Glossary of Decorative Painting Terms

Artezan's glossary of decorative painting terms is presented with the beginning decorative artist in mind. While every attempt has been made to include most frequently used terms, this glossary is far from exhaustive and will be subject to regular updating.



Acrylic paint: a synthetic, water-based paint. Its working properties are similar to oil paint, although it dries more quickly and forms a somewhat glossier surface. Acrylic paint can be used in thin washes or applied thickly. It has good coverability and may be used on most surfaces other than canvas including wood, tin, plastic etc.

Angle brush: also called "angle shader". A flat brush with hairs trimmed to form an angle instead of a straight edge. Usually used for painting tight corners and to paint certain types of stroke roses. Great for shading and highlighting, and to paint curved strokes.

Antiquing: a finishing technique used to age a painted project. Antiquing can be done using oil paint or acrylic paint.




Basecoat: part of the preparation phase of a decorative painting project. The entire project piece is painted with a chosen basecoat colour. If painting from a pattern, the basecoat colour is usually specified as part of the design.

Basecoating brush: a synthetic flat brush usually 1 inch or 1 1/2 inches wide used for appying the basecoat color to a blank or object before decorating it.

Blanks: items to paint on made of wood, particleboard or medium density fibreboard (MDF) usually available from craft stores.

Bright: usually a long-handled flat brush with short hairs. The width and length of the brush head is almost equal. It is usually used in oil painting to make short, controlled strokes using a heavy load of paint.

Brush holder: may be made of a variety of materials (fabric, canvas, plastic, leather etc) specially for storing and or transporting brushes so that the hairs stay flat and are not damaged.

Blocking-in: "basecoating" an object in a design to give it a one-dimensional solid color. These objects may be given a three-dimensional effect later by adding shadows and highlights.

Brush mixing: picking up another color on the palette with another color already on the brush and stroking briefly to mix it - as opposed to using a pallette knife to mix colours.

Brush tub / brush basin: usually made of plastic, with sections for water to clean your brushes in and slots to rest your brushes on.





Chisel edge: term used to describe the completely flat edge of a flat brush or angle brush after it is loaded with paint.

Clear glaze medium: has a number of uses - add it to acrylic paints to make it transparent. This is usually done in faux finish projects or when preparing a stain. Used on its own and painted over a finished part of your project, clear glaze medium acts as a barrier coat to seal the painting already done.

Color palette: the selection of colors based on the chosen design used to paint a project.

Color wheel: shows the relationship of and how all colors are derived from the three basic primary colors of red, blue and yellow. The most commonly accepted color wheel shows the relationship and derivations of twelve colors placed in the order of the colors of the rainbow.

Comb/rake: This is a brush used mainly for creating textures when painting hair, grass, feathers and fur. It comes in a variety of shapes.

Comma stroke: the most fundamental stroke in decorative painting. Painted by fully loading a round brush with paint, pressing the tip down onto the surface, then pulling the brush towards you in an arc while gradually releasing pressure on the brush and lifting it into nothing to form the tail of the stroke. Comma strokes are used to paint daisies and is the predominant stroke used in most traditional folk art.

Complementary colors: colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel e.g. green and red, blue and orange etc. Read more about colour in Understanding Colour.

Composition: the selection and arrangement of elements for a painting or drawing.

Crackling: the use of crackle medium to create fine porcelain cracks or large cracks in a background or finished painted project to simulate an aged object.


Daggger / striper: so-called because the brush hairs are shaped like a dagger. It has a long chisel edge and has a great capacity for holding thin or washy paint. Great for blushes, painting ribbons and long leaves.

Distressing: creating an aged look to an object by removing parts of the top layer of paint to reveal the contrasting basecoat beneath. There are various methods of doing this.

Double-loading: a technique where a brush is loaded with two colours of paint. On a flat or angle brush, a colour is picked up each half of the flat surface of the brush, then stroked in one direction, then the other to subtly blend the colors so that they merge in the middle. When painted, a double loaded brush produces a blended colour with dark on one side and light on the other and a soft mix in the middle.

Drybrushing: a technique used usually to add a dramatic and realistic highlight to an object/s in a design. The technique involves dipping a small bristle brush in very little paint, wiping off most of it on a paper towel and applying it to the object in a circular motion.




Extender: also called retarder or antiquing medium. As the name implies, it is used to prolong the opening or working time of acrylic paint. It may also be used when doing water-based antiquing.




Fan brush: a flat brush where the hairs are spread and shaped like a fan. Usually used with very little paint to create a feathery or leafy texture.

Ferrule: the metal part of a brush which attaches the bristles to the brush handle.

Flat brush: a brush where the ferrule is crimped so that the brush hairs are flat instead of pointed as in the round brush. The length of the brush hairs vary from medium to long. Various sizes are available for use in strokework, basecoating, shading and highlighting.

Flat comma: a comma stroke painted using a flat brush.

Flip-float: a technique used to paint highlights for example on a ribbon. A float is applied using one side of the brush then flipped over to paint with the other side.

Floating: a technique referring to the use of a side-loaded flat brush to paint shadows and highlights. See also Side-loading.

Filbert: a type of flat brush with a rounded edge usually used to create soft edges and blend colors. Also known as "cat's tongue". Great for sstrokework projects and to basecoat objects in a design.

Full Load: when a brush is completely loaded with one colour of paint.




Gesso: an Italian word which means a chalky substance. The traditional gesso is a mixture of this chalky substance with rabbitskin glue and is used to seal the surface prior to painting. Acrylic gessos are more commonly used today instead of the traditional gesso.

Gilding: the application of gold or silver leaf to an object or surface to give the effect of solid or inlaid metal.

Glazing: the application of a transparent coat of paint over a previously painted and dried coat. Whatever you have painted below will still be visible after the glaze has been applied - only the color cast changes. This is a technique that has been used for centuries in fine art. Paint used in glazing is best made transparent using a clear glaze medium.

Gouache: technically, gouache is a French term for opaque watercolors. Gouache resins are different from those used in the formulation of acrylic paints. They can be reconstituted with water so in that way are similar to water colours.




Heel (of an angle brush): the short edge of an angle brush

Highlight: in a painting, the representation of the brightest point where light hits an object . Usually the lightest tone (usually white or the very lightest tone of a particular colour) in the painting.

Highlighting: the act of applying a highlight to an object being painted. The opposite of shading.

Hue: the basic name assigned to a color.




Intensity (of color): how bright or dull a color is. Also called "saturation".

Intermediary colors: the six colors that are created by mixing a primary and its closest secondary color on the color wheel e.g. red orange - red + orange




Liner: a brush with few hairs which are shorter than a script liner although much longer than round brushes. They are an essential in decorative painting for painting straight or curved lines as well as lettering and also stroke borders.

Load (a brush): to fill a brush with paint by dipping the brush hairs in a puddle of paint and pulling it towards you.




Matte: flat and not glossy, having the appearance of a dull surface.

Masking out: the application of low-tack masking tape, "magic tape", stencil tape or masking fluid (a sort of rubber solution) to selected areas on a painting project when using certain techniques of faux finishes, for example. Masking or other tape if used may be carefully trimmed to suit the design using a craft knife. Masking fluid is applied using a brush. Once the technique is completed, masking tape or dried masking fluid is carefully peeled away.

Mediums: substances which when added to acrylics changes the paint's qualities. For example, thickening mediums including texture paste make the paint thicker so that brush marks show and textures can be created. Flow medium is used in place of water to thin the paint for basecoating or to create washes. Glazes create transparency. Retarder slows down the drying time.

Multi-loading: technique of loading a brush (usually round brush) with up to three different colours. The brush is usually fully loaded in one color after which the second and third colors are picked up.




Primary colors: the three colours - red, blue and yellow - which cannot be obtained by mixing any other colors. All other colours are however obtained by mixing from them. Read more about colour in Understanding Colour.




Round brush: a brush where the ferrule is round and the brush hairs form a pointed tip, in various sizes. The round brush is the brush usually used for projects where the comma stroke is predominant. Most traditional folk art was done using a round brush.




Script liner: This is a liner with long hairs which are best used with thin, watery paint to paint scrolls and long lines. The long brush hairs hold more paint than the standard liner.

Scumbling: a background technique where a second, usually lighter, color is thinly or loosely brushed in a "slip-slap" manner over an under-painted area so that the painted area beneath it shows through.

Sealer: a medium which is usually brushed on a blank, raw wood piece or any other surface like metal , plastic etc to seal it before applying any paint.

Secondary colors: the three colors that are obtained from mixing two primary colors as follows: orange (yellow + red), green ( yellow + blue), and violet (red + blue). Read more about colour in Understanding Colour.

Shade: made when a color's value is reduced or darkened by the addition of black or a dark value color to it.

Shading: the opposite of highlighting where an area on an object being painted is darkened to give the appearance of a shadow. Shading gives the painted object a three-dimensional look.

Side-loading: technique used for painting shadows and highlights where a flat brush is loaded with paint only in one corner then stroked in one direction so that the paint is spread across the brush about halfway. If necessary to add water to the brush, the other corner may be tipped in a bit of clean water. When painted, the resulting stroke is a gradation of solid color to nothing.

Spattering: also known as fly-speckling or splattering, is a technique which literally involves sprinkling a raw wood surface or painted background with light consistency paint usually of a darker color. A large brush loaded with watery paint or a fly speckler is usually used.

Spotter: like a liner but with even fewer but very short hairs. Used in decorative painting for detail work, including of course, spots.

Stencil brush: a brush often with short, stiff bristles usually used in stencilling work but is often used in faux finish applications for stippling. Also useful when creating foliage.

Strokework: specific and distinct brush strokes which are formed by applying a single stroke of the brush whether flat, angle, round, filbert or liner

Stylus: a tool usually consisting of a wooden or plastic handle with a smooth metal tip on its end. Some coe with two tips, one on each end of the handle. One end is usually a finer tip than the other. In decorative painting, it is used primarily to transfer a design from a tracing onto the project. It is also used to make dots with paint.




Temperature (of color): how warm or cool a color appears to be.

Tertiary colors: mixed colors which contain all three primary colors. Read more about colour in Understanding Colour.

Textile medium: a medium added to acrylic paint for the purpose of painting a design on fabric.

Tile medium: a medium added to acrylic paint to create permanency when painting on tiles, ceramics or glass.

Tint: made when a color's value is reduced or lightened by the addition of white or a light-value color to it.

Tipping: loading a round brush full of paint in one colour, then dipping the tip of the brush in another color to pick up just a small amount of it. The resulting stroke has a variegated appearance. The brush may also be tipped in two colours to give a multicolored stroke.

Toe (of an angle brush): the long edge of an angle brush

Tole: French word for tin or metal ware

Tone: made when a color is mixed with gray or any other color to reduce its intensity.

Transfer Paper: paper coated on one side with gray, black, white, blue, or red material used to transfer a design to the surface to be painted. Transfer paper is placed color side down between the project surface and the tracing of the pattern. A stylus or pencil is then used to go over the design to leave an imprint on the basecoated projected surface.

Triple Load: when a brush (usually a flat brush) is loaded with three colours of paint. The brush is first completely loaded with the base colour. Then, one half of the brush is dipped into a second colour, and the other half into a third colour. Then the brush is stroked three or four times on the palette and flipped over and repeated. This produces a soft blended stroke.

Trompe l'oeil: a French term meaning "trick the eye". In painting, it is used to describe painted work that are so realistic as to fool the viewer into thinking the objects in the painting are not painted, but real.




Value: how light or how dark a color is.

Value scale: gradations of dark to light beginning with black and ending with white.

Varnish: completed decorative painting projects are sealed with many layers of varnish to protect it and give it a professional appearance. Water-based polyurethane is available in matte, satin and gloss finishes for the decorative artist. While they are usually brushed on, spray on varnish as well as pour-on varnish is also available.




Walking color: a term used in "floating" a shadow or highlight. Refers to making several, shape-following floats that gradually move away from the original float. Also referred to as "walking the brush".

Wash: created using thin watery paint - achieved with water, flow medium or extender - and best painted using a flattened round brush. Painting several layers of wash over each other once the bottom layer has dried creates a "light from within", translucent effect.

Wet pallette: available from art suppliers or homemade and is used to keep acrylic paints moist while painting. Usually with covers so that unfinished paints may be kept for another painting session. Paints kept in a wet pallette can be used again even after a month. Several brands are available.

Woodgraining: using paint to imitate wood effects on blanks. Specific tools for woodgraining are also available at craft stores.


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