In order to be able to talk about your paintings, and art in general, you need the vocabulary to describe, analyze, and interpret what you're seeing. It's also part of learning how to critique paintings, whether your own or someone else's. Thinking of the right words becomes easier the more art terms you know, which is where this list comes in. The idea isn't to sit and memorize it, but to consult the word bank regularly and gradually you'll remember more and more terms.
The list is organized by topic. First find the aspect of a painting you wish to talk about (for instance the colors), then see which words match or fit with what you're thinking. Start by putting it into a simple sentence such as this: "The [aspect] is [word]." For instance, "The colors are vivid." or "The composition is horizontal." It'll probably feel awkward at first, but with practice, you'll find it gets easier and more natural. You'll soon expand into longer sentences!
At times it may feel like you're stating the obvious, something that would be immediately evident to anyone looking at the painting. Think of it as answering the question "How do I know that you know except by your telling me?"
Natural, clear, compatible, distinctive, interesting, lively, stimulating, subtle, sympathetic.
Artificial, clashing, depressing, discordant, garish, gaudy, jarring, unfriendly, violent.
Bright, brilliant, deep, earthy, harmonious, intense, rich, saturated, strong, vibrant, vivid.
Dull, flat, insipid, pale, mellow, muted, subdued, quiet, weak.
Cool, cold. Warm, hot. Light, dark.
Blended, broken, mixed, muddled, muddied, pure.
Complementary, contrasting, harmonious.
Dark, light, mid (middle).
Flat, uniform, unvarying, smooth, plain.
Arrangement, layout, structure, position.
Landscape format, portrait format, square format, circular, triangular.
Horizontal, vertical, diagonal, angled.
Foreground, background, middle ground.
Centered, asymmetrical, symmetrical. Balanced, unbalanced, lopsided.
Overlapping, cluttered, chaotic. Separate, spacious, empty.
Free, flowing, fragmented. Formal, rigid, upright, confined.
Negative space, positive space.
Flat, polished, smooth.
Raised, rough, coarse. Cut, incised, pitted, scratched, uneven,
Shiny, glossy, reflective. Semi-gloss, satin, silk, frosted, matte.
Marks made with a knife, brush.
Visible, impasto. blended, smooth.
Thick, thin. Bold, timid. Heavy, light.
Glazes, washes, scumbling, dry brush, stippling, hatching, splattered.
Precise, refined, regular, straight, systematic. Quick, sketchy, uneven, irregular, vigorous.
Mood or Atmosphere Words
Calm, content, peaceful, relaxed, tranquil.
Cheerful, happy, joyful, romantic.
Depressed, gloomy, miserable, sad, sombre, tearful, unhappy.
Aggressive, angry, chilling, dark, distressing, frightening, violent.
Energetic, exciting, stimulating, thought-provoking.
Boring, dull, lifeless, insipid.
Form and Shape Words
2D, flat, abstracted, simplified, stylized.
3D, realistic, natural, sense of depth and space.
Blurred, obscured, overlapping, indistinct.
Distorted, exaggerated, geometric.
Linear, long, narrow.
Back lit, front lit, side lit, top lit.
Indirect light. Reflected light. No directional light source.
Cool, blue, grey. Warm, yellow, red.
Dim, faint, gentle, gloomy, low, minimal, muted, soft.
Clear, brilliant, bright, glowing, fiery, harsh, intense, sharp.
Front, side, three-quarters, profile, rear (from behind).
Close up, far away, life size, bird's eye view.
Upwards, downwards, sideways.
Standing, sitting, lying down, bending.
Gesturing, moving. Resting, static.
Subject Matter Words
Cityscape, buildings, man-made, urban, industrial.
Fantasy, imaginary, invented, mythological.
Figurative (figures), portraits.
Still Life Words
Antique, battered, damaged, dusty, old, worn.
New, clean, shiny.
Functional, decorative, fancy.
Domestic, humble. Commercial, industrial.