Glossary of Terms

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Hand-painted Delft tiles

The loose un-even quality of this faux technique makes painted Delft tiles an ideal decorative effect for the beginner or inexperienced do-it-yourselfer.

Irregular lines and hand painted renderings add character and old world charm, easily achieved without any prior painting experience.

more decorative treatments



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Acrylic paints: Made from dispersing pigment in acrylic medium. Water soluble, fast drying and dries to a tough, flexible, water resistant surface.

Bole:  Gilding - Traditionally, bole is a term that identifies a pigmented clay. This clay acts as the base, or cushion, for the subsequent layer of gold leaf. Classically terra-cotta in color, the clay can be built up quickly, then polished to a very smooth surface. 

Contemporary gilding does not use clay, but simulates the effect by adding a colored paint that replicates the clay effect. This base color is also referred to as the 'Bole' color. One can experiment with different colors and your choice will affect the overall appearance of the finished product. For example, the traditional terra-cotta color adds warmth to both gold and silver leaf. A black 'bole' color creates a hard, cold look - often appropriate for Art Deco pieces, and the like. A yellow 'bole' color evens out the overall appearance, and diminishes any cracks or 'holidays' on the gilded surface.

Encaustic: fine arts, wax painting - A hot wax method of painting. The process of painting on a surface with paints created by mixing dry pigment with molten wax (typically refined white beeswax) with the addition of varying amounts of Damar varnish. A warm working palette is employed when applying the encaustic method. The ability to manipulate the  surface of the wax, creating any texture imagined, and limitless color combinations make this form of painting particularly interesting. The final treatment to the encaustic painting, called 'burning in' (the meaning of the word 'encaustic') is achieved by passing a heat source over the completed painting, essentially fusing the layers together. A light polish with a clean rag brings the surface to a smooth, satin finish. Encaustic wax paintings are generally applied using brushes and palette knives.

Engraving: printing - A general term to describe both the process of working on metal plates  for the purpose of printing and the product. Traditionally, metal plates were made of copper, but after the 1820’s, steel became increasingly important.

Gilding - The process known as gilding simply means the application of gold, silver, or copper leaf to a surface that has been properly prepared with an adhesive known as 'gold size'. Additional forms of leaf are variegated leaf, Dutch gold (primarily made from brass and simulated gold leaf) and Aluminum leaf (used to simulate silver leaf.

Gouache: fine arts - Lead white mixed with watercolor pigment to make it opaque. Unlike the transparent quality of watercolor, gouache has a definite paint thickness and creates an actual paint layer. The use of gouache can be reserved for highlights, particularly white highlights, or a ‘watercolor’ can be executed entirely in gauche.

Multi purpose tool primarily designed for the insertion and removal of nails into wood, metal and stone surfaces.

Types of hammers:

  • Metal: For nail driving and removal.

  • Rubber: Various uses. Used when needed to adjust softer surfaces, such as wooden frames. Non-marring.

  • Rawhide: Used in the processes of jewelry making. Non-marring.

  • Plastic: Non-marring.

  • Brass head hammers: Used with steel tools for safer use and added longevity to steel tools.

  • Ball Peen hammers: General-purpose hammer used for flattening, shaping or removing dents.

  • Mallets: Primarily made of wood. Mallets are used to drive chisels when wood and stone carving.

Holiday: Gilding - A gilders term that refers to an area were the leaf did not initially adhere. Holidays are caused by 2 things. First, in the application process, the leaf just did not stick to the 'tacky' surface. Simply apply fresh leaf and rub down. Secondly, when you applied the 'size' in step 4, you missed an area leaving a bald spot, and there is no adhesive for the leaf to stick to. After you have completed leafing the entire surface, including patching in all holidays, re-apply more 'size' to the missing spots with a small artists brush, allow to come to 'tack' as before, then apply leaf to the newly sized area.

Ink: fine arts, illustration, calligraphy - Applied with a brush, quill or pen, ink can be used in painting and illustration by layers of washes, similar to watercolor painting techniques. Sometimes used as the ground color in ‘stained ‘ or ‘tinted’ drawing. Regularly used as the preferred medium for calligraphy and various forms of lettering.

Isolating varnish: fine arts - Often used between coats of paint. It does not dissolve in mineral spirits.
For more information on Varnish visit the artSparx varnish resource.

Lacquer: sealer - Used commonly in the industrial environment, particularly in the automotive industry and furniture production. Lacquer is well suited for mass production processes. Lacquers are typically made of nitro-cellulose, cellulose acetate, and other forms of cellulose. Lacquers dissolve in special solvents such as acetone, ethyl acetate, butyl alcohol, etc. 
Lacquers should not be used in Fine Art painting as its level of permanence is low. Pigmented lacquers display signs of deterioration in as little as 10 years, from exposure to daylight.
Lacquers are often used because of their fast drying time.

Natural lacquer (Oriental): Exude natural from trees in a liquid state. Natural lacquer is used for local production and is not exported.

Line engraving: printing - Lines are incised into the plate with a burin, or sharp metal rod, light and shade being established by varying the depth and breadth of the incised line. To print, the plate is inked and then wiped, leaving the ink within the depressions created by the burin, while the un-incised areas remain blank; under pressure of the printing press the ink in the depressions is transferred to the paper.

Linseed Oil: Often used as a vehicle for pigment in Artist oil paint. Linseed oil is processed from the ripe seeds of the flax plant.

Mezzotint: engraving, printing - A form of tonal engraving which, works from dark to light. The plate is prepared with a dense mesh of small burred dots created by a toothed, chisel-like tool  known as a ‘rocker’. If inked and printed at this stage, the print would be black. Tonal gradations are achieved by using a scraper to remove greater or lesser amounts of the small burred dots, the areas of most intense light being created by burnishing the plate. When inked, the areas retaining the most burred dots create the darkest zones because they retain the most ink, while burnished areas create the highlights as they are not able to hold ink.

Mixing varnish: fine arts - Varnish added to glaze medium or to tube colors to create various specialty techniques in oil painting.
For more information on Varnish visit the artSparx varnish resource.


Nap and nap grades: 
Roller nap refers to the thickness of the rollers surface. One chooses the thickness of the nap depending on the surface to be painted, stained or varnished. Learn more about roller naps and what the proper grade nap is for your job.

Paint: A paint is created by mixing ground pigment (powdered colors) with a liquid, typically referred to as a 'vehicle'. Paint dries to an even, continuous surface and is used for decorative or protective purposes.

Depending on the type of paint, the vehicle may be of various different forms, such as linseed oil in Artist oil paints, egg yolk for tempera painting and polyresin in acrylics, to name a few.
Learn more about paints at artSparx paint resource.

Paint removers, Varnish removers, Wax removers:
There are numerous techniques and products available commercially to remove paint, varnishes and waxes from surfaces such as floors, trim, doors and window frames, furniture and objects. For more information refer to artSparx paint remover resource.

Paint rollers: Roller heads are designed to facilitate in the application of paint over large surfaces. Rollers are made in varying thick nesses and materials, with each one being used for a specific surface texture. Rollers can be made from foam, synthetic fibers and sheepskin. For more information refer to artSparx roller guide.

Paint trays and tray liners: Design to hold paint or varnish to be used with a roller. Helps the even distribution of paint or varnish onto a roller for quick application onto large surfaces such as walls, floors and ceilings. Paint trays are produced in many sizes and disposable paint tray liners are time saving and make for easy clean up.

Paper: The basis to all paper is cellulose fiber, which is derived from plants. Until the 1840’s, when pulp was introduced, most papers were made from cotton or linen rags. By the end of the 18th century watercolorists were beginning to prefer the smoother and more even appearance of woven paper, produced by using a wire mesh woven like a piece of fabric.

Pastel: fine arts, illustration - One of the purest forms of colored pigment application. Essentially created in the past 200 years, pastels are crayon like sticks of varying hardness. Essentially, pastels are pigment sticks with little binder. It is because of this that the color retention of pastel drawing remain over many years. Often a fixative is required (commonly by spraying) to insure pastel drawings maintain over the years as the low binder content means this painting/drawing medium is quite fragile.

Pencil: Made of graphite, a crystalline form of carbon, mixed with clay. There are varying degrees of hardness for pencils, the softest varieties contain little or no clay. Pencils are rated and labeled by degrees of hardness. 6B is very soft, producing a darker line. HB and F are the middle degree of hardness. 2H up to 8H (hardest)  and produce very light graphite deposits respectively

Picture varnish: fine arts
Used as a final coating over oil paintings. Creates a uniform finish and a protective coating.
For more information on Varnish visit the artSparx varnish resource.


Dry pigment powders have been proven to present a health hazard. Always use protective clothing, such as gloves and a dust/particle mask. Many pigments are toxic and can enter the body through the skin and inhalation.

A pigment is a finely ground, colored substance that, when mixed with another material, imparts its color effect to that material. When a pigment is mixed with a liquid vehicle to form paint, the pigment is suspended in that vehicle. When a pigment is completely dissolved in a vehicle it is known as a dye.

Power tools:

Primer: A primer acts as a barrier coat between existing (original) surface and finish coats of paint. Primers bond with and act as a ‘ground’ for subsequent paint application, gilding and varnished treatments.
Primers differ in make-up, and various types are commercially available for use in a variety of functions. For more information refer to artSparx primer resource.

Proof: printing - In print making, a loose term to denote the first prints taken from a plate before the final published edition is printed. An engraver’s proof is one taken during the engraving process so that process can be monitored, and if necessary, corrections, additions and modifications to the design can be made.

Re-touch varnish: fine arts - Enhances the appearance of wet oil paintings on a dry canvas before continuing painting.
For more information on Varnish visit the artSparx varnish resource.

Scratching out: watercolor - In watercolor, this process is a means of creating highlight by removing an area of watercolor with a knife, the point of a brush or even a fingernail to expose the paper beneath.

Scrapers: A flat surface, typically made of metal, of varying sizes and widths. Used in the preparation and re-finishing of furniture, objects and commercial and residential building. Scrapers can have replaceable razor blades for use on glass and paint stripping. Scrapers are similar to some kinds of trowels, they are often broad, firm and flat blades used for paint and varnish removal from wood and metal surfaces.

Screwdrivers: Used for inserting and removing screws from metal, wood, plaster and stone surfaces. The head of a screwdriver can have different shapes. The most common being the flat head and the Philips head.

Screws:  Screws have different functions and are coated and tempered differently dependant on there use. The configuration of  a screw head varies, the most common being the flat head and the Philips head screw.

Scumble glaze - general term for a medium, usually acrylic, that binds colorant for use in glazed wall treatments.

Sealers: A sealer is a substance used to protect a surface from oxidation, natural deterioration and physical abuse. Numerous types of sealers are found commercially, each providing a specific solution for a sealers needs.
For more information on Varnish visit the artSparx sealer resource.

Sheen: paint and varnish sheens. Sheen refers to the light reflectivity of the painted or varnished surface. There are varying degrees of sheen’s, from no sheen to high gloss. Paint manufacturers may refer to their paint sheen’s by different names, but essentially they all correspond to these reflective degrees;

  • matte finish (flat finish)
  • Eggshell finish (low-luster)
  • Satin finish ( Pearl finish)
  • Semi gloss finish
  • High gloss finish.

Learn were to use the proper paint sheen.

Shellac: sealer - Shellac is produced from the secretions of a bug, deposited on branches of trees in India. Shellac can be diluted with denatured alcohol to make the shellac workable, or to dissolve and remove shellac. Typically used on furniture, shellac can be used as a fast drying sealer. French Polish and simulated lacquer techniques employ the use of shellac as a sealer.

Size: Gilding - General term used to identify the adhesive that attaches the leaf to a surface. 

There are different types of size, depending on the form of gilding. 

Water gilding uses a gelatin size.
Oil gilding (most common ) uses a oil-based size.
Acrylic gilding uses a water based size.

For most common gilding practices a 3 hour, 'quick drying' size is all you will need. It is an oil based product and can be cleaned with mineral spirits. Apply carefully and evenly, working the size to an even film as much as possible. When competed, clean your brush with mineral spirits.

Skewings: Gilding -The bits of leaf that are left over after a surface has been completely gilded. Skewings can be saved for other projects, making excellent fillers for patching holidays.

Solvents and thinners:
A solvent is a solution that breaks down the essential properties of paints and varnishes, lacquer, shellac, oils, grease and adhesive residues. There are many different kings of solvents, each performing a specific reaction (function) with a specific product. All solvents, except for water, have a toxic effect on organic tissue, biochemical, physiochemical and neurochemical. Use with care and always dispose of properly. Learn more about solvents at artSparx solvent and thinner resource.

Sponging out: In watercolor, sponging out is a method of creating a highlight. An area of color is removed from the paper, exposing the paper beneath.

Tack: Gilding - Refers to the state of the adhesive size. Proper tack for gilding is the point when the size is not longer wet, but not fully dry, hence it is 'tacky' or just slightly sticky. The proper time to apply your gold or silver leaf is when the 'size' is not wet but 'tacky', just before it dries completely. 3 hour 'quick drying' size comes to 'tack' in approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, reaching full dryness at around 3 hours (hence it's name '3 hour quick drying size').

Tack cloths:
A cheesecloth that has been impregnated with varnish to create a slightly sticky, or tacky surface. Commercially available, tack cloths are used extensively in the commercial and residential painting communities and the furniture and refinishing industries. Due to the stickiness of the cloth, tack cloths are used to remove dust and loose particles from any surface prior to painting, staining or varnishing.

Tempura paint: fine arts - Though a loosely used term, tempura painting is essentially pigment that is suspended in egg yolk as a vehicle. Dries hard and can be used in conjunction with oil painting, as a ground work. Egg yolk can be mixed with Stand oil to create a oil-tempura emulsion.

Varnish: A liquid that dries to  a hard, transparent film. Varnishes vary in composition resulting in a range of degrees of sheen, durability, flexibility and protection. Varnishes are also used as 'barrier coats' in painting techniques.
For more information on Varnish visit the artSparx varnish resource.

Vignette: A small illustration or design in a book , on furniture and objects, that does not have any definite boundaries, and thus appears to ‘emerge’ from the surrounding surface.

Wash: An application of color over an area that cannot easily be covered with one brushstroke.

Watercolor: A finely ground pigment combined with a water soluble binding agent, commonly gum Arabic. It is usually distributed in either tubes or cakes. Water is used as the vehicle to spread and dilute the color, and it subsequently evaporates. It is the gum Arabic that binds the pigments to the surface of the support, which is usually paper.

White pigmented shellac: Products such as BIN is commercially available. Essentially a combination of shellac, denatured alcohol and titanium dioxide, pigmented shellac makes an  excellent fast drying sealer, especially good for covering water spots, bare wood that has sap exposure and surfaces that may have slight grease or wax build up.

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