as they appear in life. Beginning in 18th century France, Realism flourished in the 19th century.
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Romanticism: Romanticism is a style of art that emphasizes personal, emotional, or dramatic things, often through the use of exotic, literary, and historical subject matter.
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Surrealism: Originally based on dreams, surrealism is artistic depictions of familiar things in a mysterious, strange, or surreal manner. This style was intended to stir up reactions from people’s subconscious and bring them forth.
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Print Types

Artagraph: Artagraphs are produced using laser scans to scan the original artwork’s color, which is then printed in overlapping layers with oil-based inks to make the substrate. Then a relief mold is taken of the surface of the original; when it is harded, the mold and the laminated canvas with the oil substrate are heated to 600° F under high pressure, liquefying the oil into all the crevices of the mold. It is then shock-frozen, leaving the piece with colors and surface texture of the original.
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Canvas transfer: Using serigraphy, giclee, lithography, or other printing methods, it is especially used when the publisher wants to recreate the texture, brush strokes, or aged appearance of an original piece of art.
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Cel: A cel, short for celluloid, is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn or painted for traditional, hand-drawn animation. The drawings are usually characters with the background drawing on a separate sheet. Outlines and colors are drawn and painted on the back of the cel to minimize the brushstrokes and textures on the front. Traditionally, the outlines were hand-inked but now they are usually scanned or “xerograped” on.
Animation Cel: A term we use to describe a cel with color that is completely hand-painted, often making it more unique and valuable.
Production Cel: A cel that has actually been used to produce an animated cartoon or film.
Sericel: Both the outlines and the coloring of the images and characters are scanned onto the celluloid.
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Collograph: The artwork is built up like a collage on a block, creating relief, and then inked. The proofs are pulled from this block, creating the prints.
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Collotype: Heavy plate glass is coated with light-sensitive gelatin and exposed to light under a photo negative. The gel hardens when it is exposed to light and the areas that are shaded can still absorb moisture. The hardened (drier) areas are then inked and prints are pulled from them lithographically.
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Engraving: Images are produced by cutting a metal plate or box with a sharp engraving tool. The incised lines are inked and printed with heavy pressure.
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Etching: A metal plate is first covered with an acid-resistant material, then worked with an etching needle to create an engraved image. The exposed metal is eaten away in an acid bath, creating depressed lines that are then inked for printing.
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Giclee: The desired image and topography are generated in a digital file and printed by a special ink jet printer, using ink, acrylic or oil paints. The process produces prints with some of the richest colors and highest accuracy to the original.
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Lithograph:
Original Lithograph: Lithography is probably the most unrestricted printing process available and hundreds of fine proofs can be taken from one plate. The image to be printed is rendered on a flat surface (often sheet zinc or aluminum) and then chemically treated so the ink only sticks to designated areas. Lithography can produces color and grayscale from intense to very delicate shades, although a different plate is necessary for each color in the image, as well as simulate the effects of pencil, pen, crayon, or brushwork.
Offset Lithograph: Also known as photolithography, this produces prints by transferring the image to negative plates and printing them on paper; it is especially used for color printing.
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Mezzotint: A reverse-engraving process using a copper or steel plate to produce on image in relief, giving the final print effects of light and shadow (it translates roughly from the Italian to mean “half-tone,” alluding to the shadows it creates). The surface of the plate is roughened with a “rocker” so it will print solid colors, while the whites and shades are rubbed down so they will not take ink.
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Mixed Media: Artwork that employs two or more media, such as ink and paint or collages. It can even include prints like seriolithographs, which are a combination of serigraphy and lithography.
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Montage/Collage: Artwork which is composed of a number of existing images arranged to join, overlap, or blend to create a new piece of art. Photographs, prints, and drawings are often used to create a collage or montage.
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Serigraph: Also called a “screen-print” or "silk-screen" it is produced by pushing paint through a fine screen usually made of silk or nylon onto the canvas or art paper. Each color in the print uses a different screen.
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Seriolithograph: A mixed media print that is a combination of a serigraph and an offset lithograph; it is known for the three-dimensional quality it lends to a print.
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Woodcut: The printing surface is carved from a block of wood, usually seasoned hardwood such as apple, beech, or sycamore. The negative space of a design is cut into the surface with a sharp utensil and the remaining raised/ uncarved surface represents what will be printed. The wood is inked with a brayer or roller, and then impressed onto paper. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a press.
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Linocut: A variant of the woodcut technique in which a sheet of linoleum is used for the relief surface rather than wood. The linoleum sheet is inked with a brayer, and then impressed onto paper. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a press.
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Print Proof Types

The definitions below describe the initial uses of the terms.


Artist’s Proof (AP): 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 the French term “épreuve d'artist” (abbreviation EA).
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Cancellation Proof (CP): Final print made once an edition series has been finished to show that the plate has been marred or mutilated by the artist and will never be used again to make more prints of the edition.
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Hors d’Commerce Proof (HC): Print identical to the edition print intended to be used as samples to show to dealers and galleries.
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Museum Edition (ME): Print identical to the edition print, but it is intended to be displayed in museums.
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Printer’s Proof (PP): Print retained by the printer as a reference. Artists often sign these prints as a gesture of appreciation.
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Second Edition: Prints of the same image as the original edition but altered in some way (as in change of color, paper or printing process).
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Studio Proof (SP): Lithographs on canvas that are created with a textured brushstroke to recreate the artist’s actual brushwork. Studio proofs are often finished in oil.
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Trial Proof: Initial proofs that are created so the artist can examine, refine, and perfect the prints that will be in the limited edition. Trial proofs are not usually signed.
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Misc Art Terms

Certificate of Authenticity: These are separate sheets of paper included with every limited edition print that serve to authenticate the work for insurance and valuation purposes. They usually include pertinent information, such as the number of prints in the edition.
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Limited Edition: A set of identical prints numbered in succession and signed by the artist. The total number of prints is set ("limited") by the artist who supervises the printing.
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Numbered: In a limited edition, the piece bears a number generally found on the bottom of the print. The number appears as a fraction, such as 10/75, which indicates that the work is reserved as the 10th print an edition of 75 prints.
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Hand Signed: The piece bears the hand signature of the artist or other specified party.
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Authorized Signature: This can refer to a plate signed piece in which the signature is imprinted/ printed via plate or stamp. It also refers to an auto-pen signed piece in which a machine signs the piece with an actual pen using the artists signature as a guide.
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Provenance: A record of ownership history for a work of art, ideally from when it left the artist’s studio to its current location.
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Remarque: A small sketch or other enhancement an artist makes in the margin of some or all of the prints in an edition.
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Verso: “Verso” is the Latin term that refers to the left-hand paged in a book (as opposed to the right-hand or “recto” page), but in the art world it is used to refer to the back side of a piece. When a piece is numbered “in verso,” it is numbered on the back of the print.
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Vignette: An image that does not have a definite border around it. This term also applies to a small image that is part of a larger print.
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