Painting Terms

July 2, 2019 Off By Gregory


This is the term that is used to describe a source of art material. Artists use several types of material to create art. Sometimes they even use more than one medium in a single piece of art. A few art mediums include; oil, acrylic, and watercolor paint, pencil, charcoal, and pastel. So if you hear the term medium, it simply refers to the source of art material that is on the paper or canvas.


This is a technique that is used very often when painting with any medium. You can use a dabbing technique to make trees, bushes, flowers, and even grasses. Simply use a flat bristle brush, dip it in the paint, and then touch the tip of the brush to the canvas or paper. You can press harder for a thicker application of paint or lighter for a thinner application. When using the dabbing technique with oil paint, be very careful not to muddy successive colors.

For example, when painting bushes, apply the darkest under-painting color first, then apply highlights to areas of the bush using a lighter color. Since the first color will still be wet, you need to be extremely careful not to smudge the lighter color into the darker color, unless of course that is what your intentions are. With acrylic paint, it’s extremely easy to just wait 10 minutes or less before adding the highlight color because the under-painting dries that quickly.

Leaving negative space

Notice the negative space in the pine tree photo that accompanies this article. The space within the leaves is not filled in with paint!. Too many times beginners try to fill in the entire space. In art classes, I have even had to hold the hand and paint brush of students to prevent them from filling in the entire space. Doing this always makes people laugh, and then they have that ahaaa moment where they see that their tree looks more lifelike by doing this.

Dry Brushing

This is a technique that is used in many acrylic paintings. It requires getting the smallest amount of paint on a dry brush and then literally brushing it onto the painting with extremely light strokes. Because dry brushing is used for things like mist and sun rays (things you can typically see through) it is critical that it is done with a very light hand.

Dry-brushing is also used to make objects look weathered or old. It’s okay to practice these techniques on paper before starting your first lesson on a canvas. Once you are comfortable with the technique, it can be used to add sun rays, mist or fog. Dry-brushing is a very effective technique for adding drama to an otherwise plain painting.


Simply wipe off the brush, add some lighter color and dab on or dry-brush touches of lighter color where the sun would be touching items such as trees, leaves wood or grass. Everything has more than one color to it. Light is always reflecting and changing the appearance of items. Be sure to add varying colors to your works. The highlight colors usually get lighter as you proceed.


In a painting, shadows are always present, similar to highlight colors. You create shadows by adding touches of dark color to areas like under roof eaves, and along unlit edges of items. The color that you use is simply a darkened version of the main color. Cast shadows add much drama and effect to a painting as well.

A vase on a table for example, looks much more realistic if you add color to the table where a cast shadow would fall. The color is darkest closest to the object and fades to lighter as you move away. I like to use the dry-brush technique to create the furthest portion of the shadows.

Making an accurate drawing

Many artists use a grid to produce an accurate drawing of still life or even landscapes. In certain circumstances this method is preferred. There are other methods, but depending on what you are painting, I wouldn’t worry too much about accuracy at the beginning stages of your art career.

If you are painting a landscape for example, what difference does it really make if your tree’s branches are exactly correct? I would however pay attention to proportions. This just means to make trees their accurate size in relation to what is around them. Sometimes you would paint a tree completely off the canvas because that is the correct proportion of the scene.


This is a primer used to seal the surface of the canvas before painting with acrylics. It is creamy and white and I often use it to “wet” the canvas before painting the sky and water backgrounds of the paintings. Gesso can be purchased at any art supply store and is definitely something you should have on hand before beginning your acrylic art lessons.


A wash can be used to add thin layers of paint to a canvas or to add mist over the top of dry paint. To create a wash, you must dilute the paint with a small amount of water to give it a thinner consistency. Watercolor artist use washes very effectively. Layers of color upon other layers blend and produce beautiful results. Acrylic paint can also be diluted with water and applied as a wash over dried layers to produce effects like fog or mist. Sometimes I use wash layers to give a certain effect like a yellowish tint to a weathered old barn or table. I’ve also used an orange wash to add drama to an evening sky scene.


This is used mostly for the underneath layers of the painting (all paintings have layers; it is what gives them depth and makes the pictures look “real.” To scrub, use a dry brush and rub the paint to soften it. Scrubbing needs to be done with a bristle brush and is done with acrylic paint.


This is done to make foliage and other plant growth look more realistic. To scumble, simply paint multiple unorganized and overlapping layers in different directions to create dense, thick, interesting foliage. Be very careful when scumbling that you don’t fill in all the space. Remember to leave that crucial negative space.