A Thesaurus for Your Art

Keep a library of words in a shoebox, database, or notebook. Never mind that first one. If you keep them in a shoebox, you'll go crazy trying to find them when you need them.
Use a database or notebook.
What words can you count on?

Jaimee Todd, Medea
Jaimee Todd, Medea. ©The Artist

What words do you need to have at the ready for your next brochure, artist statement, or wall label?

Words to Describe Color in Your Art

Don’t just say something is red. Is it “as red as a maraschino cherry in a daiquiri”? Or as “red as the Oklahoma clay”?
Maraschino-cherry red. Oklahoma-clay red.

Words to Describe Texture in Your Art

Stuck on “smooth” and “rough?” Try slick, shiny, glassy, jagged, or bumpy.

Words to Describe Line in Your Art

For artists to whom line is important, “straight” or “curvy” rarely says it all. Choose your weapon: sinuous, energetic, straight as an arrow, or gestural.

Words to Describe Space and Form in Your Art

You don’t have to be a sculptor to have the three-dimensional aspect of your art be paramount. Are the forms open and expansive? Or contained and dense?

Words to Describe Mood in Your Art

Why opt for “happy” or “sad” when exuberant and melancholy are much more interesting?

Words to Describe Action

Colorful verbs: shoot, paint, pull, carve, study, build, weave, throw, hammer, obliterate, rub, fire, melt.
Less colorful verbs: is, are was, were, has, have.
Add your own! Leave us a comment and tell us about the words you use.

If your words leave a little to be desired, we're focusing on writing projects all this month in the Artist Conspiracy (now Art Biz Incubator). Join us! (It's never too late to join. We're always here, always open.)

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10 thoughts on “A Thesaurus for Your Art”

  1. Put a GPS on your colours…My Canadian brown is dirt almost beige…I made an extremely
    permanent mistake by assuming that my brown was understood- the lady took brown to mean almost black, like loam…(She was from a very hot climate)…
    Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s thing in Ny was called saffron…Irked me…I saw McDonald’s orange…I grew up with saffron being “mellow yellow”…A Persian person explained to me that saffron was so plentiful in her country, it looked orange in rice…Here in Ontario, it is so expensive & scarce, the rice comes out yellow at best…GPS your words…

  2. Alease Michelle

    What a great idea. I just started keeping a journal of detail descriptions of my work. Like date, materials used, and the process. It has really helped me document and talk about what I do.
    Thanks for the new idea.

  3. First, thank you, Alyson for featuring my painting in today’s post. It’s an honor.
    Secondly, this post couldn’t have come at a better as I’m in the process of working on my artist statement for several upcoming endeavors. This post is a much needed shot in the arm! Thank you for writing this.

  4. This is a great post. I want to go do this right now (but I have other computer work that needs done first.) I love the idea of having the words divided into categories so you can find them easier.

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  6. Hello Alyson, This is a great idea! A Thesaurus describing different components of our artwork is an ingenious new tool to use. I just bought a delightful little book by William F. Buckley Jr. called: “The Lexicon, a cornucopia of wonderful words for the inquisitive word lover.”Can’t you visualize Buckley’s anomalous facial posings, circuitously roofing his protruding eyes, pursing his pointy lips, all the while preparing to elucidate. Never more will I say a color theme is simply harmonious….from now on my color schemes will have chromatic appoggiaturas. Margret

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  9. The collecting of words is something I have been doing for a long time. I have a blank journal where I stuff sentences and words. Then periodically I choose the ones I like and I write them in the journal and toss the scraps of paper. The words can come from articles I read, or comments I hear from people talking about art or emails I receive when someone describes my work. A thesaurus and dictionary are always easily available near my computer, but I think I will have to go and check out “The Lexicon” that Margret mentioned.

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