English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In oil painting especially, I believe there is a technical word for the light that's reflected from one surface onto another (in the scene that's being painted). For example, if there's a reddish-brown rock next to a white wall, the color of the rock is reflected, almost like a glow, off the wall. Likewise, I have some blue boxes under some florescent lights that create a blue glow on the ceiling directly overhead.

I'm also interested if there's a corresponding term in physics for this phenomenon.

share|improve this question
Something like diffuse or diffused reflection? – coleopterist Oct 12 '12 at 17:46
@coleopterist I think you may have hit upon the physics element, but when I search for it along with art keywords I can't find anything relevant. I'm racking my brain for the word since I'm sure it was used in an art book I read earlier this year. – Zairja Oct 12 '12 at 17:54
Albedo is a related Latin-sounding word (from Albus of Dumbledore) which represents the reflectiveness of a surface. – coleopterist Oct 12 '12 at 18:01

There are 5 kinds of color that we perceive

  1. Primitive
  2. Reflective
  3. Refractive
  4. Transmissive
  5. Emissive

I don't have a good source for you. This comes from 20+ years in and around the arts industry.

share|improve this answer
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I found the answer I was looking for and it shed some light (no pun intended) on similar terminology, as well.

In a blog entry by James Gurney, an illustrator and realist painter (source, my emphasis):

Color bleeding is a term used in the computer graphics industry to describe the way the color of an illuminated surface influences the surfaces around it.

Traditional painters usually refer to the effect as “reflected light" [. . .].

He also uses the phrase "colored spillover". Later, a commenter adds (my emphasis):

The computer graphics term for this effect is "colour bleeding", "indirect lighting" or "global illumination".

"Radiosity" is a specific method of achieving this effect, which was one of the first methods which was practical. As the geometry in scenes got more complex and models for the way light reflects on surfaces got more sophisticated, the radiosity method fell out of favour because it simply didn't scale up.

As far as the physical phenomenon, I think coleopterist is close with diffused reflection; however, this seems to describe how we see the object itself–not its reflection off another object.

share|improve this answer
Yep, I was going to respond that painters simply use the term "reflected light". – ghoppe Oct 12 '12 at 18:33

Maybe you're thinking of


Which is not so much a matter of reflection, it's the cognition of a color-shift that our perceptual system creates based on the proximity of two colors.

share|improve this answer
Rather it's the use of extreme contrast in a painting. – bib Oct 12 '12 at 23:59

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.