top of page

ART 101

En plein air: A French expression meaning “in the open air,” referring to painting the landscape on location. The practice began in earnest in the late nineteenth century when the Impressionists turned their attention to the transient nature of light and its effects on the landscape. Contemporaneously, the paint tube and French box easel were invented, and respect for dry pastel as an art medium increased, which allowed artists to transport their materials outdoors and compose a painting on-site.


Due to changeable weather, light conditions, and other variables artists face when working in the environment, the key to painting en plein air is immediacy, typically by applying thick, opaque, broad brush strokes rather than a slow, gradual build-up of glazes. Once the image is captured, a plein air painting may later be taken back to the studio for further refinement.


American Impressionism: The French Impressionist movement in the 1870s did not make its impact on the United States until its introduction in American exhibitions a decade later. Once exposed to this radical new movement in painting, American artists began experimenting with the Impressionist focus on transient light and the local scene, giving birth to their own regional interpretations. Between the 1890s and 1920s, American Impressionist artist colonies flourished across the continent in towns such as Cos Cob, Connecticut and Gloucester, Massachusetts, as well as Carmel and Laguna Beach, California. Some notable American Impressionists include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, and Edmund Tarbell. Joseph Kleitsch, Edgar Payne, Guy Rose, Elmer and Marion Wachtel, and William Wendt are among the most sought-after California Impressionists. Plein air painting, which also includes watercolor and pastel applications, is the offspring of Impressionism and is still applied today.


Alla prima: Employed by plein air artists, this painting technique (Italian, meaning “first attempt”) involves completing a painting while all layers of the oil paint are still wet. The strictest definition of this term refers to initiating and completing the painting in a single session. This technique is a marked departure from the traditional slow oil painting method that involved the gradual build up of layers of glaze only after each previous layer has dried.


Oil paint vs. acrylic paint: Oil paint uses some type of oil, most commonly linseed oil, as a vehicle and binder for the pigment, whereas acrylic is often referred to as being water-based, meaning it is water soluble and therefore water is the vehicle. Oil paint takes quite a long time to dry completely, which can hinder an artist who wishes to work quickly, but this also allows the artist to make changes to the painting over an extended period of time and to blend colors more smoothly. Oil paintings also run the risk of cracking if the layers of paint do not follow the “fat over lean” rule, which means base layers must have less oil than the top layers. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, dries extremely quickly and does not need to follow the “fat over lean” rule to prevent cracking. Acrylic can also be more versatile as it works well with other mediums (such as pastel, pen, etc) without any adverse affects. However, the rate at which acrylic paint dries can discourage artists from incorporating blending and “wet on wet” techniques.


Soft pastel vs. oil pastel: Soft pastels (also called dry pastels) are made with a gum binder and tend to have brighter colors because their pigment portion is higher in proportion with the binder, which results in a chalky texture. The artist can easily blend or smudge the colors, but this causes a build-up of dust and prevents layering. To prevent smudging after a piece is completed, artists usually spray a fixative on the drawing (some artists even use hairspray). Oil pastels are made with non-drying oil and wax binder which bear similarities to wax crayons; pigments tend to be deeper and richer. This yields a less powdery effect than soft pastels, but can also be difficult to blend. As with oil paint, artists can use a thinner such as turpentine to easily spread the medium.


O/C: Oil on canvas


A/C: Acrylic on canvas


O/L: Oil on linen


O/B: Oil on board


W/P: Watercolor on paper


P/P: Pastel on paper


Figure: This genre of art typically studies the human form, either clothed or naked.


Still life: Features inanimate objects, such as fruit, flowers, books, etc.


Bronze Editions: Bronze sculptures are typically created by using cast molds. Each piece created by using the same cast mold can receive an edition number if the artist chooses to create only a certain number of sculptures.


Prints: Prints are different from paintings or drawings in that multiple copies of the same piece can exist. Print artists create the composition not on paper or canvas but on another surface such as a woodblock, mesh screen, metal plate, or lithographic stone. This surface is referred to as a matrix, which the artist uses to print the piece onto paper.


Print Editions: The total number of copies the artist chooses to print from his or her matrix. The matrix should then be destroyed after the last edition has been printed.


Artist Proof: If an artist is commissioned to execute a print, a certain amount of impressions are set aside for the artist to use as he or she pleases.


Printer’s Proof: A complimentary proof given to the publisher of the prints. There can be multiple proofs depending on how many printers were involved.


Posthumous Edition: An edition printed after the death of the artist, typically approved by the heirs or done by a publisher who had purchased the matrix from the artist.


Lithograph: The word lithography means “stone drawing”. The process depends on the natural aversion between oil and water. The artist draws with an oil-based tool such as a crayon on a flat, ground stone. The surface is then flooded with water but is repelled by the oil drawing, only filling the areas around it. The printer’s ink, an oily substance, is applied to the stone with a roller brush. Again, it repels water but adheres to the oil composition. A sheet of paper covers the stone and it is run through the press, creating the print.


Serigraph: Also known as screen printing, this process is based on the stencil principle. To create the printing screen, a fine woven fabric is stretched and attached to a metal or wood frame. The stencil is then created by applying a “blockout” substance (such as glue, paper, gelatin film, etc) to the screen to create the composition to the artist’s liking. Then ink is applied to the entire screen using a squeegee or roller brush, which allows the ink to pass through the open areas of the stencil onto paper or other material. If the work has more than one color, separate screens must be used.


Etching: This refers to a matrix made out of an iron or copper plate coated in a waxy substance called a “ground”. The artist draws through the ground, exposing the metal with a stylus to make the composition. The plate is then immersed into an acid bath, which “bites” or chemically dissolves the exposed metal lines. For printing, the ground is removed, and the plate is inked and then wiped clean. Then it is covered with a damp sheet of a paper and run through a press. This process not only transfers the ink but forces the paper into the lines, resulting in raised lines on the impression.


Works on Paper: A piece that is particularly sensitive to direct sunlight. It is best to display works on paper where they are not exposed to damaging UV rays from the sun, which can lead to a ruined piece of art! When framing your work on paper, we highly recommend using UV glass to protect the art from the sun.

bottom of page