ABSTRACT: art with subject matter either distorted from reality or with no reference to observed reality at all (nonrepresentational or nonobjective art.

ACID-FREE PAPER / ARCHIVAL PAPER / ACID-FREE INKS: acid-free or archival paper has been processed to have a minimum pH of 7.5 and 2% alkaline reserve to serve as buffer to neutralize acids from the atmosphere or aging. Acid-free inks are used by those interested in longevity and the archival nature of a piece of art.

ACRYLIC PAINT: a fast drying paint containing pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. Acrylic paints dry quickly and don’t “off gas” the way oil based paints do. Dependent upon the amount of water mixed with the paint and the painting surface chosen, an acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor or an oil painting or can retain its own unique, identifiable characteristics. See OIL PAINT.

AP / ARTIST PROOF: Originally the print that the artist “signed off” on that served as a reference for the print maker to use to match other prints in the edition. Artist proofs (the number can vary, but in fine art is usually 1 or 2) are not counted as part of the edition. Editions marked AP are usually reserved for the artist to hold onto or are sold at a later date, usually after the edition has sold out. APs can appear whenever work is fabricated in an edition, whether as a print, photograph or sculpture. See EDITION.

ARMATURE: a framework around which a sculpture is built. This framework, often made of metal, provides rigidity and support and serves as a beginning form for the sculpture.

BRONZE: a metal alloy of copper with tin as the main additive. A very hard and durable material, bronze has been used throughout the ages. It continues to be a preferred medium by sculptors, especially for work intended to be sited outdoors.

CASTING: the process whereby a liquid material, such as molten metal or plaster, is poured into a mold to form a particular shape when it cools or hardens.

CERAMIC / PORCELAIN / POTTERY: fire-hardened clay often painted and normally sealed with shiny protective coating. Porcelain generally refers to the finest quality ceramic, fired at a very high temperatures. Pottery is the generic term for an object, usually utilitarian, like a vase or jug, made of fired clay.

COLLAGE: a work of art assembled by gluing or attaching by other means, materials (often paper or objects) onto a primary surface. From the French, coller, to glue.

CONTEMPORARY ART: generally refers to art made at the present, or very recent, point in time; however, museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II.

C-PRINT / CHROMOGENIC PRINT: refers to a photograph that resulted from a chemical process using dyes applied to photographic paper after a light (often today lasers or LEDs) exposed a digital file onto the light sensitive paper. C-Prints are often preferred by photographers who seek very precise detail.

CROPPING: removal of outside horizontal and/or vertical edges of an image for aesthetic reasons or to meet the size requirements of a frame or to match the size of other images. Cropping can be done during the process of making the work or cutting art after it is completed.

DECKLE: An irregular or thin, decorative feathered edge achieved during the paper making process or by the artist tearing the paper held against a straight edge.

DIGITAL PRINT / INK JET PRINT / PIGMENT INK PRINT: a print made using an inkjet printer, which propels very precisely extremely tiny droplets of ink onto the paper creating an image. Once called an IRIS print, then an EPSON print after the printer manufacturer. Archival Digital Print refers to a print made using special archival (usually acid free) paper with archival quality inks. See GICLEE.

DIPTYCH: artwork which consists of two separate parts, whether combined in one frame or framed separately and hung next to each other to relate or appear as one piece of work. Similarly, a three-part work is referred to as a triptych.

EDITION / LIMITED EDITION: refers to a fixed number of copies (not counting artists proofs) that all look alike. Each print is signed with a number to indicate the unique number of the print as well as the size of the edition. For example, 23/100 would indicate that print is number 23 out of an edition of 100. This series of numbers is marked on the front or back of art, whether a print or photograph. All things equal, smaller editions usually command higher prices. Edition sizes can refer to all copies produced from a specific images, or can apply to copies produced in specific dimensions.

EMBOSSED: a raised design on paper often created with a hand stamp to certify authenticity. Used consistently by some printmakers or placed on the white border of a photograph reproduced by a photographer’s Trust. Also refers to a portion of a print raised by placing dampened paper over a mold or plate.

ENCAUSTIC: wax (often bee’s wax alone or mixed with pigment or other waxes, resins or oils), heated to a liquid and applied to art, usually a painting or work on paper. This process dates to Egypt, 300-100 AD.

ETCHING: prints made from a metal plate which has been coated with acid-resistant resin and then drawn on with a stylus, or pointed instrument, revealing the metal of the plate below. Plate is immersed in acid causing the exposed metal to be etched into the plate. The plate is then inked, wiped and used for printing.

FIGURATIVE: indicates work in which the primary subject is the portrayal of the human form. The range of expression is endless; the human figure has challenged artists and drawn viewers for centuries.

FORMAT: refers to the shape and size of two-dimensional art.

FOUND OBJECT: an object found by an artist and presented, with little or no alteration, as part of a work or as a finished work itself. Fountain, by Marcel Duchamp from 1917 is probably the most famous “found object”, as it consisted of an ordinary urinal. When it was shown in 1917 it resulted in much critical outrage, but inspired many modern artists like Robert Rauschenberg to incorporate found objects into their work.

FOUNDRY: a factory that fabricates art using bronze, aluminum, stainless steel, other metals or even glass. Foundries work closely with artists to sometimes enlarge work, make armatures, create molds, cast, weld, chase and apply patina and make a base. The relationship between artist and foundry is very important and often lasts for years.

GICLÉE: from the French “gicler,” v. “to squirt.” Giclée prints are generated from high-resolution digital files or scans using ink-jet printers (see DIGITAL PRINT). Giclée became a term quickly picked up by printers of more commercial art.

GHOST PRINT: a second or even subsequent print from an original monotype plate. This can also be called a “cognate,” and because much of the color is removed in the original monotype, the next runs result in prints with less and less pigment, i.e. faded and thus the name “ghost.” See MONOPRINT.

GLASS / UV GLASS / NON-GLARE GLASS / MUSEUM GLASS: glass is still often the framing material of choice for smaller works (as opposed to a transparent thermoplastic such as plexiglass). UV glass protects glass from sunlight. Non-glare glass reduces the amount of reflection off the glass. Museum glass is the most archival, anti-reflective, indoor and outdoor UV protective glass available.

GLAZE: in oil painting, a thin, transparent layer of paint used to create richness of depth and surface quality. In ceramics, a layer or coating of a vitreous, or glass-like substance which has been fired to fuse to a ceramic object to color, decorate, strengthen or waterproof it.

GLOSSY PRINT: a print on paper that has been coated to produce a shiny surface that allows the inks to remain on the surface rather than soak into the fibers. Glossy prints are often reflective, sensitive to finger prints, show dust, but appear to have a higher resolution than matte prints or semi-glossy prints.

HAND-COLORED PRINT: a print (whether art print or photograph) that is colored or marked by an artist, making that print, even if one of an edition, a unique print.

LINOLEUM PRINT / LINOCUT: made by a process similar to a woodcut print but using a sheet of linoleum into which an image is incised with a sharp instrument. The linoleum is inked and wiped and used to produce a mirror image of the design cut into its surface. Linoleum is easier to cut than a woodblock and does not leave marks from wood’s grain.

LITHOGRAPH: a print made by drawing an image on a stone or metal plate with grease-based or other oil-based mediums. Ink is applied to the wet surface, adhering only to the greasy areas. The image made in the medium takes on ink and the greased surface repels it. Different colors can be applied during subsequent runs of the print through the press.

MAQUETTE: a small scale model used as a draft or a study. A maquette can become art to sell, but its original purpose is to work out problems, proportions, form, posture, position and ideas before committing time, effort and cost that will be necessitated by the intended, large-scale work.

MATTE PRINT: a print on paper that is untreated (as opposed to a glossy print) so that the ink soaks into the fibers. The surface of matte prints is non-reflective.

MAT BOARD / MATTING: ideally acid-free, a material that serves as an archival resting place for a piece of art when the art is “floated.” Mat board is also used as a “mat” or paper frame both for aesthetics reasons as well as a means of holding art in place and preventing glass or plexiglass from touching the surface of the art. “Ply” refers to the thickness of the board, thus 8-ply is twice as thick as 4-ply.

MEDIUM: the type of material(s) from which a piece of art is made.

METAL LEAF: an extremely thin and fragile sheet of gold, silver, copper or metal that is applied to flat work, sculpture, jewelry.

MIXED MEDIA: a general term to indicate that there are multiple mediums used in making a single piece of art.

MONOPRINT: a single, unique impression of an image made from a re-printable plate or stencil or wood block. After the impression is struck or during the printing process, the artist may paint onto, or mark the print by hand, assuring that the print, although perhaps similar to other prints, will always be considered a unique print. The artist also may choose to do only one print and then destroy or change the plate.

MONOTYPE: a print made by drawing or painting on a smooth, non-absorbent surface, in contemporary work varying from zinc to glass to plastic, etc. The image is transferred onto a sheet of paper by pressing paper to the surface, using pressure from a press or hand. The resultant print is unique since most of the ink is removed during the initial pressing. (See GHOST PRINT.) The artist may rework the same plate with new ink or even use additional plates.

PLEXIGLASS / UV PLEXIGLASS / NON-GLARE PLEXIGLASS: also referred to as acrylic glass, plexi or by trademark names such as Lucite or Plexiglass. A light, transparent thermoplastic used as a substitute for glass, especially on very large works where glass could be too heavy or may not be allowed because of earthquake restrictions. UV plexi has a coating that helps to screen damaging ultra violet rays of light that can cause art to fade or deteriorate. Non-glare plexi reduces the glare that normally results from light reflecting off the very smooth surface of plexiglass.

OIL PAINT: colored pigment suspended in an oil-based medium such as linseed oil. Its slow drying quality allows the artist a long time to rework and make changes, scrape, blend, apply other colors, etc. The earliest recorded use of pigment in oil is from 650 CE in Afghanistan. The colors are very lightfast (fade resistant). Old Masters used oil paint for easel painting in the 17th century. Oil paint in a tube was invented in 1841, making plein air painting (painting in plain air or outdoors) by the Impressionists easy to do.

OPEN EDITION: in printmaking or photography, when the number of prints of an image that can be made is not restricted or pre-determined. This is in contract to an edition print or limited edition print. See EDITION.

PASTEL / OIL PASTEL: an art medium in the form of a stick. Pastels (also known as “soft” or “French” pastels) are made from powdered pigment mixed with a binder, and are easy to blend because of their powdery nature, which can be held by spraying a fixative. Oil pastels, powdered pigment bound with a non-drying oil and wax binder and formed into the shape of a “stick,” are more like wax crayons, allowing for a harder edge than pastels.

PATINA: the accumulated changes to a surface due to age, wear and nature. Also refers to the intentional and often dramatic change of color and surface appearance, especially of art made of bronze or other metals (due to oxidation or application of chemicals). Patina can also be created with paint, mark making, sanding, etc.

PHOTOGRAPH: an image created by light falling on light sensitive surfaces or with light sensitive chemicals or via electronic means. Although most photographs are made with a camera, camera-less images are also considered photographs as light plays a role in either creating the image or in creating the print.

PLATINUM/PALLADIUM PRINT: photographic prints made by applying a light-sensitive emulsion of platinum, palladium or a combination of both on paper and then placing the negative on top of the paper and exposing it to light. The emulsion is absorbed by the fibers of the paper resulting in an image that appears to reside deeper than the surface of the paper, which it indeed does. Platinum/palladium prints are the most archival of all photographic prints.

RESIN: a synthetic product, which hardens into a hard lacquer or enamel-like finish. It is used in contemporary art in a variety of ways, but always imparts a hard, jewel-like surface to the work.

SILVER GELATIN PRINT: a black and white or toned print using selenium, gold, copper, etc. Silver grains imbedded in gelatin, when applied by the manufacturer to paper, serve as the light sensitive element that allows an image to appear when exposed to specific chemicals.


UNIQUE: individual, one-off. In art, a work that is not completely like any other.

WATERCOLOR: a painting made with pigments suspended in a water-soluble medium. Water is used to thin the paint, just as turpentine is used with oil paint. Watercolor paintings are usually very sensitive to fading when exposed to sunlight over a period of time.

WOODCUT PRINT: a print made from a block of wood on which the image is raised and all non-printing surfaces are carved or cut away as in a relief. Multiple colors can be achieved by using different blocks of wood cut to hold the desired areas of ink.