May 092010
art terminology

Art terminology - Alla Prima - in one sitting

Major Art terminology and definitions are useful to understand- even for the amateur.

When getting involved in the worlds of art and print, it is useful to have at hand some of the more common words that are used to describe things. As you might imagine, many art related words have their origins in Latin or Italian.

Alla Prima

A technique in which the final surface of a painting is completed in one sitting, without under painting. Italian for ‘at the first’.


This is a printing technique capable of producing unlimited tonal gradations. It is used to re-create the broad flat tints of watercolours by etching microscopic cracks and pits into a master plate, typically made of copper or zinc.

Artist Proof (A/P)

When a limited edition is produced, a small proportion of the edition – usually 10% may be designated as artist proofs and signed as such. These pieces have the letters A/P next to the edition number and cost more than a limited edition because there are fewer of them. Sometimes they have numbers marked in Roman numerals such as XX/1

Blind Printing

This type of printing uses an un-inked plate to produce the subtle embossed texture of a white-on-white image, highlighted by the shadow of the relief image on the un-inked paper. This technique is used in many Japanese prints.


A wrinkling or puckering in paper supports, caused by applying washes onto a flimsy or improperly stretched painting surface.


A printing technique in which proofs are pulled from a block on which the artwork or design is built up like a collage, creating relief.

Deckle Edge

This is the term used to describe the ragged edge found on hand made paper – the type of paper so often preferred by artists.


The act of cutting out paper designs and applying them to a surface to make an all over collage.


Printing technique in which a hard, steel needle cuts lines onto a metal plate, creating a burr that yields a soft and velvety line in the final print.


Printing technique in which an image is produced by cutting a metal plate directly with a sharp engraving tool. The incised lines are inked and printed onto paper with heavy pressure.


An etching is a piece of art that is cut or engraved, usually onto a Copper plate.

Ink is forced into these lines, and excess ink is removed from the uncut surface of the plate. Dampened paper is then placed on the printing plate and both are run through a high pressure press to print the design.


A painting technique in which the paint pigments are dispersed in plain water and applied to a damp plaster wall. The wall becomes the binder as well as the support for the finished artwork.


A style of painting characterized by thick, juicy color application usually of oils.


Intaglio is a term often used in engraving and the printing process, being the Italian word for ‘engrave’.

Iris or Giclée

A computerized reproduction technique in which the image is generated from a digital file, such as a CD, and printed by an ink jet printer using acrylic or oil paints. Giclée printing offers one of the highest degree of accuracy and richness of colour available in any reproduction technique.


Used to describe the prevailing tone of a painting. A predominantly light painting is said to have a high key. In mural painting, the key is the act of scratching a walls surface to prepare for the final layer of plaster.

Limited Editions

A limited edition is a copy taken from an original artwork and usually reproduced to a high standard.

The more valuable limited editions are signed by the artist and should carry documentation known as a Certificate of Authenticity.

Lithography – not to be confused with Offset Lithography

Instead of creating a painting with a brush on canvass, the artist draws the image in an oily substance onto the printing plate. A different plate is created for each color in the image. Each plate is then etched or set by chemical process and printed to create the image. These prints cost more than offset lithographs.


A technique for attaching with glue, a mural size painting on paper or fabric to a wall.

Monotype or Monoprint

One-of-a-kind print made by painting on a sheet of metal or glass and transferring the still-wet painting onto a sheet of paper by hand or with an etching press. If enough paint remains on the master plate, additional prints can be made, however, the reprint will have substantial variations from the original image. Monotype printing is not a multiple-replica process since each print is unique.


A picture making technique using small units of variously colored materials such as glass, tile or stone to create a pattern that is then set in mortar.


A mural is any type of painting that is applied directly onto a dry wall. Not quite the same as a Fresco which is coloured inks applied to wet mortar.

Museum Board

This is a multi ply board made of cotton rags or buffered cellulose to ensure chemical stability and neutrality. Acid free board should always be used to mount watercolours or prints, otherwise, cheaper boards will eventually neutralise the colours or even eat away at the paper.

Multiple Originals

A set of identical fine prints in which the artist personally conceived the image, created the master plates and executed or supervised the entire printing process.

Offset Lithography

A photo-mechanical technique in which the image to be printed is transferred to negative plates and printed onto paper. Offset lithography is very well adapted to colour printing and is a fairly commonplace from of printing.

Open Editions

Open edition prints may be produced in any quantity and size, and for however long the publisher wishes to produce the print. They may be signed by the artist, but are never numbered. This is the least valuable type of art and from a collectors point of view are only useful for covering wall space.

Original Art

Original art is the most desirable art to own as it is the only one painted or sculptured in the artists own hand.

When buying the original works of more established artists, be aware that the copyright belongs to the artist and the artist can, if they so wish, create re-productions of the original if they want to.


Originally the green brown encrustation on bronze, that darkens and matures from the natural effects of ageing or exposure to the elements. A sculptures patina adds to its value and should never be removed.


A condition of old paintings where lead-containing pigments have become more transparent over time, revealing earlier layers. When this happens sometimes an earlier painting, part of a painting, or original draft shows through.


Record of ownership for a work of art, ideally from the time it left the artist’s studio to its present location, thus creating an unbroken ownership history. Provenance is hugely important to the value of an item.

Remarque – pronounced ‘remark’

A limited edition print to which the artist adds a small drawing.

The artist signs and numbers the image, adding the letters R/M to indicate the type of print and how many were produced. A remarque costs more than a limited edition because the artists drawing makes the print a one-of-a-kind.

Serigraph or Silkscreening

Working from the artist original, a screen of silk, nylon or wire mesh is tightly stretched across a frame and a design is stenciled onto the screen. Ink passes through ‘open’ areas on the screen onto paper to create the image.


Printing technique in which the printing surface has been carved from a block of wood. The traditional wood block is seasoned hardwood such as apple, beech or sycamore. Woodcut is one of the oldest forms of printing dating back to the 12th century.

Abbreviations Used in Art

2nd ed – Second edition: prints of the same image as the original edition but altered in some way (as in change of color, paper or printing process).

2nd st – Second state: prints of proofs which contain significant changes from the original print.

AP – Artist’s Proof (see definition)

Del – ( Latin, delineavit ) He (she) drew it. Generally inscribed next to the artist’s signature.

E.A. – ( French, épreuve d’artist ) An artist’s proof (see definition)

Exc or Imp – ( Latin, excudit ) He(she) executed it. The meaning is synonymous with ( Latin, impressit ) he(she) printed it.

HC – ( French, Hors d’Commerce ) Prints from an edition intended to be used as samples to show to dealers and galleries.

Inc. or Sculp – ( Latin, incidit ) He(she) cut it. The meaning is synonymous with ( Latin, impressit ) he(she) carved it. These abbreviations refer to the individuals who engraved the master plate.

Inv. or Invent – ( Latin, invenit ) He(she) designed it. Generally inscribed next to the artist’s signature.

Lith. or Litho – “Lithographed By”. Usually follows the name of the printer of the lithograph.

Pinx. – ( Latin, pinxit ) He(she) painted it. Generally inscribed next to the artist’s signature.

PP – Printer’s proof (see definition)

R/M – Remarque – a lomited edition inscribed by the artist

TP – Trial proof (see definition)

 9:56 pm  Art

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