July 31st, 2022

A mixed media painting by Matt Flint that uses the sfumato technique to give his subject a soft, dreamy appearance (see definition below) | Matt Flint, “Chestnut’s Portrait,” mixed media, 48″ x 36″

Within any kind of world, there’s a certain vocabulary and language that may not be as well known to those outside of that realm. For instance, if you’re not a skier, you may not be familiar with words and phrases like “pow,” “on-piste,” or “après-ski.” Similarly, we as art professionals occasionally use terminology that may not be as familiar to everyone coming through our gallery. People new to the art world may not immediately know what words and phrases like “encaustic,” “chiaroscuro,” and “en plein air” mean. While we are always happy to answer any questions in the gallery, we understand that sometimes you would rather not have to ask. 

We at Gallery MAR want to make art buying and art appreciation as accessible as possible for everyone. So in the spirit of accessibility, we’ve created a Gallery MAR glossary of art terms and phrases to help with your next art conversation or gallery visit.  


Art Media

Acrylic – a water-based paint made up of pigment and an acrylic polymer emulsion that’s fast-drying and waterproof when dry

Assemblage – a 3-D work of art composed of a variety of materials like found objects

Bronze – a 3-D work of art created by pouring molten bronze into a mold (otherwise known as a cast-metal sculpture)

Collage – from the French word coller, meaning “to glue” or “to stick together,” it is a work of art in which pieces of paper, photographs, fabric, and other materials are arranged and applied to a surface

A mixed media collage by artist Jane Maxwell | Jane Maxwell, “Blue-Eyed Girl,” mixed media, 36″ x 36″

Cor-Ten Steel – a steel alloy that appears rusty when weathered, creating a visually interesting and natural effect and making repainting unnecessary

Encaustic – otherwise known as hot wax painting, this painting process involves applying hot molten wax and colored pigments to a surface like wood panel or canvas

An encaustic painting by Shawna Moore | Shawna Moore, “Mirage,” encaustic, 30″ x 40″

Glass – works of art that have been glass-blown and shaped when molten hot

Mixed media – when an artwork is composed of multiple different media (i.e. a work made of acrylic paint, collage material, and pastel)

Oil – a slow-drying paint made up of pigments and a drying oil binder

Resin – epoxy resin (a class of adhesives, plastics, and polymers of epoxides) that are combined with pigments and poured either onto a surface or into a mold to harden

A work by R. Nelson Parrish made up of wood and bioresin (a more environmentally friendly form of resin) | R. Nelson Parrish, “Natalia Cairn,” bioresin and wood, 10″ x 11″

Stainless Steel – a popular weather-resistant metal for sculpture that can be welded, bent, and finished with different textures and colors


Art Subject Matter 

Abstract – a work of art that does not depict a particular scene or object(s) in a representational or realistic way

An abstract mixed media painting by Jylian Gustlin | Jylian Gustlin, “Fibonacci 479,” mixed media, 48″ x 48″

Figure – a work of art that represents a human (or sometimes animal) form

Landscape – a work of art that uses natural scenery as its primary subject matter

A landscape painting by Warren Neary | Warren Neary, “Drink and a Show,” oil, 30″ x 70″

Portraiture – a work of art depicting a particular person, capturing their likeness

Still life – a work of art depicting inanimate objects


Art Techniques/General Terms

Alla Prima – translated from Italian as “at first, at once” and otherwise known as wet-on-wet technique, it’s a painting technique where wet paint is applied in layers on top of other layers of still-wet paint

An oil painting by Sandra Pratt, painted with alla prima and impasto techniques| Sandra Pratt, “Seaside,” oil, 16″ x 16″

Brushwork – the characteristic style of an artist applying paint to a surface with a brush (i.e. loose brushwork, dry brushwork, flat wash, crosshatching, etc.)

Chiaroscuro – translated from Italian as “light-dark,” it’s the use of contrasted light in painting or drawing, often used to suggest a sense of volume on subjects

Composition – the arrangement of elements in a work of art

Complementary Colors – colors that are opposite one another on the color wheel and together, produce a shade of brown (i.e. green and red are complementary colors, as are purple and yellow, and blue and orange)

Contrast – the range of light to dark in a work of art (high contrast is when an artwork contains a larger range of light to dark like bright whites and deep blacks, whereas low contrast is when an artwork contains a smaller range of light to dark like light gray to slightly lighter gray)

T.S. Harris is renowned for her high contrast paintings | T.S. Harris, “Poolside Reading,” oil, 36″ x 36″

Diptych – a work of art that consists of two sections or panels, hung together

En plein air – translated from French as “in the open air,” it is the act of painting outdoors, popularized by painters of the 19th century like French Impressionists

Impasto – translated from Italian as “mixture,” it is a painting technique where an artist applies paint thickly on a surface so that brushstrokes and/or palette knife marks are visible

A diptych by Maura Allen that uses high contrast | Maura Allen, “Not Too Much Further,” mixed media, 30″ x 80″

In Situ – translated from Latin as “on site,” meaning art in its original place (we often refer to artwork installed in our collectors’ homes as “art in situ”)

Juxtaposition – placing two dissimilar things close by for comparison or contrast 

Monochrome – a work of art composed of only one color, or slightly varying shades of one color

A monochromatic work of art by Michael Kessler | Michael Kessler, “Receiver (1),” acrylic, 77″ x 55″

Palette – the range of colors in a work of art or the board that an artist holds when mixing their colors 

Sfumato – translated from Italian as “to evaporate like smoke,” it’s a painting technique that allows the soft, gradual transition of colors and tones into one another (see Matt Flint’s painting above)

Texture – an artwork’s perceived surface quality, including the way it feels and appears

Havoc Hendricks‘ mixed media work contains a contrast of smooth and rough, jagged texture | Havoc Hendricks, “Dark & Powerful,” mixed media, 17″ x 71.5″

Triptych – a work of art that consists of three sections or panels, hung together

Value – the lightness or darkness of a color


Art Descriptors 

Atmospheric – a term often used to describe artwork that evokes a particular aesthetic quality of soft, hazy, or muted atmosphere

An atmospheric encaustic painting by Bridgette Meinhold | Bridgette Meinhold, “Shoot For It,” encaustic, 54″ x 36″

Ephemeral – a term often used to describe artwork that is not meant to be permanent, but rather, transient (i.e. Earthworks)

Gestural – a term often used to describe artwork that has a feeling of spontaneity, where the media is applied in sweeping gestures

Iridescent – a term often used to describe artwork that has a lustrous quality, often with a rainbow-like refraction of light

An iridescent sculpture by Hunt Slonem | Hunt Slonem, “Kya,” glass, 16.5″ x 8.5″ x 8.5″

Luminous – a term often used to describe artwork that is bright or shining, like glass or resin



If you’re already an art world veteran, let us know which of your favorite art terms we might have missed! If you’re new to the art world, we hope this helps you feel just a little bit more comfortable in the beautiful, splendid world of art and gives you a means to discuss exactly what it is that you love about your favorite Gallery MAR artwork. 


Written by Veronica Vale