Expand Your Palette by Learning to Paint With a Knife


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How do you paint with a palette knife?

Painting with a knife produces a different result than painting with a brush. Paint knives are great for producing a variety of effects, from textured impasto work to spot color balayage areas and from watercolors to acrylics. Paint knives and palette knives are similar and many people use the terms interchangeably, but they are not the same.

Choose a knife

Strictly speaking, a putty knife is a long, straight blade or putty knife used for mixing paints and scraping palettes. It is not for applying paint to a canvas. Popsicle knives can be metal, plastic, or wood and will either be completely straight or have a slightly angled (bent) handle. The blade is very flexible, although plastic is less flexible than metal.

Painting knives typically have semi-flexible metal blades and wooden handles, although plastic blades are also available. You can recognize a paint knife by the large crank or the curvature of the handle. This design helps keep your knuckles out of the wet paint you just applied. The leaves can be pear-shaped, diamond-shaped, or flat.

Although they are called knives, these tools are not designed to cut like kitchen or craft knives. Paint or palette knives have dull edges, like butter knives, unless you choose one with a sharp blade.

Shapes of knives for painting

Unlike palette knives, painting knives come in a variety of blade sizes and shapes. Some have relatively sharp tips, while others are dull. Paint knives of different shapes obviously produce different effects:

  • A short blade produces angular blows.
  • A long blade makes it easy to apply color scans.
  • A rounded blade is great for rubbing pigment spots and building layers.
  • A sharp blade allows you to scratch paint for sgraffito effects.
  • If you're not sure whether you would like to paint with a knife, buy a plastic one first and experiment.

What to look for in a knife

Look for a paint knife with a flexible blade and a good spring or bounce. Painting knives with narrower blades will bend more than knives with wider blades. The handle should be soft and comfortable to hold. You don't want splinters from a wooden handle or have a knife that looks unbalanced. The blade of the knife should be firmly attached to the handle, you don't want it to turn halfway.

How to put paint on a palette knife

If you can put butter or jam on a knife, you already know what to do when painting with a knife. For a wide swath of color, sweep the paint off your palette with the long edge of the knife. To get a fine tip of paint, dip the tip in place. A palette knife can be used with any paint, including watercolor, but it is especially effective with relatively stiff paint, such as acrylic.

How to hold a painting knife

Hold the handle firmly. Putting your thumb on top is a good way to start. Use your wrist to change the angle of the knife about your painting. Pick up the paint from your palette with the tip or side of the knife. Now experiment! Here are some techniques to try:

  • Use the long side of the sheet to spread paint over your canvas like you would butter a slice of bread.
  • Create a textured effect by pressing the knife with paint onto the surface.
  • Use only the tip of the blade to produce small dots.
  • Press down on the edge of the knife to produce fine lines.
  • Press flat blade into the paint to produce ridges.
  • Scratch the paint again to reveal the underlying layers, a technique called 'sgraffito', from the Italian word for 'scratch'.

How to clean a paint knife

Painting knives are much easier to clean than brushes. Just wipe off excess paint with a rag and then wipe the knife again with a clean rag. If the paint has dried on the knife, you can scrape it off with a damp cloth and another knife or razor. Make sure to clean your knife between colors as you work. Otherwise, you will find traces of unwanted stains throughout your painting.

Enjoy The Video Tutorial about 6 Main Palette Knife Techniques. How to paint with the palette knife!

Source: Tatiana Zubova - artist

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