Here at the Affordable Art Fair, we're big fans of deconstructing a lot of the art speak which comes part and parcel with the art world. Art should be accessible and enjoyable; rather than making you feel baffled and confused with strange words and foreign phrases. Our handy guide below aims to clear a few things up and explain a few technical terms which you may be unfamiliar with.
Often when reading about contemporary art, writers reference different Art Movements. Put simply, an art movement is an artistic style which developed over a specific period of time. Particularly well known movements include Abstract Expressionism, Impressionism and Cubism. This blog post will focus on our A-Z guide on methods, techniques and materials commonly used - but if you want to learn how to tell your Installation from your Pop Art, then click here to check out our explanation of art movements.
The Affordable Art Fair Glossary of Art Terms
Acrylic - Developed in the middle of the twentieth century, acrylic is the main rival to oil paints. It is a synthetic resin, meaning that the paint can be thinned with water, but when dry creates a rough, rubbery film that is impervious to water. To read our blog all about painting mediums, click here.
Art Glass - These are smaller and mostly multiple edition glass creations also sometimes known as 'Studio Glass' and can cover a range of decorative glass techniques.
Assemblage - The term refers to work such as welded metal constructions in which pre-formed elements are joined. Assemblage was evident in the revolutionary art movements during the first quarter of the twentieth century in France, Russia and Germany.
Aquatint - Aquatint is an etching technique, allowing large areas of varying tones to be printed using a textured plate. The area to be etched is dusted with a powdered resin and then heated to melt it onto the surface. The plate is then placed in an acid bath to etch away the tiny areas not protected by the granulated resin. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Canvas - Canvas is a heavy fabric stretched over a wooden frame and a traditional substrate (base) for paint.
Carving - Carving is a reductive technique where the artist removes the material through cutting a block of material, usually with a sharp object. Materials which tend to be carved include wood, marble, alabaster, limestone or granite or sandstone.
Casting - A fluid substance such as plastic, clay or molten metal is poured into a cast (a mould) which is made from a clay or wax model. Bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) is often used in casting, but concrete and resin can also be cast.
Cityscape - Cityscapes focus on urban environments and scenery. Other 'scapes' could be a seascape, or more commonly, a landscape.
Collage - Collage became recognised as a serious art form in the early twentieth century. The term is derived from a nineteenth century craft called 'papiers collés' in which a variety of found objects including fabric, newspapers and cardboard are adhered to a flat surface to create a work of art.
Collagraphs - Collagraphs are created by building up an image on a surface (cardboard, metal, or plastic) with glue and other materials thereby creating recessed areas where the ink is retained. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Collector - A collector is someone who buys, or collects, art. It's our ethos that you don't have to be a squillionaire to be a collector: anyone can start their collection with an unframed photograph or print, and go from there.
Composition - This relates to the way that the different parts of a work of art are arranged to form a cohesive whole. It's not just reserved for fine art: you can also talk about a musical composition, or the composition of a novel.
Conceptual art - This artform derives from the idea of a 'concept': something that is conceived or imagined in the mind. For a full explanation of conceptual art, visit our blogpost.
Contemporary - Art which is being produced now or at least very recently produced, in the late twentieth or twenty-first century. Not to be confused with Modern or Post-Modern Art. The Affordable Art Fair's definition of 'Contemporary Art' is work produced by artists who are still living.
Curator - We have lots of these at our fairs; a curator is someone whose job is to create and run exhibitions or look after a collection. Curating a show means putting a show together; liaising with artists and deciding where the works go on the walls.
C-Type - This is the generic name for modern colour photographic print. Colour sensitive layers of emulsion on the paper respond to the colour information in the negative when light is shone through it. After the initial development, chemical compounds called dye couplers are added to form a layer of hues that produce the full colour image. More information can be found in our introduction to photography blog.
Digital Art - This term can encompass 1) a digitally produced reproduction of an artwork already existing in another form, for example a painting (work such as this is not accepted at Affordable Art Fair, as it is not considered to be an original work of art), 2) work produced to be viewed via digital means such as web-art (similarly, work such as this tends not to be for sale at Affordable Art Fair but is instead freely accessible to experience via the internet), and, 3) work produced digitally, which results in a work existing outside of the computer - often in the form of giclée print, so that this digitally produced print can be considered to be an 'original'. Work in this category may also exist in the form of a video, or more recently, a DVD. Such videos and DVDs will often be sold in limited editions, as with prints. (Works such as this are sold at The Affordable Art Fair, subject to it being produced under the same strictly limited editions as conventional prints. In other words, when a print's edition has been fully run, the artist must not produce any further prints in the series).
Drypoint - Artists working in drypoint draw the image directly onto the plate using a steel tipped 'pencil' that produces an added richness due to the burr (or shaving of metal that is turned up at the furrow). As the burrs are delicate and crush easily under the weight of the press, usually less than 50 impressions can be made. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Editions - An edition is a predetermined number of prints at a specific size from a single image. An edition print should be of exhibition quality and will be individually numbered (e.g 5/10), signed and dated, either on the print itself or on an accompanying certificate. Often an 'Artist Proof' will exist separate to the edition and is usually the first or last to be printed. Editioning is more common among contemporary photographers and gives the collector an assurance of authenticity. More information on Editions can be found in our introduction to photography blog.
Engraving - An engraving is a technique in printmaking, where incisions are made into a metal plate or wood block. Ink is then rolled onto the plate or block, to form a printed image when rolled on paper or a two-dimensional surface.
Established - The opposite of an emerging artist, an established artist is one who is relatively well known in their field, having worked for a substantial period of time and produced a significant body of work.
Etching - A printmaking process whereby a metal plate is coated with an acid-resisting wax or ‘ground’ that the artist draws into with a variety of tools, removing the ground from the areas that are to be printed black. The plate is immersed in an acid bath, which ‘bites out’ or etches the exposed area. The etched plate is inked and the surface is wiped clean, leaving ink only in the etched depressions. Finally, the plate is run through a press with dampened paper – the pressure forces the paper into the etched area of the plate, transferring the ink onto paper. Rembrandt van Rijn first popularised this technique. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Focal Point - This is the part of a piece of art work, usually a two-dimensional piece like a painting or photograph, which is the central focus of a piece, and where the eye is drawn to first.
Figurative - Figurative works are works that represent real things, like human beings or objects. The opposite to figurative would be abstract.
Fin de siècle - An example of the tendency for the art world to use foreign languages, 'fin de siècle' means 'end of the century' in French. It refers to a time when one period is ending and another beginning, and is typically used to describe the period between the 19th and 20th centuries.
Gallerist - One of our favourites - a gallerist is the owner or person responsible for a gallery.
Gelatin Silver Print - Known as the most common form of black and white photographic printing. Photosensitive particles called silver halides are suspended in a thin layer of gelatin on paper. When the paper is exposed and processed, the particles react and change according to the concentration and brilliance of light.
Geometric - We talk about geometric art a lot on the blog as we have a fantastic roster of artists who rely on creating this type of work. It means using geometric shapes, with curved or straight lines, in artworks.
Glass Art - One-off modern art creations, which are entirely or substantially made in glass, these often tend to be specifically commissioned pieces or works for public viewing.
Gouache - Gouache is an opaque watercolour, but is different from transparent watercolour in that it creates an actual, often thick, layer of paint. To read our blog all about painting mediums, click here.
Ink - Ink has been used for many centuries in Eastern Art and used to be sold in sticks that were rubbed with water in shallow mortars. Modern ink is sold in liquid form, either soluble or waterproof.
Intaglio Process Prints - Intaglio prints can be created through a number of processes, the common element is that the printed area is recessed. These recessed areas are filled with a greasy printer's ink and then the surface is carefully wiped clean so that the ink remains only in the incised design. Types of intaglio processes include; Etching, Drypoint, Aquatint, Mezzotint, and Collagraphs. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Lacquer - Lacquer is made from a natural substance obtained from the sap of a Lacquer tree. The sap is used as a clear or coloured varnish in pottery and painting which produces a hard durable finish when dry; this type of finish is referred too as 'Lacquer'.
Lambda / Lightjet - A photographic term. The Lambda, or Lightjet, is a C-type printed from a digital image file (captured digitally or scanned from a print or film). The image is projected onto light sensitive paper using sophisticated laser technology. To read our blog all about photography, click here.
Limited Edition - We have lots of these on our online shop: a limited edition is a piece of art - such as a photograph, etching or screenprint -that is produced in small, or limited numbers, which adds to their value.
Lithography - Lithography consists of drawing or painting with greasy crayons and inks on limestone that has been ground down to a flat, smooth block. After several manipulations, the stone is moistened with water wetting the sections not covered by the crayon and leaving the areas of the greasy drawing dry as grease repels water. Oil-based ink is then applied with a roller and is repelled by the wet parts of the stone. The print made by pressing paper against the inked drawing is an autographic replica, in reverse, of the original drawing on stone. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Mezzotint - This is perhaps the most labour intensive intaglio process and involves a plate being 'rocked' with a curved, notched blade until the surface is entirely and evenly pitted, creating a rough surface that prints black. Scraping the burr off or polishing the plate smooth creates half-tones and light. Colour mezzotints require a separate plate for each colour which will be printed separately on top of the previous colour in different print runs. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Modern print - A photographic term for a print produced a significant amount of time after the photograph was taken. For example, a 1950s print reprinted in 2000. To read our blog all about photography, click here.
Monoprints and Monotypes - These two terms are often incorrectly assumed to be the same, but there are important differences. A Monoprint has a single underlying image (such as an etched plate or screen) that is made unique through a process of hand colouring or surface alteration to the printed image. A series of monoprints may be similar but are not identical. Monotypes are unique images and do not have a repeatable matrix (etched plate or screen). Instead, a thin even film of ink is rolled on to a plate, which the artist then manipulates by drawing into it, or by rubbing sections off. The print image is taken directly from the plate. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Modeling - Modeling is the process in which a three-dimensional form is shaped from clay or wax. Clay works are then fired in a kiln to make the clay permanent and durable.
Oeuvre - If you hear someone talking about the oeuvre of an artist, it means the artist's body of work to date.
Oil - Oil paint is a slow drying paint that is created by mixing pigments with oil, linseed oil being the most traditional. Oil paints are usually opaque and never dry fully, but rather develop a hard film. Since the sixteenth century oil painting on canvas has been a standard medium for artists as it can be easily manipulated and has great flexibility, making it possible for an artist to achieve a layered or smooth canvas. To read our blog all about painting mediums, click here.
Painting - The practice of painting is the application of a paint, pigment or another medium to a surface, most commonly applied with a paintbrush. To read our blog all about painting, click here.
Pallidium print - See Platinum print. To read our blog all about photography, click here.
Palette - We often talk about the palette of an artist; this could mean the range of colours an artist uses, or the physical wooden or plastic board used to mix paint. Artists often use palette knives, a flexible blade, to apply paint onto a canvas.
Pastel - Pastels are normally sold in three grades: soft, medium and hard. The soft is universally used, the other two mainly for special effects. The soft texture of pastels allows them to be easily blended.
Photography - To create a photograph, a photosensitive film is exposed to light using a camera. The film is then developed and set using chemicals to create a negative. The negative is used to partially expose photosensitive paper to light, transferring the image - the photographer or processor can adjust the paper, volume of light and the length of exposure to stylistically affect how the photographic paper is exposed. Further chemicals are used to set the photographic paper, delivering a durable permanent image. This paragraph briefly describes the scientific process of photography, to learn about how this process is turned into a fine art read our blog on the subject, click here.
Polaroid - Polaroid is film that develops moments after exposure giving an instant positive or negative print that is completely unique. Polaroid has many creative possibilities such as experimenting with emulsion lifts and image transfers. To read our blog all about photography, including how fine art photographers use Polaroid prints within their creative processes, click here.
Platinum print - A form of black and white photographic printing that uses platinum instead of silver salts. Platinum is reduced from light sensitive iron salts to form an image as platinum particles become embedded in the paper. Known for their wide range of subtle tonal variations and fine grain, platinum prints have a significantly longer life expectancy than silver prints. Pallidium is often used as an alternative to platinum, giving similar results. To read our blog all about photography, click here.
Printmaking - A piece of printed artwork, features unique hand-crafted imagery or creative graphics, which is transferred (printed) onto a high-quality and carefully selected substrate (such as richly textured paper), using singular or multiple colours, all of these elements working together to communicate an artist’s aesthetic or emotional message. The production process for a printed artwork is generally manual (rather than mechanical), which means the printmaker is free to make countless creative adjustments to the various printmaking processes described below. And while the very nature of printmaking means that multiple prints can be made from the original source (known technically as a matrix or plate); printed artworks are generally produced in limited editions to make each series unique to a small volume of pieces. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
R-type - A photographic term for a colour print made by the reversal process from a positive film (transparency or slide), you can also print from a positive film using Ilfochrome, which incorporated a dye-bleach process, resulting in purer and more permanent colour. To read our blog all about photography, click here.
Relief Printing - This is the oldest printing technique and refers to the cutting away of part of the surface of a block of material so that the image area to be printed stands out in relief. Woodcuts or woodblock prints are made by cutting into the surface of a smooth piece of hardwood with a knife. When printed, the area that has been cut away remains white and the raised surface is visible. A separate block is required for each colour. Printmakers rarely use more than three or four colours for aesthetic purposes. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Salon Hang - One of our favourite hanging techniques, a salon hang is when a number of artworks are hung on a wall together, often quite close together. The term comes from the Paris Salon, the first official art exhibition in the world.
Screenprinting / Serigraphy / Silkscreen printing - A twentieth century multicolour printmaking technique developed in America, this technique uses a stencil process where designs are placed on a silk or nylon mesh screen that is attached to a wooden or metal frame. Various film-forming materials, as well as hand-cut film stencils, are used, and colour is poured into the frame. The colour is scraped over the stencil with a squeegee and deposited on the paper through the meshes of the uncoated areas of fabric. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Sugar Lift - Sugar Lift is a printmaking process which allows the artist to make a brush drawing directly on to the etching plate. After painting with a mix of sugar and ink, the whole plate is then covered with an acid resist. When dry, it is immersed in hot water, dissolving the sugar and exposing the brush drawing, which can now be etched. This is often used with aquatint to produce tone. To read our blog all about printmaking, click here.
Vernissage - Another example of using french, a vernissage is another name for a preview or private view, the opening night of an exhibition.
Vintage print - A photographic term for a print produced within 5 years of the making of the negative. Valuable to collectors as it is thought to demonstrate the photographer’s initial intention, the print will perhaps reflect process based trends from the time when the photograph was taken. A vintage print may not be the best quality of print available of the desired image, but it is sought after due to its telling properties. To read our blog all about photography, click here.
Vitrine - Museums often discuss vitrines, which put simply are the large glass cabinets often seen in gallery spaces to display art objects.
Watercolour - Watercolours are translucent water-based paints. The technique is based on the transparent or glaze system of pigmentation that utilises the colour of the paper for its highlights. To read our blog all about painting mediums, click here.
And there you have it! Notice we're missing any arty words from our guide? Make sure to get in touch and we can keep adding to our growing list!
Visitors to Affordable Art Fair Milano 2017, to view our upcoming fairs click here.