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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Palette Knife Painting Guide

My students often ask me about my palette knife technique. “How do I use the knife?”, “How much paint do I use?”, “ How do I apply the paint and how what is my process?”

How I discovered palette knife painting

I discovered using a tool other than a brush about 20 years ago when I was experimenting and was not happy with what was happening on my canvas so I grabbed a long metal ruler when having a slight hissy fit, and dragged the ruler down the entire canvas taking off all the paint. In doing this, I discovered the wonderful affects this made and how taking off paint with a tool like a ruler, left some really interesting marks and pushed the colours together in a way I probably would not have been able to achieve with a brush.

Here began my love of playing and experimenting with tools other than a paintbrush. I now use the palette knife as my primary tool. Yes, I use a hell of a lot of paint in doing so, but I just love them way I can move paint around the canvas and achieve a rich surface texture. The “accidental” marks and blending of colours with the knife is what is so magic about this technique. Sometimes, you can’t plan for what might happen, but the out comes can often surprise you.

I begin my painting knife pieces with an underpainting done in oil thinned with an odourless paint thinner, With broad, loose strokes, I cover the white of the canvas, establishing colour and value.

When painting with knives, I mix my colours on a palette, but don’t add any medium that will thin the paint. You need the paint to be thick so that it will maintain its shape and stay where it’s put.

I apply the paint with a knife, as you would spread icing on a cake—working the texture to achieve the desired thickness and movement. I hold the knife as a conductor would hold a baton and change the angle of the knife to the canvas to achieve the desired effect. I have a huge range of palette knives, all different shapes and sizes. Each knife has a different and will create a variety of effects.

The way you hold the knife, its angle to the canvas, the amount of paint on the blade and the direction you pull it through the paint or drag it on the surface all add to the painterly options and effects available to you.

Wanting to learn palette knife painting?

All I can say is, HAVE A GO! Play, experiment and you will discover the wonderful joy of palette knife painting.

You can also learn my painting techniques such as palette knife painting with one of my online courses here.

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