Словарь художника

Dictionary of the art

What do artistic terms mean? Underpainting, sketch, maulstick … What other terms do artists have? In this article I will tell you everything.


Underpainting in oil painting is called a kind of sketch in which you outline (color spots) the entire composition. Beginning artists often do not underpainting and try to write everything gradually, while experienced artists who work in the classical style never do without underpainting in a picture. Underpainting will make it possible to put the main colors, on which you will detail the whole picture. Underpainting in oil painting is very fast and often careless, the main thing is to “decorate” the canvas so that the composition is in color. Personally, I make underpainings with large brushes and on a clean thinner, which gives speed and quick drying of the very bottom layer of the picture.

Painting Thinner

A thinner for oil paints performs the same function as water in watercolor painting. Having chosen a certain thinner, you can dilute paints (changing their density), wash and clean the brushes from paint. About what diluents for oil paints are, I wrote in the article “Choosing an Oil Painting Thinner”, Where I examined in detail what thinners are and how they differ.

What is a etude?

It’s simple, a etude can be called an unfinished picture. This is a sketch of your image, in which the artist conveys all the color solutions, the volume of objects, an aerial perspective … maybe you can tell how the study differs from the finished picture? The study is not so carefully designed. Artists often write etudes in open air, where you need to paint a landscape during the daylight hours, and already in the studio you can write a full-fledged picture “relying” on the written etude and memories.

French style easel

French style easel, this is the best assistant to the artist. For the open air, it is used by the absolute majority. It would seem that a wooden box with extendable legs, but the french style easel allows you to paint pictures anywhere: in the field, standing knee-deep in water, or in the mountains. You can put paints, thinner, brushes in it … throw it on your shoulder and walk more than a kilometer in search of a suitable landscape. Some artists even in their studios use french style easel instead of easels.


The palette is known to everyone, not just artists. It is her that the artist holds in her hands while working in the open air, in the studio, as well as in the photo you saw this object always in the hands of the artist. In oil painting, a palette is called a plane, often a wooden one, but now plastic palettes are also used. Ancient people used the palettes, because they had to “paint” the paints and mix components to get a certain color. Particularly beautiful palettes have remained since ancient Egypt.

On the palette, the artist arranges his paints from warm to cold shades, it is convenient to mix paints with a brush or palette knife on it. All the shades that you see in the picture are created by mixing exclusively on the palette. The palettes are different: from glass, plastic, wood … I personally use a small canvas that is pre-primed. When buying a wooden palette, I advise you to primer it so that it does not absorb oil from paints.


What is glaze? It is one of the most complicated techniques in oil painting, which involves the phased application of translucent layers of paint. It is precisely because of the complexity and length of the process (glaze is applied to the dried lower layers of paint) that it is used less often than with old masters. Glaze allows you to create masterpieces of painting when the image in the picture cannot be distinguished from real nature.

Palette knife

Those of you who are interested in oil painting have definitely seen this “scapula”, which has long won a good reputation among artists and holds it to this day. What exactly is a palette knife good for and what is it used for? Artists paint with a palette knife without touching the canvas with their brush. Using a palette knife, you can prime the canvas, clean the palette, and it is also very convenient to mix helmets.


Isn’t that a funny word? I will not decrypt it (let Wikipedia do it). This tool was used by artists in ancient times. The scallop is a long, thin stick with a soft pad on one end. Using the scaler it is convenient to register the smallest details in the picture, especially convenient when the paint has not yet completely dried. Now there are scissors not at all like the old ones, very practical and comfortable.

Aerial perspective

Without an aerial perspective in painting, no way! Especially if you are painting in the style of realism. All distant objects should be not only smaller, but all colors fade, acquire a bluer tint, this is an aerial perspective in painting. You see an airy perspective in life every day, it is present everywhere, if you want to paint beautiful paintings, be sure to pay special attention to this.

Alla prima

Despite the fact that the name of this technique is similar to the female name, the meaning is completely different. Alla prima came to us from the Italian language, in which “a la prima” is translated as in one sitting. So it is, alla prima is a variety in oil painting in which the picture is painted in just one session. This technique with a beautiful name is especially popular now, when artists hold their master classes, and in 3-5 hours you can write a finished picture.

Paintings in the technique of alla prima are usually distinguished by the brightness and freshness of the colors, often written pasty, so that fresh colors do not mix very much. As a diluent in the Alla Prima technique, clean thinner is most often used, which gives quick drying of the paint and allows you to work faster. Alla prima is painted with both brushes and a palette knife. In this technique, it is more difficult to make a detailed drawing of all the small details like on a dried paint layer, but from this the painting in one session does not get worse.

Back light in painting

Advertising producers are well acquainted with the term back light, they use this term in the manufacture of inscriptions (signboards for shop-windows, for example) whose letters glow from the back, thereby giving a luminous silhouette. But long before modern cameras and advertising signs, back light existed in painting. Surely you have already read somewhere the translation of this artistic term – “against the world”.

The contrast in the picture is shown on objects: people, trees … the light usually falls on the side or back of the object and thereby makes a light “rim” around the illuminated object in the painting. The object itself turns out darker than the background behind it, due to this you can well convey the chiaroscuro and clearly highlight the “main characters” in the picture.

If you are interested in some unfamiliar terms, write them in the comments. We will deal together and replenish our term bank of an art dictionary.

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