Palette Knife Painting

First Painting

GOAL

To understand how colors are mixed on the canvas using the some or all of the techniques listed below.

Choosing a Knife


You're looking for a painting knife with a flexible blade that has a good spring or bounce to it.


A very stiff blade is limited in the type of marks you can make with it, and a blade that's too flimsy or floppy is annoying as you can't control it well (and likely won't last). Metal knives generally have far more spring to them than plastic ones.


The handle should be smooth and comfortable to hold. You don't want a knife that feels unbalanced.

The blade of the knife should be well attached to the handle -- you don't want it to rotate.

How To Get Paint on The Knife

If you're able to get butter or jam onto a slice of bread, then you already know what to do to get paint onto a painting knife.


It's just scrape the knife across the surface of the paint so it gathers up some paint, or dip it into the paint and flip out a bit.

Thin Lines

By dipping the edge of a painting knife into a pile of paint and then tapping the knife down on your canvas, you can produce very fine lines.

Hard Edges

Dip a painting knife into some paint then onto your canvas so the blad is at 90 degrees to the surface. Then tilt the knife to one side, press down firmly, and pull strongly to one side. This produces a painted area with a hard edge.

Exactly what shape you produce depends on how much paint you had on your knife, and how hard you pulled or scraped it across the surface. If you have gaps between the bits of paint on your knife, you'll produce gaps in the painted area (as shown by the paint adjacent to the knife in the photo).

Smearing

This is the "spread the butter or jam" technique of using a painting knife, and the most common approach.


You load a lump of paint onto the painting knife, tap it onto your canvas, then spread it around. Or, alternatively, squeeze out paint directly onto the canvas, then spread it around.

Flat Texture

You can spread out paint with a knife so that it's completely flat, with minimal texture, if any.


By lifting your knife from the surface you can create a little ridge of paint, which can be built up into interesting texture.

If you're working with acrylic paint, you'll need to work fast or add some glazing medium / retarder to your paint to give you more open time before the paint dries.

Press & Lift

Texture can be created by pressing a painting knife into paint, then onto the canvas, and lifting it. The results you get will depend on whether you move the knife sideways or just lift it straight off again.

Scratching

Call it sgraffito when you're wanting to sound good, but as far as technique goes it's just scratching into wet paint. A knife with a sharp point will give a narrow line, but any shape of knife can be used.

Thick and Thin

By altering the pressure you're applying to the painting knife, you can move from laying down paint thickly to laying down very thin paint in a single stroke, without stopping.


You'll get different results depending on whether you're using an opaque or transparent color, or a color with a strong undertone.

Doubling Loading

Double Loading with color is a technique familiar to decorative painters that can produce beautiful results when used with a palette knife. As the name suggests, you put two (or more) colors onto your knife before you apply it to your canvas.

If you use a single, straight stroke, you'll get the two colors applied adjacent to one another. If you go over the stroke numerous times, or move the knife from side to side, the colors will mix, and that's when beautiful things can really happen!