The Language of Art – Glossary

When beginning to learn about a new genre of art the language can be confusing, causing a student to misinterpret the meaning of what is being read or said. I have put together this glossary that encompasses much of the language I use when teaching, that you will also encounter when reading about traditional approaches to drawing and painting.

Arabesque: The contour or outline of the subject.

Bargue Plates: Charles Bargue and Jean-Leon Gerome developed a drawing course in the late nineteenth century with the aim to improve the drawing skills of art students. The course is comprised of 197 lithographic plates to be copied in a sequence starting with the copying of plaster casts, followed by master drawings and finishing with the male nude. Many famous artist were known to complete the entire 197 Bargue Plates (at least once) including Picasso and Van Gough.

Bedbug line: Where the light and dark shapes meet, also known as the terminator line.

Cast Shadow: The shadow that is formed by an object obstructing the light.

Comparative Drawing:   The artist makes a drawing that is not the same size as the subject.  For example the drawing may be made to fit the paper size and is there fore smaller than the subject.

Core Shadow: The darkest dark on the form, appearing parallel to the light source, often seen in the form of a dark band.

Envelope: Using straight lines to encompass the entire shape

Faceted: Drawing with straight lines giving a form a ’tiled’ appearance  

Halftone: The area where the dark meets the light. The half tone is half way between the light and dark.

Highlight: Often the lightest part of an object where the most illumination is received.

Occlusion Shadow: The shadow seen when light is obstructed nearing the base of an object

Piecemeal: Attempting to finishing a drawing or painting piece by piece with out context to the entirety. For example one area is finished before another is started.

Rain from Heaven: Creating shading by the gentle, gradual layering of tone on a 45 degree angle using a ‘top to tail’ application.

Reflected light: Light that bounces from the environment causing a reflection onto an object.

Salient point: Where two follow through lines meet.

Site Size: The artist makes the drawing the same size as the subject as seen from a fixed view.

Terminator line: See bedbug line.

Top to tail: Applying tone in a circular motion, lifting the pencil up off the page and coming down near where the tone began, used to achieve ‘rain from heaven’.

Triangulation: Comparing angles within the drawing from one salient point to another.

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