Art Terms Glossary

I have provided definitions for most terms I use on my website. For a more comprehensive resource, I recommend the Art Glossary on

Assemblage An artwork created by combining disparate materials, usually used in reference to sculptural objects.

Further Reading:
Louise Nevelson
Robert Rauschenberg Combines (1953-1964)

Calcium Carbonate Compound added to paper to make it alkaline. The cellulose in acidic papers causes them to degrade and deteriorate over time. By coating a sheet with calcium carbonate, atmospheric acidity will be absorbed serving to further prolong the stability of the sheet.

Collage A composition made by gluing bits of paper or other material which have been drawn, painted or printed and are adhered to a substrate. From the French, coller, to glue.

Collage History:
One of the first examples of collage occured in the eighteenth century when “…the flower artist Mrs Mary Delany (1700-88) invented a medium known as ‘paper mosaic’ or ‘plant collage’. Her method was to cut the petals and leaves from coloured paper, and paste them on a background of black paper.” (Goldman) Read a spirited description of her art in Ethel Rolt Wheeler’s Famous Blue-Stockings (2007).

In contrast to Delany’s precisely composed and botanically correct creations, artists such as Braque, Picasso and Jean Arp, major Cubist figures, experimented in the twentieth-century with the element of chance, as well as incorporating a wider range of collage materials. For example, Arp’s 1916 work held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York was created by scattering torn pieces of paper onto a canvas to form a geometric collage.

The American artist, Romare Bearden, turned to collage to realize some of his politically charged narratives. The Woodshed, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicts the poignant reality of a family struggling in reduced economic and social circumstances. The Romare Bearden Foundation website has an extensive collection of more of his collages to view.

More recently, British artist Chila Kumari Burman has exuberantly expressed herself through combining the energized colours and images of Bollywood, advertising, and pop culture with ephemera of her own life. She explains,. “I include things from my past like my cycling proficiency badge, or photos of the family or Bollywood stars like Shilpa Shetty – and then I photograph the montage and make it into a print.” (Inside Out, BBC).

Video Collage:
Animated collaged images in seminal music video by Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand reveal clever references to Bauhaus collage work and steampunk.

Further Reading:
The Museum of Modern Art has an excellent overview of the use of collage by preeminent artists written by Lewis Kachur of Grove Art Online © 2009 Oxford University Press.

SEE ALSO Dadaist collages of Kurt Schwitters

Digital Photomontage A composition made by digitally combining photographs. See photomontage.

Digital Print When artists use computers to create and manipulate their works, a large-scale ink jet printer can be used to print the works. These complex printers use a sophisticated print head to disperse the ink on the paper in a fine mist in order to deliver a consistently toned image. A digital print is only considered to be an “original print” if it was created by the artist to be realized specifically as a print. (International Fine Print Dealers Association). NB: All of my digital prints are original prints.

Edition The name given to a set number of prints of the same image. In the early days of printmaking, the number of prints pulled from a plate was not limited; as long as there was demand and the plate had not worn out, prints were made. See Limited Edition and Open Edition. Can also be used as a verb, to edition, i.e. to create an edition of prints.

Ephemera Something of no lasting significance or of short-lived usefulness; Paper items (as posters, broadsheets, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

Etching A print in which the lines of the drawing are incised into a metal plate and bitten or “etched” in acid.

Fine art print This is a print term without a specific definition but rather a general term that could mean any number of things: a print of a “fine art” image; a print by a “fine artist”; a print on a “fine art” paper; a print made by a “fine art” print studio; etc. When establishing the value of a print, a description that it is a “fine art print” does not give any specific information. In order to properly identify a print, the print method must be indicated as well as whether it is an open edition print or a limited edition print.

Found objects An object that is found and then incorporated into an artwork or displayed on its own. By being seen outside of its normal context, new meanings can be infered. Developed out of Surrealism and the notion that art can be made from anything. From the French, objet trouvé.

Giclee Print A term coined for use in the art world to refer to a very high resolution inkjet print made with archival inks. Derived from the French word, giclée, loosely translates as sprayed, squirted or spurted, to describe the way an inkjet printer applies a fine mist of ink droplets onto the substrate in printing the image. In my work I use only pigmented inks which have far superior lightfastness than dye-based inks. Giclees have been widely adopted by artists in the last few years as a reliable method of producing archival quality prints. Although first introduced at least ten years ago, materials and methods have vastly improved in recent years to the level that giclees can be found in major museums around the world.

It is important to note that a giclee print is not necessarily a reproduction print. A reproduction is a copy of an artwork that exists in another form. For example, if a high resolution scan or photograph was taken of an oil painting which was then used to make a print, the resulting print would be a “reproduction.” If, on the other hand, a print was made from an original digital artwork that did not exist in any other form, then the resulting print would be an “original”.

Hors de Commerce This French term literally translated as “outside of commerce” or, as we would say in English, “not for sale”, is sometimes designated on a print in a limited edition as “H.C.”

Inkjet Print A print made by an inkjet printer. Inkjet printers are the most common type of consumer printers. Due to vast improvements in recent years to the quality of the printed image and the increased lightfastness of the inks, inkjet prints have been widely adopted by fine artists to print their work. Inkjet technology involves spraying very fine drops of ink onto a sheet of paper, canvas or other substrate. These droplets are “ionized” which allows them to be directed by magnetic plates in the ink’s path. As the paper is fed through the printer, the print head moves back and forth, spraying thousands of these small droplets onto the page. See Giclee.

Lightfastness Resistance to light and especially, sunlight.

Further Reading:
Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. (WIR) conducts research into the stability and preservation of digital color photographs and prints made with digital technologies. Widely considered to be the global leader in this field, it has a number of articles published on its website. The company’s comprehensive test methods have become the de facto industry standard.

Lignin A glue-like binding substance used in paper manufacturing that weakens the paper over time and causes it to discolour when exposed to light. It is removed from the pulp used in the manufacture of papers for conservation and archival uses to prolong their longevity.

Limited Edition Print In the late nineteenth-century, the practice of limiting an edition became commonplace as a marketing tool to create exclusivity for a given image. A total number of prints in an edition would be decided on and the artist would sign and number the prints accordingly: 7/50 denotes the seventh print in an edition of fifty. The plate or block would be destroyed after the edition was complete, an act known as ‘cancelling’. This would assure the collector that no further copies of the image could be made.

Many prints are still created today using traditional printmaking methods that employ the above conventions. However, there are also many artists who produce digital prints where no plate or block exists to be cancelled and there is no physical reason, such as the deterioration of the plate, to stop pulling prints of the image. Conceivably, the computer file used to produce the print could be deleted and efforts could be made to destroy all known copies of the file. Ultimately, however, it is the reputation of the artist and their printer who will guarantee adherence to a limited edition.

In today’s contemporary art market, it is not uncommon for artists and photographers to produce as few as three to five images in an edition.

A limited edition print is typically signed by the artist, dated and numbered. Sometimes a portion of the total number of prints is set aside for the artist’s use — more than ten percent of the total would be irregular. These are called Artist’s Proofs and are labelled A/P. Historically these were the first prints pulled as test prints for the artist to approve with several “good ones” reserved for the artist. When the artist was satisfied with the ink colour, density and so on, the print displaying the correct characteristics was labelled “B.A.T.” from the French bon à tirer, meaning “ready to pull” (print). This provided the printshop with a control print that each subsequent print needed to match. One or two prints were often given to the printshop as well, if the artist had contracted a printers to do their printing for them, and these prints were labelled “P.P.”, Printer’s Proofs. See Open edition.

Lithography Printmaking technique that begins with the artist drawing or painting an image with a grease crayon or ink onto a lith or stone. Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798 who wrote a treatise on the subject in his books The Invention of Lithography and A Complete Course in Lithography.

Further Reading:
A description of the process is found in the book, Three Decades of American Printmaking: The Brandywine Collection: “A lithography does not have a raised or recessed surface, but a flat ‘planographic’ surface. Drawing is done on a lithographic stone (limestone) or metal plate (zinc or aluminum). It is a process based on the chemical principle that oil and water do not mix resulting in certain parts of the semi-absorbent surface being receptive to the printer’s ink, while other parts – those which will remain blank in the printed image – reject it. Images are made with grease pencils (litho crayons) or a greasy liquid called tusche. The procedure requires several steps from drawing on the stone, wetting the stone, and treating the stone with chemicals to affix the image to it. Lithographs usually have two distinct “looks.” One is like a crayon drawing, the other looks more painterly. The surface of a lithograph is very durable because the ink bonds with the paper.” (Edmunds)

The above process describes how original lithographic art prints are made. Offset lithography is a commercial printing process based on the same principles that oil and water do not mix but that is where the similarity ends . An artwork printed by offset lithography is essentially a poster and not to be confused with a hand-pulled (‘hand-made’) original lithographic print.

Montage A composition made by combining pictures or parts of pictures. Also used to describe motion picture effects produced by superimposing images or showing them in rapid sequence. From the French, monter, to mount. See collage.

Offset Lithography A commercial planographic printing method based on the principle that water and grease do not mix. Widely used to produce posters.

Open Edition Print An print edition that is not limited in quantity. Many posters and giclee reproduction prints are offered as open editions. See Edition.

Original Print An original print has been created from a matrix, usually in limited edition, and does not exist in any other form, such as being a painting or drawing. The term original print is used in contrast to Reproduction Print.

pH Value Degree of acidity or alkalinity measured on a scale from 0 to 14 with 7 the neutral point. Measurement of pH is important to quality control in making paper and pigments and in the preparation of platemaking chemicals. pH control of press fountain solutions is also essential to assure maximum plate-life and uniform ink drying. From 0 to 7 is acid; from 7 to 14 is alkaline. (

Photomontage A composition made by combining parts of photographs to form a new composite image. In digital photomontage the process occurs digitally using software designed for manipulating and editing photographs. Also known as photocollage.

Further Reading:
Dada Companion – Raoul Hausmann – Photocollages and Montages

Reproduction Print A reproduction print is a copy of an artwork that exists in another form. For example, if a high resolution scan or photograph was taken of an oil painting which was then used to make a print, the resulting print would be a “reproduction.” If, on the other hand, a print was made from an original digital artwork that did not exist in any other form, then the resulting print would be an “original” print. See Original Print.

Substrate The surface which receives the printed image, i.e. paper, canvas, or any variety of materials that can be printed on. The supporting surface for an artwork.

Tusche A greasy ink used in drawing on a lithographic plate or stone. From the German word for “ink”.


Art Book, The, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 2001.

Art Glossary on

Desert Paper and Envelope Company, Inc. (, March 16, 2009.

Edmunds, Allan L. and Halima Taha, Three decades of American printmaking: the Brandywine Workshop collection, Hudson Hills, 2004, pp. 19-20.

Goldman, Paul, Looking at Prints, Drawings and Watercolours, A Guide to Technical Terms, British Museum Publications in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, 1988.

International Fine Print Dealers Assocation.

Inveresk PLC is a specialist manufacturer of quality mould made fine art paper at St Cuthberts Mill, in the south west of England.

Reeve, John, The British Museum Visitor’s Guide, The British Museum Press, 2003, pp. 82-85.