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Glossary of Painting Terms

By October 21, 2016Uncategorized

This is a new online glossary of painting terms. More to come!

Alkyd  (“Call me Al, kid”)
Oil Painting
Alkyds are synthetic resin replacements for slow drying natural oils. When added to oil paint they speed up the drying time. Examples: Liquin, Galkyd, and many more. Some paints like Quick Dry White, Gamblin FastMatte, and W&N Griffin Paints have alkyds replacing the oil in the tube, resulting in a faster drying paint.

Alla Prima (All-uh Pree-mah)
Oil & Acrylic Painting (Mostly Oil)
This is an Italian phrase that means “at the first attempt” so describes a painting created entirely in one sitting. Alla Prima is also called “wet-on-wet” because nothing has time to dry, and wet paint is worked over wet paint. Fresh wins the alla prima challenge, as overworking makes mud. You cannot glaze an alla prima painting.

Baroque painters who painted alla prima are Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals. In the Rococo era, artists such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Francesco Guardi, and Thomas Gainsborough were appreciated for their boldness. The most famous American Renaissance alla prima painter was John Singer Sargent.

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent

Artist quality paints
Oil & Acrylic Painting
Artist quality paints have top quality materials with potent pigment levels, while student grade paints are usually less potent, requiring more paint to get the same color effect. In this case, you get what you pay for.

Student grade paints often lower costs by using different – less expensive – pigments, so a bright red student grade paint might dull down when mixed, while a bright red artist pigment will still be bright. Every pigment is different.

STUDENT GRADE OIL: Gamblin 1980 student grade oil paints use the same pigments as the artist quality paints, they just put less pigment in the tube, so students can learn how the pigments behave and how the paint feels without suffering from tube shock.

ARTIST QUALITY OIL: Gamblin is a great mid-range paint. Winsor & Newton a step above. Williamsburg is a splurge if you’re doing fine (small and thin) painting. Holbein is excessively divine. Old Holland is so nice I can’t even open the tube, and even though it’s great paint, you’re probably paying even more for the name.

STUDENT GRADE ACRYLIC: I only paint with student grade acrylics if it’s an under painting. Student grade acrylics just don’t have the mixing strength I enjoy.

ARTIST QUALITY ACRYLIC: Golden acrylics are hard to beat.

Atelier (Ay-telle-yay)
Snobby Oil Painting, not Acrylics
Atelier means ‘workshop’ in French. An atelier is an artist run studio where students study the style and techniques of a single master artist. In contrast, the Seattle Artist League is based on a dynamic interactive community model which fosters a wide variety of personal expression. So even though we have workshops and studios, the League is not an atelier.

Oil & Acrylic Painting
The stuff that holds (binds) the pigment, and helps it stick to the surface (canvas, panel, etc). For oil paint, the binder is usually cold-pressed Linseed oil. With acrylics, it’s PVA or Acrylic Polymer water-based binder. One of the biggest mistakes acrylic painters make is to dilute with water more than 20%, so the binder cannot do its job to hold the pigment. With tempera painting, the binder is egg.

Oil & Acrylic Painting
The most common way to kill the vitality in a painting, blending is a smooth transition between two colors, painted when wet. This is difficult to do with acrylic because it dries so danged fast. Click here to see Blending Techniques for Painters.


A color blending/mixing game that may actually improve your skills with color.


Oil Painting
Dull white cloudy look on oil varnish in damp conditions.

Watercolor Painting
A bloom is formed when an area with more wet watercolor spreads into an area with less, resulting in a pattern of color.

Elizabeth Tyler

Elizabeth Tyler


Blocking in
Oil & Acrylic Painting
The first steps after the sketch, in which areas of flat color are applied to the whole canvas. The paint is usually thin so this layer dries quickly and can be easily painted over. Most of this layer will be covered, and so blocking in is usually a fast process, best done with a big brush. Some artists start with value, and apply one single color. For single colors, some choose a neutral earth color like a burnt umber. Others choose a complimentary color like orange for a landscape that will be mostly greys, blues and greens. Other artists block each area in with multiple colors, like a patchwork quilt.

Terry Miura, finished

Terry Miura, finished

Terry Miura, blocked in

Terry Miura, blocked in












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