Visual arts – Dictionary

An imaginary straight line that indicates movement and the direction of movement.
Objects or undetermined spaces surrounding the main subject of a work.
The most distant zone of space in three-dimensional illusion
Blind Contour:
Line drawings produced without looking at the paper. Such drawings are done to heighten the feeling for space and form and to improve eye-hand coordination
The organization and interaction of shapes, forms, lines, patterns, light and colour.
Continuous Line Drawing:
A drawing in which the implement remains in uninterrupted contact with the picture plane creating enclosed shapes.
The outline and other visible edges of a mass figure or object.
Contour Line (Drawing):
A single line that represents the edge of a form or group of forms and suggests three-dimensional quality indicating the thickness as well as height and width of the form it describes. Contour line drawing uses subtle overlapping planes.
Cross Hatching:
A drawing technique to shade an object using two or more networks of parallel lines in a gradual angular progression (to achieve a build up of complex value).
Eye Level:
In linear perspective, the height at which the eyes are located in relation to the ground plane. Standing creates a high eye-level while sitting creates a lower one. In most views, the eye level will match a horizon line. The same as horizon line. All vanishing points in one and two point perspective are positioned on the eye level.
The primary or positive shape in a drawing. A shape that is noticeably separated from the background. The figure is the dominant, advancing shape in a figure/ground relationship.
A total mental picture, or conception, of a form.
Any gradual transition from one tone to another. In drawing, shading through gradation can be used to suggest three-dimensional illusion.
A spontaneous representation of the dominant physical and expressive stance of an object. The act of making a sketch with relatively loose arm movements (gestures) -- with the large muscles of the arm, rather than with the small muscles of the hand and wrist; Or a drawing made this way.
A mark with length and direction. An element of art which refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. Types of line include: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, straight or ruled, curved, bent, angular, thin, thick or wide, interrupted (dotted, dashed, broken, etc.), blurred or fuzzy, controlled, freehand, parallel, hatching, meandering, and spiraling. Often it defines a space, and may create an outline or contour, define a silhouette; create patterns, or movement, and the illusion of mass or volume. It may be two-dimensional (as with pencil on paper) three-dimensional (as with wire) or implied (the edge of a shape or form).
A visible trace or impression on a surface, such as a line, a dot, spot, stain, scratch, etc.
The density or weight of an object.
Mass gesture:
A system of broad, gesture marks used to create density and weight in a form.
Negative Space:
The space surrounding a positive shape; sometimes referred to as a ground, empty space, field, etc.
Overlapping Planes:
A method of representing hierarchy of space in a drawing. Overlapping occurs when one object obscures from view part of a second object.
Any system used to represent depth or space on a flat surface by reducing the size and placement of elements to suggest that they are further away from the viewer.
One-Point Perspective:
A frontal, head on view with a central point at eye level at which all receding parallels appear to converge and vanish.
Two-Point Perspective:
A way of representing space on the picture plane in which physically parallel elements of the same size appear progressively reduced along converging rays to the left and right, reaching a single point on the horizon on both the left and right side.
Three Point-Perspective:
A system for representing objects in space with exaggerated three dimensionality, through the use of three perpendicular sets of converging parallels.
Positive Space:
The shape of an object that serves as the subject for a drawing. The relationship between positive shape and negative space is sometimes called figure/ground, foreground/background relationship.
A term that refers to the “accurate” relationship of part to part in a realistic drawing. It can also refer to the expressive purposes, e.g. Distortion of proportion to consciously or unconsciously achieve a subjective intention. Proportion also relates to a sense of balance.
Reflective Light:
The relatively weak light that bounces off a nearby surface onto the shadowed side of a form.
A drawing that attempts to achieve a near-likeness to the objects being drawn. Drawings which strive to achieve the qualities of realism.
A ratio or proportion used in determining the dimensional relationship between a representation to that which it represents (its actual size), such as maps, building plans, and models.
A contained, edged-in area on the two-dimensional surface. Or an area that suggests containment. A shape is always interdependent with another element (shape or space) in the composition.
The distance between images or points in a drawing. We contain space when defining edges of interrelated shapes.
The actual physical structure or texture of the drawing paper containing degrees of smoothness, gloss, or roughness
The actual or suggestive surface quality of a two-dimensional shape or three-dimensional volume. Texture can be created by using skilful drawing techniques, erasure, rubbing, or employing specific materials such as sand.
Black, white and the gradations of grey tones between them. The relative degree of light and dark.
Value Scale:
The gradual range from white through grey to black.
The overall size of an object, and by extension the quantity of three-dimensional space it occupies.

Glossary of terms 2

Assignment — a task, which a learner carries out to produce evidence, which can be
assessed against the unit assessment criteria. Assignments will usually be set by
tutors, but may be developed by learners in consultation with their tutor, though this
is more common at advanced level.
Audience (media) — refers to the individuals or groups towards whom the mass
communications are addressed.
Client — an umbrella term referring to individuals and groups who commission,
employ, order, buy, receive, use or view art, craft, design or media products and/or
Exploration — thorough practical investigation and analysis, which leads to the
gaining of knowledge, skills and understanding. Exploration may arise from the needs
of a given situation (eg it needs to be blue and shiny — what material should I use?)
but may also be stimulated by curiosity, extending personal vocabulary or style, and
may result in unexpected, unusual or innovative outcomes.
Formal elements — accepted terms used to describe the technical structure,
composition and form of art craft and design outcomes. ‘Formal elements’ is an
umbrella term, which may be subdivided into:
• the basic elements — line, tone, colour, form/shape, pattern and texture
• the elements of visual dynamics — balance, movement, mass, weight, rhythm,
structure, proportion, scale.
Formal elements are sometimes referred to as ‘visual elements’. Formal elements do
not include characteristics such as flair, quality, impact, expressiveness, etc.
Mark-making — the application of any medium using traditional and/or improvised
techniques to make marks on any surface. Mark-making may be used as a means of
expressing ideas and feelings and interpreting observations and information.
Material — matter out of which an outcome is formed or constructed. Materials may
be used separately or together. Work involving more than one material is said to use
‘mixed materials’ or ‘combined materials’.
Medium/media (art and design) — matter, which is used for making marks. Media
may include the creative or conventional use of tools as well as the simple matter (eg
pen and ink or paper). Media may be used separately or in combination. Work
involving more than one medium is referred to as using ‘mixed media’ or
‘multimedia’. (However, ‘multimedia’ is also used to describe computer-based
activity that integrates text, visuals and sound).
Media — refers to technical media, particularly the mass media. It can refer to the
means of communication (eg, in print or broadcast), but often it refers to technical
forms by which these are actualised (eg, radio, television, newspapers, books, films,
websites, and sound recordings).
Processes — work sequences, employing a number of techniques and a range of
tools/equipment, allied to an understanding of the working characteristics of
media/materials, and designed to produce quality outcomes.

Project — a prescribed practical art, craft or design activity that may require the
learner to meet learning and/or assessment criteria through producing work in a
variety of forms.
Research — the act of collecting and collating information with a view to gaining an
understanding of a particular set of circumstances or facts. In art, craft and design,
research activity leads to the development of work, which is based upon informed
judgement. Records of research will show the information collected and organised,
the thoughts and ideas gained and the creative application of these in the work.
Primary sources — examples of primary sources within an art, design and media
context include; own drawings, photographs and video recordings from real artefacts,
objects or events, observations and comments on others’ work from visiting galleries,
museums and collections, and conducting interviews with people.
Secondary sources — examples of secondary sources within an art, design and media
context include: notes, printouts, photocopies etc of other peoples’ work from
sources such as books, postcards, magazines, journals, leaflets and electronic media.
Studies, study — the term used to refer to work produced as a result of learning,
exploring, practising or trialling. Examples may include:
• a study of an object produced by attempting to represent it accurately
• studies exploring the application of a technique or process to achieve specific
• studies of the working characteristics of media and materials, etc. Studies will
often include written notes or comments by the learner on their findings and
Technique — the way materials and media are worked, which will involve a practical
method and an ability to handle tools, media and materials. ‘Technique’ is also used
to refer to proficiency in a practical or technical skill. Techniques are an important
aspect of the ‘critical studio skills’ that need to be gained to demonstrate
understanding and achievement in art, craft and design.
Technology — the tools and equipment required to work media and materials and
carry out associated processes and techniques. Technologies may be grouped by
media or materials, or related to processes or techniques.
To satisfy the requirements of the unit a learner might work with:
• hand tools associated with painting, drawing, printmaking, moulding clay, forming
metal/plastics, cutting and joining card/wood
• mechanical equipment associated with sewing textiles, drilling rigid materials,
clamping and holding materials, within media associated equipment could be
video and still cameras, editing suites
• reprographic equipment associated with developing photographs, printing on
paper, photocopying, printmaking
• computer-aided equipment associated with drafting/design (CAD), paint
programmes, printing.

Three dimensional, or 3D — work which extends in depth and is intended to be
viewed from every aspect (ie side, front, back or top). It is often shortened to 3D.
The term can be used to refer to work with a raised surface, also called ‘relief’ or
‘bas relief’ work.
Two dimensional, or 2D — work that is created on a surface, usually sheet material
such as paper, canvas or board. It is often shortened to 2D. However, whilst 2D work
is often flat, it may also be slightly raised, curved or textured. This surface can be
referred to as the ‘picture plane’. 2D work is usually intended to be viewed from the
Visual language — combines the following — the use of mark-making and objectmaking; an understanding of the potential of technology, tools and equipment; the
use of a range of processes and techniques; a vocabulary of visual formal elements;
experience in working with a variety of media and materials.
Command of visual language will be demonstrated in two key ways in learners’ work:
• by the ability to employ visual language in increasingly appropriate, expressive
and creative ways to meet the intentions and contexts of their work
• by the ability to articulate their thoughts, decisions and intentions about their
work and working — using a range of communication skills and appropriate
technical vocabulary.