Glossary of terms

“To take from,” the essential or universal elements
Ambient Light
The prevalent indirect light, e.g. blue reflected from a clear daytime sky, gold reflected at sunset
A family of colors whose “children” are mixtures of their “parents”; a progressive change of hue and/or value
The ideal, perfection, reasoned man as the measure of all things
Color Constancy
The perception that the color of an object remains the same under varied conditions, such as in light or shade, under films or veils, or moving into atmosphere
Color Saturation
Percent of paint pigment to water, e.g. 10% pigment to more saturated 90% pigment
Cool Colors
Hues in which cyan (blue) predominates
Complementary Colors
Colors opposite each other on the color wheel; colors which, when mixed in equal amounts, create a neutral gray. Mixing any pair of opposites–magenta with green (yellow + cyan); cyan with orange (yellow + magenta), yellow with purple (cyan + magenta)–will gray or tone the mixture.
Intensity. Full chroma hues are those colors located on the outside rim of the color wheel. Chroma reduces with the addition of white, black, or gray, or when a color is toned with its complement. Black, white and neutral gray possess 0 chroma.
The primary blue that contains no magenta or yellow
Guided by feelings and emotions; images from the heart rather that from the head
Figure Ground
The relationship of subject (figure, positive space) and background (ground, negative space) such that they interact and are both important in the composition
An optical illusion in which a glow or halo appears along the borders of adjacent, related colors; the illusion of a gradation where none exists. When a color mixture is placed between its parent colors, the illusion of colored halos appears along its edges. This glow is also created when three or more related colors are placed next to each other with the middle color an intermediate mixture of the colors surrounding it.
Color; cyan, magenta, yellow, orange, etc., are all hues.
Images from the imagination or from dreams
A surface of varying transparency which modifies the appearance of elements beneath it. A yellow film, for example, will change a blue to a more greenish hue. It will always darken the value of the color it covers.
Transparent application of one color over another
Transition from higher to lower color concentration or value over a visual space (e.g. full chroma to tint, dark to light)
Light Primaries or Primary Colors of Light
Red-orange, blue-violet, and green–three colors of light that, when added together, create white light. Secondary colors of light are produced by combining two light primaries: magenta (red-orange + blue-violet), cyan (green + blue-violet) and yellow (red-orange + green).
Light Intensity
Degree of brightness, from dim (low intensity) to bright (high intensity)
Light Source
Identifying the kind of light, such as natural or man-made, its distance, location, color and intensity
Local Color
The idea of a constant color or true hue that exists only in our minds. In reality, an apple whose local color is “red” is actually a range of colors from white (where light is reflected) to a deep shade of red that approaches black (in the shade)
A visual phenomenon generally associated with an inner glow of color. This optical sensation results from vanishing boundaries and color halations.
Primary pigment that contains no yellow or blue
Not allowing light to pass through, a surface though which one cannot see
The illusion of three dimensions in a two-dimensional field. Linear perspective creates the illusion of depth/space on a flat surface. Aerial perspective creates a similar illusion, but relies on the fact that that as objects recede within a three-dimensional field, they increasingly take on the color and value of the elements (water, atmosphere) that fill the space between object and viewer.
Primary Colors of Pigment
Cyan, magenta and yellow; the parents of all other colors, these three hues can be combined to create all other colors
Viewing the world as it is; also a period of art history which began in the mid 19th Century.
A state of mind and period of art history in which high drama and emotion is favored
Reflective Quality of Surface
Mirrorlike, a highly reflective surface is glossy; a minimally reflective surface is dull
Secondary Color of Pigment
A hue created by combining an equal amount of two primary colors; e.g., green, orange, purple or blue-violet
Tertiary Color of Pigment
A hue created by combining unequal amounts of two primary colors; e.g., red-orange, yellow-green
v. To add black to another color;
n. Color with black added
Space Division
A compositional plan which serves as a visual guide for relating all parts to the whole. A horizon line, for example, divides space between land and sky.
v. To add white to another color;
n. Color with white added.
In transparent watercolor the more dilute a color is, the more white paper will show through, producing a lighter tint.
v. To add the complement to a color (e.g. magenta is toned with green);
n. A grayed color created by mixing two complementary colors or by adding gray to a color; also, an unequal mixture of all three primaries
The quality of a semi-transparent material which 1) allows alight to shine through and 2) transmits and diffuses light so that object beyond cannot be seen clearly. See page 14 of the Visual Phenomenon lesson book for an exercise on translucent surfaces.
Permitting the transmission of light so that objects behind the transparent layer can be seen clearly
Describes a painting process which uses only the three primary colors of cyan, magenta and lemon yellow to achieve all of the colors in a work of art. It is also the name of a set of graduated, colored overlays in cyan, magenta, yellow and black, developed by Dick Nelson as a working instrument and teaching aid. See
Lightness or darkness of a color, scaled from black to white: black is the darkest or lowest value, and white is the highest or lightest value.
Vanishing Boundary
Similar colors of equal value seen as one luminous hue; a glowing visual phenomena created when two or more related colors of perfectly equal value are placed next to each other. This creates a visual mixture that makes their common boundary seem to disappear; when the image is viewed at a distance, our eyes blend adjacent similar colors of equal value into a glowing hue. The vanishing boundary is largely responsible for the luminous appearance achieved by the Impressionists.
A surface that makes objects beneath it appear lighter in value; the greater the opacity , the more obscure the objects become
Warm Colors
Hues in which yellow, orange and/or red predominate