Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Palette Knives and How to Use Them

Storm Tossed Shore
12" x 16" canvas

 The subject of your painting and the results you would like to achieve determine whether or not to use a palette knife or a brush to execute your painting.  If details are what you desire, than a palette knife would not be the better choice.
I enjoy palette knife painting because I like the Impressionist feeling a palette knife can provide.  The painting above was executed using a variety of shapes of palette knives.  In this post, I will provide the basics of using a palette knife;  and in my next post, I will provide directions to use a palette knife to paint the picture above. 
Painting with a knife is a lot like spreading peanut butter on bread.  A palette knife produces a much different result than a brush.  Palette knives can produce a range of different effects from textured work to sweeping areas of color to even tiny shapes, dots and straight lines. 
What is a palette knife or painting knife?
Palette knife and painting knife are terms often used synonymously with one another.     I will use the term in the post to mean the painting tool. 
Generally a palette knife is a long, straight blade or spatula used for mixing paints and scraping clean a palette – not for painting. 
A painting knife has a large bend in the handle to take your hand away from the painting canvas to keep your hand out of your wet paint.  The blade is somewhat flexible and can be found in various shapes; i.e. diamond shaped, pear shaped, etc. 
Although these tools are called knives they are not designed to have a sharp cutting edge.  It has a blunt edge with the exception of ones with a sharp point on the ends. 
How to paint using the palette knife:
If you are able to fix a peanut butter sandwich, you can paint with a palette knife.  There is no magic trick – only practice to learn what will work for you. 
Techniques involved:
  • Scrap the knife across the surface of the paint on the palette so that it picks up some of the paint.
  • Dip the knife into the paint to get a bit of the paint on the point or one edge. 
  • Palette knife painting is easier when the paint is thick, so don’t add any water or other medium to the paint to thin it down. 
  • Hold the handle firmly in a good grip.  Put your fingers on the knife where they are most comfortable for you.  However, a good way to start would be to hold the knife as if you were fencing with your thumb on top. 
  • Your grip can be adjusted.
  • Use your wrist to change the angle and direction of your knife in relation to your painting and your paint on the palette. 
  • The knife can be used in any direction; there is no right side, wrong side or upside down. 
  • Palette knife painting can feel unusual at first, as it is very different from painting with a brush.
    What’s next?
  • Pick up some paint from your palette using the tip or the side of your knife depending on what shape is needed in your painting.
  • Use the long side of the blade to spread the paint across the canvas.
  • Create texture by pressing the blade into the paint on the canvas.
  • The tip can be used to produce dots of various sizes.
  • Use the edge of the knife to produce lines.
  • Press the blade flat to make ridges.
  • Scrape the blade across a dried paint surface to reveal underlying layers of paint.  (This is called sgraffito.)
Practice!  It is a good idea to purchase a book of inexpensive sheets of canvas paper to use to practice your technique before executing a painting for the first time with a palette knife.
How to clean the palette knife:
Cleaning a palette knife is so much easier than cleaning a brush!
Simply wipe the paint off of the knife with a cloth and then wipe the palette knife again with a clean cloth to remove any remaining paint.    This is usually all that will be needed and it is advisable to clean your knife when using different colors of paint to keep the paint from mixing…..unless that is your goal.
If the paint dries on the palette knife, it can be scraped off with no damage to the knife.  Brushes are not as forgiving. 
Practice your palette knife techniques and get ready for a palette knife painting in my next blog.
Happy Painting!

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