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Glossary of Terms Used by Artists. By Don Finkeldei:  A glossary of terms used in art for beginning artists.


  1. Value:  Lightness or darkness of masses and areas of a painting as if you were seeing in black and white.  White paint is the highest value, black is the lowest value.  All grays going from white to black are in between.  White is also referred to as the highest key.  Black is also referred to as the lowest key.  A high key (or high value) painting means that only the higher values are used in a painting.  A mid key painting means that not all the high keys are used and not all the low keys are used.  A low key painting means that not all the higher key values are used.  A painting can be a full value scale going from black to white.   All of these “keyed value” methods can create very wonderful paintings.

    Full Range Painting
    A Full Range Value Painting

    High keyed painting
    A Limited Value Range Painting

  2. Chromatic (chroma) Intensity (also called color saturation):  Tube paints like cadmium red or ultramarine blue are considered the highest chroma intensity (or alternatively, maximum color saturation).  A pure flat gray is considered the lowest chroma intensity.  For instance, if you mix the two complimentary colors of orange and blue in progressive amounts of each going from straight orange to straight blue (both are considered the highest intensity of each) you will cross through a point of pure neutral gray which is considered “zero chroma intensity” or “no color saturation”.

  3. Hue:  The color of the paint:  Red, yellow and blue are called primary colors.  Orange (red and yellow together),  green (yellow and blue),  purple (red and blue).  These are called secondary colors because it takes two primary colors to make them.  Adding the third missing primary color to any secondary color is called a tertiary color…. OR GRAY

  4. Color Temperature:  The warmth or coolness of a hue (color) going from red through yellow to blue.  The reds are considered the highest color temperature.  Blue is considered the lowest color temperature.  Some artists consider yellow as the warmest color temperature but that conflicts with the true scientific definition of color temperature (which is exactly what you see in the bands of a rainbow – it goes through red, orange, yellow, green, and blue which is also the way the color wheel is constructed.  You’ve surly seen an artist’s color wheel.

  5.  Edge:  The Relative softness of a transition zone between value, hue or chroma intensity -- or any of these.  A filbert brush (feathered out on both sides) creates a softer edge.  A flat brush creates a harder edge.  A palette knife can create a very hard edge.  There are also value and hue relationships that have a “built-in” edge.  Large value contrasts between adjacent strokes is perceived by the eye as a harder edge.  Less value contrasts are perceived by the eye as a softer edge.  Also, complementary colors next to each other are perceived by the eye as a harder edge.  Non complementary edges are perceived by the eye as a softer edge.  In art, there are three general classifications of Edges.
      Either created by flat brush or palette knife -- or perceived by contrasting value or complementary changes of color or chroma intensity next to each other
      Either created by a filbert brush or “smudging” the edge – or perceived by less contrasting value, complements, or color intensity.
    Where value and chroma intensity remain the same… only changing the hue gradually between the transition zone.  Lost edges can be a very powerful asset to a painting.  Foggy day paintings are a good example where the sky blends into ground objects like mountains or trees.

NOTE: This list of artist glossary terms will be expanded and extended as I get time to write them.  They are in my own words and I didn’t rely on quotes by other artists, dictionaries, wiki sites, or scientific articles -- although they’ve all contributed to my understanding over many years of study and observation.

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