Painting in the Visual Arts


It is a process that applies paint, pigment, color, or another medium onto a surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a "painting."

Painting is defined as:
1. A painted picture.
2. The process or art of using paint in a picture as a protective coating or decoration.
1. an act or instance of painting.

Painting Mediums

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Materials or Supplies

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What is Viscosity?

It refers to the state of paint being thick, sticky, semi-fluid, or fluid in consistency. For example, honey has a higher viscosity than water.

How to work with Viscosity?

Viscosity affects the value or tone of paint. The more the paint is thinned down with water or mineral spirits, the less viscose it will be, i.e., if working on a toned paper or canvas, the more the paper or canvas will show through.

Opacity or Semi-Opaque

What is Opacity?

Opacity in painting is defined as a pigment or paint that one cannot see through. Opacity describes hiding strength or whether the paint will cover what it has been painted over.

When light waves strike a surface coated with paint, it affects the pigment's degree of opaqueness or transparency. Each pigment has specific attributes that affect how it interacts with light waves. A pigment's degree of opacity directly correlates to its particle's ability to scatter light waves.

Note that watercolor does not use additives (such as chalk or white) and always allows previous layers of paint to show through.

What is Semi-Opaque?

Paints that are not fully clear or transparent

How to Work with Opacity or Semi-opacity?

Use a black magic marker to find out the opacity of your paint in any medium. Draw a line on the paper or canvas with a black Sharpie, paint over the line, then you can tell the opacity of the paint. You can check the tube to see if it is opaque; however, different manufacturers vary even if it is the same pigment.

Transparent or Semi-transparent

What is Transparency?

It refers to transparent paints that allow light to pass through them so that the objects underneath can be distinctively seen.

What is Semi-transparent?

It refers to pigments that are partially or imperfectly transparent. These pigments allow some light to pass through so that the objects underneath may be seen.

How to Work with Transparency or Semi-transparency?

Use a black magic marker to find out the transparency of your paint in any medium. Draw a line on the paper or canvas with a black Sharpie, paint over the line, then you can tell the transparency of the paint. You can check the tube to see the opacity; however, different manufacturers vary.


What is Impasto?

It is the process or technique of laying paint on thick to physically stand out from the surface. 'Impasto' (n.) is Italian for 'dough' or 'mixture.' 'Impastare' (v.) means to 'to paste.'

How to Impasto?

Use a brush (with little to no medium) or a palette knife. Apply the paint thickly to the surface.


What is Scumbling?

To modify (a painting or color) by applying a very thin coat of opaque paint over it to give it a softer or duller effect. This creates a 'veil' of color over the previous layer.

What is Staining?

When finely ground, pigments adhere to paper or canvas and cannot be removed with lifting or scrubbing. These are known as staining paints or pigments.

How to Scumble?

Use a DRY brush (without water or medium). Apply a small amount of paint on the brush, and use a paper towel to remove the extra paint. It's not good to have a mass amount. Lightly "dust" the surface with the brush.


What Is Glazing?

It is a layer of semi-transparent paint laid over another painted surface so the original colors still show through.

How to Glaze?

Practice only when the paint is dry. Use a THIN wash with color and a soft brush. Drag the brush over another color once or twice, then let it dry.


What Is Veiling?

Also referred to as "Illuminism," primarily used in watercolor, veiling involves the build-up of color with several thin layers of transparent paint.

How to Veil?

A transparent watercolor wash or an extremely thin layer of paint is "veiled" or laid over another. Each paint layer must be completely dry before applying the next layer. The layers of paint may be applied with or without using a pattern.


What is a Wash?

A technique primarily used in watercolor, where pigment is applied with a lot of water. In oil painting, a wash refers to the initial toning of the canvas or diluting the paint with mineral spirits.

How to create a Wash?

The most basic watercolor technique is the flat wash. It is produced by wetting the area of paper covered by the wash, then mixing sufficient pigment to fill the entire area quickly. The pigment is applied to a sloping surface (i.e., the drips or water will run down the page) in slightly overlapping horizontal bands from the top down.


What is an Edge?

In painting, it refers to a change in value from lighter to darker (or darker to lighter), i.e., a change in tint or shade. It may also refer to a change in color or hue (from one color to another color) or a change in temperature from warm to cool or vice versa.

Four Types of Edges

  • Sharp, crisp, or hard edges have a lot of contrast and demand attention. Sharp edges separate one tone from another. It's usually what's in focus when we look at something. With regard to soft edges, hard edges create the illusion of depth. Tones with sharp edges appear to come forward, whereas tones with soft edges appear to recede in space. 
  • Firm edges grab less attention than sharp. It is where two contrasting values have a slight or some transition from one to the other. For example, in a dramatic lighting situation, cast shadows are dark next to light areas on the same plane. However, they have softer edges as the shadow recedes into space. 
  • Soft - Edges may appear fuzzy or out of focus. These are the types of edges that we see in our peripheral vision. They do not draw the viewer's attention and may fade or blur one tone into another. 
  • Lost - Lost edges are where two tones or colors create a gradual or smooth gradation and transition from one tone into another tone.


What is a Gradation?

It refers to a change in value from lighter to darker (or darker to lighter), i.e., a change in tint or shade. It may also refer to a change in color or hue (from one color gradually to the next) or a change in temperature from warm to cool or vice versa. Space, distance, atmosphere, volume, and curved or rounded forms are visual effects created using a gradation.

How to create a Gradation?

Gradation is the technique of gradually transitioning from one hue to another, shade to another, or texture to another. Create a wash in watercolor. Add in other colors while it is still wet from left to right or vice versa. In oil painting, leave openings to see through to different colors, especially in the beginning stages of the painting.

Fat Over Lean Rule

What is it?

It is a painting approach to building layers of paint that will stay flexible after the paint is dry. The painting will then have fewer cracks in the paint over time.

What's the Rule?

The "fat over lean" rule states that any bottom layers of paint are thinner or "leaner" than the top layers.


It is an oil painting technique.

How to Perform Tonking

If too much paint has been applied with a thick application, lay an absorbent paper over the area while it is wet. Smooth it down with the palm of your hand and then gently peeling it away. This will lift the excess pigment and produce a workable surface. You can then repaint over the area using the “ghosted” image remaining on the canvas as a guideline.


What is a Color?

'Color' is all around us. It adds excitement and emotion to our lives. Everything revolves around color, the clothes we wear, the pictures we paint, and our environment. Without color, the world would be a much less attractive place.

How to Navigate Color Space?

There's a whole section on how to navigate color and color space. Click to learn more.


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