Art Terms Glossary

Learning to paint one word at a time.

C: Chiaroscuro
M: Mother Colour
T: Tone or Value / Translucent

Chiaroscuro
A word from Italian, translating as “light dark”, used to describe the skilful use of light and dark (strong tonal contrast) in a painting to enhance dramatic effect and the sense of three-dimensionality. The paintings of Caravaggio and Rembrandt are good examples.

Mother Colour A colour you use in every mixed colour in a particular painting, to create a subtle harmony and unity in both the colour and composition, across the whole painting.. You can either use a mother colour as the starting point for the colours you create (mixing another colour into some of your mother colour) or mixing a little of your mother colour into every colour. A mother colour can also be used as a dominant colour, but watch out for your mixed colours becoming too similar in tone and hue. If you’re glazing rather than physically mixing colours, a final glaze with a mother colour may be just what a painting needs to pull its components together.

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Tone or Value
How light or dark a colour is (rather than what the actual colour is). Tone is one of the Elements of Art.

Translucent
Used to describe a pigment, or paint colour, one that’s semi-transparent. You can see a little through it, such as strong shapes or dark colours, but it’s not completely transparent. Mixing a little titanium white, which is very opaque, can turn a transparent colour into a translucent one, though it will of course lighten it.
Think of it as: looking through coloured tissue paper rather than coloured cellophane.

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