The following glossary of art terms is provided as a quick reference.
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES
The substance that binds the pigment (color) is a synthetic resin, rather than natural oils. Acrylic painting has the advantage of drying faster than oil paint. This modern technique is in widespread use today and can be applied to canvas, linen, paper or wood.
An earthenware or porcelain product made from a nonmetallic mineral, such as clay, by firing at a high temperature.
A composition made up of various materials, such as paper or cloth.
The use of a small amount of pigment on the brush to create a linear application of pigment, yielding a range of line characteristics.
A material used to prime a canvas or linen surface, allowing it to accept the paint more readily and not be absorbed into the surface. Gesso can also be applied to wood and sanded to create a fine and smooth painting surface.
The opposite of impasto, glazing is done by diluting the pigments and layering one color over another. Glazing lends a softness and delicacy to the surface. It is most effective with an under-painted tone and glazes applied on top.
A medium similar to watercolor, but heavier, because of a gum substance added to the ground pigment (color) and water. Most often applied to paper.
The application of thick paint to the surface of the canvas or board to build up the textures. Impasto can be applied with a brush or palette knife.
A type of paint made with natural oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppy, as the medium to bind the pigment (color). Oil painting, the traditional technique employed by artists for centuries, is typically applied to canvas, linen, paper or wood.
A type of dried paste made of pigments ground with chalk and compounded with gum water.
A shading technique created by forcing the brush to open with pressure onto the surface of the canvas or board, resulting in a loose and textural type of brush stroke.
A water-based painting medium which has been employed for centuries. Typically bound with egg yolks, tempera is applied primarily to paper or paper-board.
A transparent painting medium using ground pigment mixed with water, most often using the whiteness of the paper in conjunction with the transparency of the pigment (color) to create effects. A highly difficult medium to master, watercolor dries very quickly and requires a great degree of practice to master.
An oil or water-based solution applied to a finished painting to cover and protect the work. Varnishing can result in a gloss, satin or matte finish. It may sometimes be applied purely for aesthetic reasons.
THE CREATION OF GRAPHIC WORKS
An intaglio, etching and tonal printing process in which a porous ground allows acid to penetrate to form a network of small dots in the plate, as well as the impressions made by this process. Aquatints often resemble wash drawings. Any pure whites are stopped out entirely before etching begins, then the palest tints are bitten and stopped out, and so on, as in etching. This process is repeated 20 to 30 times until the darkest tones (deepest recesses in the plate) are reached.
A kind of engraving which has a soft, fuzzy line because of metal burrs used in the printing process. Created by an intaglio process, burrs are left on the plate by the pointed needle that directly inscribes the lines. Because such plates wear out quickly, the disadvantage of drypoint is that the editions are usually limited.
Caldographs are the innovation of artist Csaba Markus. By using the dye sublimation process (see below), an image is transferred onto a wood panel. This incorporates the grain of the wood into the imagery. The panel is then protected with a coat of varnish, and from there can be hand embellished.
Dye sublimation is the process that transfers imagery onto materials such as metal, glass and plastic. The original image is made into a digital matrix, and from there the artist has total control over how the colors will appear on the final work of art. The image is transferred onto paper using special inks. The paper is then applied to a surface, such as aluminum plates or wood panels, and heat and pressure are applied. The ink transforms from a solid to a gas, transferring to the surface before becoming a solid again. The image bonds to the surface on a molecular level, creating a crisp, vivid, and clear image.
A tool called a burin cuts a design directly into the surface of a metal plate. The plate is then inked, placed into a press, a sheet of fine paper is placed over it and the impression made.
First used by artists in the early 16th century, the etching medium consists of a copper or zinc plate coated with acid-resistant varnish. To produce an illustration, the artist draws lines through the varnish coating. The plate is then immersed in acid, which bites into the drawn lines. During printing, the plate is inked and wiped so that ink remains only in the etched lines or areas. The plate is then printed under pressure onto the dampened paper, producing the plate mark, which is common to both etchings and engravings. If more than one color is to be used, a separate plate is created for each color.
The word giclée (pronounced “ghee-clay”) is a French term, which literally translates into “spraying of ink.” A giclée print is produced by a very precise spraying of ink. In the giclée process, an original artwork is digitized and the scan or transparency of the original art is stored in a computer file. The computer is the controlling element of a highly specialized precision ink jet, which sprays several million droplets per second onto paper or canvas mounted on a rotating drum. The material printed upon is normally the type of medium an artist may use for an original painting (watercolor paper or cotton/poly canvas, for instance).
The artist is an integral part of the giclée printing process. A print is made, the artist “red lines” the proof, changes are made and another print is made. This process continues until the artist is satisfied with the result. Once the final settings are decided, the final print is made, approved by the artist and the edition is created.
A printmaking process in which a design is cut, scratched or etched into a printing surface of copper, zinc or aluminum. Ink is then rubbed into the incisions or grooves, the surface is wiped clean and the paper is embossed into the incised lines with pressure from a roller press. Intaglio processes are the most versatile of printmaking methods, as they can produce a wide range of effects.
A print created from a design carved into a piece of linoleum.
Francisco Goya (1746-1828) was probably the first artist to truly make memorable use of lithography, a technique first invented in 1798. To produce a lithograph print, the artist, or an assistant under the artist’s supervision, draws on a limestone slab with a grease crayon or with tusche (liquid ink). Water is spread over the stone and covers only the undrawn areas. Ink is rolled over the stone, adhering only to the greasy lines drawn by the artist, not the areas covered by the water. The final lithograph is a result of printing from a number of stones or plates drawn separately, one for each color in the image. Today, artists use various mediums — from zinc plates to acetate sheets — in creating lithographs.
An intaglio process in which the work is done in two stages. Initially, a metal plate is grained by working it over systematically with a spiked tool known as a rocker (which has a thick blade with a serrated, semicircular cutting edge). This creates a multitude of fine dots all over the plate’s surface. If inked at this stage, the plate would create a rich black.
The second stage of the process consists of smoothing away parts of the roughened surface, with the aid of a scraper and a burnisher, to create the white and highlighted parts of the resulting image.
The scraping of the plate is a skillful job; delicate, tonal transitions can be obtained if it is done well, whereas the flat appearance of some mezzotints is an indication of the difficulties involved. This flatness is also caused by the fact that mezzotint plates wear down very quickly. Color mezzotints can be created with several plates, one for each color.
A unique impression on paper, printed from a smooth surface, such as metal or glass, painted on in ink by the artist.
Serigraphy is similar to the process of silk screening. A tightly-stretched screen, often of silk, blocks out the areas not to be printed by filling the screen mesh with a varnish-like substance. Ink is forced through the remaining open mesh onto paper under the screen. The finished print is a serigraph. If more than one color is to be used, separate screen work must be used for each color. Serigraphy is popular because it allows many opaque or transparent colors to be overlapped.
A combination of the two print making processes — serigraphy and lithography. Also known as a “seri-lithograph.”
In place of a metal plate, a wooden block is the medium. Similar to the engraving process, a sharp tool carves the design into the woodblock’s surface. With a woodcut, all of the undesired surface is cut away, leaving only that which constitutes the design. This surface is inked, paper is placed over it and the finished woodcut is the result. If more than one color is to be used, a separate block, or a reduction of an existing block, must be used for each color.
TYPE OF PROOFS
Artist Proof (AP) / Epreuve d’Artiste or European “Artist Proof” (EA)
An artist proof is outside of, but pulled at the same time as or after, the regular edition, from the same plates, blocks, stones or screens, without changes. Sometimes, the artist retains these proofs for their own personal use or sale. They are often released into the market with the numbered edition(s).
Printer’s Proof (PP)
Printer’s proofs are reserved for the printer and collaborators, but are often released into the market as well.
Hors Commerce (HC)
The term hors commerce is French for “before trade.” These proofs are typically reserved for the publisher, but are often released into the market as well.
Bon à Tirer (BAT)
When the artist is satisfied with an impression from the finished plate, they work with an assistant to pull one or several perfect examples marked bon à tirer, a French term meaning “good to pull.” The assistant compares each edition impression with the BATs, before submitting each to the artist for final approval and signature.
A NOTE ON THE NUMBERING AND SIGNING OF LIMITED EDITIONS
In each graphic medium, a limited number of impressions are pulled from the plates, stones, blocks or screens. Initially, each impression is inspected on the actual paper — not on the plates, etc. — and eventually numbered. The matrix is then defaced or destroyed to ensure that the edition stays limited.
The numbering is displayed as a fraction, with the bottom number indicating the number of impressions pulled (not including proofs), and the upper number indicating the “serial” or identification number of that individual impression.
The significance of the numbering can sometimes be misunderstood, as it may be incorrectly assumed that the lower the number, the more valuable the impression. Although this may be true for drypoint etchings, because the burr may wear down, it is not necessarily true of all etchings, lithographs, serigraphs, seriolithographs or woodcuts.
First, the impressions may not necessarily have been signed in the order in which they were pulled. Impressions are typically not signed until the entire edition is pulled, dried, trimmed and stacked, and it is difficult to always handle the impressions in the exact order they were pulled. Second, as with any new project, the technical assistant does not always learn to get the most from a plate until they have already pulled several impressions.