Artist Tip: Develop Your Visual Vocabulary (all mediums!)

Artist Tip: Develop Your Visual Vocabulary (all mediums!)

You may not have heard of the term “Visual Vocabulary” – but I’ll bet you’ve been using it! To many people, “Visual Vocabulary” refers to the foundations of art— line, shape, space, texture, color, etc.

But I find it more helpful to think of it as the artist’s toolbox, which has everything in it that you use in creating your art. That broadens it to techniques and a good understanding of the subject matter as well.

If you think of a toolbox full of screwdrivers, clamps, nails, and carpenter’s glue – a beginning worker might only have a few things available to them, but an expert may have an entire rolling cart full of tools. As artists, we grow our own toolkit over time, and tuck in all the little things we learn. Occasionally we even rediscover a tip in the bottom of the box that we’d forgotten about, too!


Supplies are linked at the end of this post.

Video: Develop Your Visual Vocabulary

Since I had posted a TinyTutorial about Visual Vocabulary yesterday, a few responses had come in while I was creating the voiceover, so included some of those in the video. I hope it’s helpful!

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!

3  areas to grow your Visual Vocabulary

  1. Foundations: Add more information about the basics of art to your toolbox! If you’re just starting out, take small bites, you don’t need to know everything right away
    • line quality (rough, smooth, thickness, strokes)
    • shape (component shapes, perspective, shading)
    • space (positive/negative areas, composition)
    • texture (smooth, rough, detailed, simple)
    • color (complementary, analagous, all sorts of color theory)
    • and so much more
  2. Technique: The basics of practice exercises with the medium itself will help your hand, brush, and brain remember what you’ve practiced.
    • understanding the pigment and how it moves, blends
    • mastering the tools needed
  3. Subject Matter: Begin to really study a subject and how to render it well. Once it becomes part of your toolbox, you’ll be able to pull that information back out when needed.
    • break it down to an element needed…instead of “landscapes” work on trees for a time, then skies, then fields. Study that element in a variety of circumstances, angles, times of day, etc.
    • study for extended time periods. A week, a month, whatever works for the amount of time you put into your art.

I learned so much from the process to create this painting! I didn’t realize how important to me MOTION is. The other paintings were pretty, but…what I wanted to create was a design that flowed across the page.

The other pieces created this week aren’t bad. They’re not what I hoped to create, that’s all. And just to make them feel better and not get dropped in the circular file, I’ve posted them as originals for sale. (The third one is a eucalyptus-only version in Cascade Green, not shown in today’s video.)


In case you missed it – here are links to this week’s social media posts!

Related Online Classes

The two classes mentioned in the video are Branching Out, a Level 2 class, with bigger, simpler shapes. Then there’s the new Christmas Berries class, which has more small detail in it.Both are great  and are still on sale for the remainder of the month for World Watercolor Month!

Closing thoughts 

Please do let me know in the comments if there’s an aspect of Visual Vocabulary you’d like me to address in the future; I’m finding there’s more interest in discussions like this, so I hope to be able to answer some questions for you!

PS: The paintings shown today are for sale over on my fine art website.


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