Painting with a palette knife

By Nicole Tinkham

Attention acrylic and oil painters! Would you like to try a new technique but don’t want to stray away from your favorite medium? Painting with a palette knife is sure to change things up a bit and will give you a totally different look in your painting. It may feel awkward working with a new tool in your hand at first but we’re here to help you along the way. Below you will find some important tips you must know before beginning. Let’s get started!

Why a palette knife?

If you aren’t entirely sold on the idea of switching out your beloved paint brush for a palette knife, here are some of the benefits to consider.

•    All-in-one tool: Mix AND apply paint with only one tool.

•    Create insane layers: Palette knives allow you to layer wet paint on top of wet paint without messing up the layer underneath.

•    Dimension: Thick layers create more dimension than what can be achieved with a brush.

•    Loosen up: If you tend to be a rigid painter, a palette knife can help you loosen up and change your painting style.

•    Variety of shapes and sizes: Like brushes, you aren’t limited to just one shape and size palette knife. This leaves it open for you to experiment with different techniques.

•    Texture: You’ll find that you have more control when creating texture with a palette knife.

•    Cleaning is simple: Wipe excess paint off with a cloth and then wipe again with a clean cloth.

•    Intense color: The use of layers can create intense color in your painting.

•    Ease of changing colors: No need to clean a brush before switching colors.

23 Tips for the beginner

1.    Use a short blade for angular strokes.

2.    Long blades are ideal for putting down a sweep of color.

3.    A rounded blade will prevent you from scraping a hole in your canvas.

4.    Look for a palette knife with a flexible blade. It should have some spring to it. This will allow for a wide variety in the types of marks you’ll be able to make with it.

5.    Metal blades usually have more spring than plastic.

6.    Don’t forget about the quality of the handle. You want it to be comfortable in your hand.

7.    Invest in a quality knife. Make sure the blade doesn’t wobble around and the tool as a whole is sturdy.

8.    Gather paint on your palette knife as you would peanut butter on your butter knife. There’s no secret trick here.

9.    Don’t be afraid to use the knife upside down. Experiment until you get the desired technique down.

10.    Always have a strong grip (with finger placement that’s comfortable for you) on the palette knife.

11.    Use the side of the blade to spread paint across the canvas.

12.    Create small dots by using the tip of the blade.

13.    Produce fine lines by pressing the edge of the blade on the canvas.

14.    You can make ridges by pressing the back of the blade flat down.

15.    Reveal previous layers by scraping back the top layer or paint.

16.    You may want to add a medium to thicken acrylic paint.

17.    When paint dries on the palette knife, simply scrape it off with a damp towel or another knife.

18.    Choose a knife with a stainless steel blade to avoid rust.

19.    Mix colors by kneading them together with the knife.

20.    Get more coverage with a nice large blade.

21.    We often refer to them as palette knives but there is a slight difference between a palette knife and a painting knife. Painting knives have a bend between the handle and the blade which will prevent paint from getting on your knuckles. This is the type you should look for.

22.    Thicker consistency in paint means more dramatic results.

23.    Practice mark making with a palette knife on a test board first. It feels completely different from painting with a brush and could take some getting used to.

Final tip: Don’t get frustrated if your painting doesn’t come out the way you expected. You’re experimenting with a new technique and mistakes are bound to happen. Don’t take it too seriously the first time around. Loosen up and have some fun! We think you’re really going to enjoy painting with a palette knife and strongly encourage you to give it a try. Trying new things in the art world sparks creativity and new ideas. If you’re finding yourself in a rut, grab a palette knife and go to town on a fresh blank canvas.

Let us know how your first palette knife experience went by leaving a comment below or posting on our Facebook page!

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