If you are new to watercolour, you may be overwhelmed by the different terms you see or hear. If you’ve been painting for a while, you probably didn’t realize that you’ve acquired a large vocabulary.
See how many of these are unfamiliar to you.
Terms related to paint
- colour: the perceived wavelength of light reflected from the surface of the subject
- paint: a mixture composed of pigment, vehicle, and binder
- pigment: the colour substance (clays, stones, animal and vegetable matter, synthetic dyes, etc.) found in paint
- vehicle: the element fund both in paint and added to paint which allows the pigment and binder to spread
- binder: the substance in paint which holds the pigment together; in watercolour the binder is soluble gum/gum Arabic
- gouache: the term used to describe opaque watercolour
Terms related to paper:
- hot pressed: paper which is passed through a hot press during the drying process. Smooth surface.
- cold pressed: paper which is passed through a cold press during the drying process. A medium surface, slight tooth.
- rough or not pressed: paper which is skimmed from vats with a screen and left to dry. Very coarse. Deep tooth.
- watermark (papermark): created by laid and chain wires laced and stitched into the mold. 13th century. papermaker's symbol/location of mill or labeling molds in sets of two.
- ream: standard amount of paper. 20 quires (20-25 sheets). 480-500 sheets. occasionally 472 or 516 sheets.
- paper weight: actual measured weight of a ream of one kind of paper
- watercolour block: a tablet of watercolour paper which is glued on all four sides. a painting is executed on the top sheet and when completed is cut from the block. a clean piece of watercolour paper is revealed when the painting is cut away. Using a watercolour block eliminates the need to stretch paper.
- sizing: Gelatin sizing is a surface sizing of animal glue or gelatin it helps to keep the paint from sinking into the fibers and becoming “muddy” and lets the artist make the necessary changes and corrections when painting, such as having the ability to lift and remove colour.
Terms related to colours
- primary colours: colours which cannot be mixed (red, yellow, blue)
- secondary colours: a colour created by combining two primary colours (green, orange, violet)
- triad: three colours equally spaced on the colour wheel.
- intermediate colours: colours found btwn primary and secondary colours.
- complementary colours: colours which are directly opposite one another on the colour wheel
- analogous colours: colours which have a common hue
- polychromatic colours: a random selection of colours
- neutral colours: colours which have their intensity/saturation reduced. The most effective manner to reduce intensity is to add the complement. Adding black or white also reduces intensity
- intensity/saturation: the brightness or pureness of a colour
- value: the lightness or darkness of a colour
- tint: the addition of white
- shade: the addition of black
- achromatic colour: refers to the absence of colour (blacks, whites, greys)
- warm colour: the visual temperature of colour. yellow, red, orange, etc.
- cool colour: the visual temperature of a colour. green, blue, violet, etc.
- subjective colour: colour chosen at random by the artist and not commonly associated with a particular subject
Terms related to watercolour techniques
- wash: thin transparent layers of colour which allow the white of the paper to show through. Washes can be flat, graded, variegated or random
- graded /graduated wash: Paint an area that goes from light to dark using a wash technique so that no brush marks are showing.
- variegated wash: a wash of two colours that bleed into each other. You achieve this by doing a graded wash first, and then introduce the second colour slightly overlapping the first colour.
- spattering: spots, dots, of colour created by flicking a brush or toothbrush loaded with paint
- stippling: using the tip of the brush to paint small dots of varying tone and density
- masking/ resist: using a rubberized liquid to preserve the white of the paper or lightly tinted areas which protects the paper from further development during the painting process, applies to the surface and allowed to dry before the first wash is laid.
- tachisme: the application of paint by throwing, dribbling, or blowing paint across the paper
- dry brush: created by painting with a brush with is damp with colour. hard/fuzzy edges & lines created by brush hairs.
- wet on wet: the application of wet paint to a wet surface. The result is soft fuzzy edges and bleeding colour
- wet on dry: a wet paint loaded brush applied to a dry surface. the end result is hard crisp controlled edges and forms clearly defined.
- scumbling : holding the brush on the side and making loose, circular movements
- charging: act of loading another colour into a wet or moist field. It is very much like wet into wet painting
- backruns/dropping in/blooms: often occur by mistake or you can create them deliberately. If you apply more of a wet colour to a wash before it is completely dry, the new paint will bleed into the old, creating a blotch with a hard jagged edge.
- engraving: marking the paper with a sharp instrument to allow pigment to flow along the lines, or marking a semi dried wash to create white lines.
- sgraffito: scraping out using a sharp point or knife to scratch into dry paint
- lifting out: using a damp sponge or wet brush on dry paint to loosen the pigment then immediately blot it. A tissue can be rolled or scrunched for different shapes when lifting out. Lifting out works brilliantly on hot pressed paper.
- glazing: is the term used for a wash laid over other dry colours, and is a way of mixing colours on the surface, either the same colour or a different colour. Glazing should use a transparent colour.
- positive painting: painting an object
- negative painting: painting behind and around and object to show its shape
Terms related to brushes
- round brush: ‘round’ brushes is perhaps misleading because the heads more closely resemble a teardrop in shape, when wet, being rounded towards the base and slimming down to a point at the tip. It’s this shape that’s behind the versatility of the round brush, and a lot of work goes into getting it just right. The ‘belly’ (the bulbous part) needs to be in the lower part of the head. If it’s higher up, the brush will lack the required springiness. The belly is the brush’s reservoir – it’s where most of the wet paint is held.
- flat brush: These are chisel shaped brushes with a straight edge
- rigger: Brushes with very long, thin hairs that come to a precise point, originally used to paint the rigging lines in nautical paintings, but great for any rendering of very fine, long lines
- mop: Rounds made with very fine, soft hairs (usually squirrel hair) that can hold a large quantity of water when wet or can wick up a large quantity of water when thirsty. Because they take long to dry and take more effort to rinse completely, mops are not the best brush for paint application, but they are exceptionally good for wetting large areas of paper
- liner/script: Basically a rigger wrapped in a round. The hairs often do not come to a needle point (as in a rigger), so that the line rendered has a consistent thickness, which is scaled to the size of the tuft.
- fan: a brush with a fan shape used for drawing grass-like or twig-like clusters of parallel lines, for irregular line hatching or texturing, and for softly blending the edges of or gradations within wash areas
- hake: wide flat brush are used to coax the distribution of paint or water in wash areas after the wash solution has been applied with another (wash) brush
- tuft: the bundle of hair, bristle or fiber that holds and releases the painting liquid.
- ferrule: the metal collar that connects the tuft to the handle, supports the tuft during painting, protects the end of the wood handle from moisture and determines the size and shape of the brush.
In the past couple of weeks I've been watching some old videos of Zoltan Szabo. His teaching technique in infused with passion. Here is a painting of his entitled "Little Haven".