My New Set of Palette Knives

Obviously my attempts at using palette knives in my landscape oil painting didn’t work too well. I had fun playing with palette knives when I made my “small study” of a Missouri river sunset, but when I attempted to use a similar technique on the larger “studio painting”, I quickly gave up. Palette knives are fun for some things, but overall, as a painting technique for me, they’re just not practical.

So, what am I going to do with a brand new set of palette knives?

Yes, I bought a lovely set of 16, all the while knowing that I’d probably never really be able to paint with them, at least not for landscapes. I probably will play around with them now and then, but the reason I bought them is because I’ve got an “itching” to do a few more abstract paintings, and this set of palette knives offers me so many different methods for putting paint on a canvas.

Remember this abstract I did last year?

It remains one of my favorite paintings, and it always attracts a bit of attention here in the studio. A lot of people have seen it and commented favorably on it. Even my husband — who has never cared a whit about abstract art — likes this particular painting, and, in fact, he’s starting to like a lot of the odd, experimental paintings I’ve done in the past year. He’s come to realize that there’s more to art than representational drawings and paintings.

The blue abstract shown above was done using oil paints, cold wax medium, and a variety of scraping tools — not palette knives, but a set of scrapers.

These scrapers are fun to use. They’re great with both oils and acrylics. And, I have a feeling that my new set of palette knives will be lots of fun to play with, too. That’s why I bought them.

Right now they’re sitting on my supply table while I finish up a few projects I have in the works. Although abstract art isn’t something I keep on my “Artist List”, it’s a form of expression that intrigues me. Now, as I’m playing with neurographic art, I like the idea of combining it with abstract expressionism. I can see myself making lots of curves and swirls with my scrapers and palette knives.

But what can you do with a palette knife — or 16 — besides scraping away paint? You can, of course, put paint on the canvas with a palette knife, at least if you develop the right technique for it. I’m still working on that, and I do get better each time I try.

Typically, artists use palette knives in a variety of ways:

  • To paint the highlights on rocks.
  • To paint snow on a mountain.
  • To build up texture in the foreground to imitate the grass, rocks and other nature.
  • To paint the leaves or bark on a tree.
  • To quickly cover the canvas with paint.
  • To paint lines for fences, tree branches or sharp edges.

And, of course, you can use a palette knife for what it was originally intended — to mix colors on your palette.

Palette knives offer opportunities to add texture to a painting. Palette knives can also be used to create bold lines. And definitely palette knives can be used to create interesting blends of two or more hues.

The disadvantage of a palette knife — quite obviously — is that the artist has little control over the outcome. A palette knife isn’t as versatile as a brush, and you can’t create accurate details.

I’m hoping that as I become looser and freer in my artistic expressions, I might find myself getting more comfortable with palette knives and the unpredictable effects that can be created with them. For now, I’ll be practicing knife techniques with abstract paintings, and gradually I’d like to move toward somewhat representational images — flowers, trees, skies — with strong impasto effects.

I’ll be playing with both oils and acrylics, and hopefully I’ll have a few abstract expressions that I can show off. It’s going to be fun to take my knives out one by one and see what different things I can do with them.

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