Friday, May 17, 2019

Unusual Uses of the Palette Knife

(Video link to YouTube)
Most people associate "palette knife painting" with the look of thick impasto and broad handling.

But it's a tool that can also deliver fine lines, smooth gradations, and delicate textures. 

What is a palette knife? It's a metal blade attached to the end of a wooden handle. In older-style palette knives, the blade is made of a long flexible steel strip lined up with the handle. But the majority nowadays are offset to keep your knuckles out of the paint.

I prefer to use triangular designs, both for mixing paint on the palette (where it's known as a "palette knife") and for applying it to the canvas (where it becomes a "painting knife").

Because it doesn't hold onto paint the way a brush does, it has unique value as a tool for applying paint. It can be completely cleaned off quickly with a rag, letting you change colors quickly. 

The palette knife works especially well for blending colors. With a little practice, you can get a smoother gradation than you can get with a brush.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) used a painting knife to achieve his enamel-like surfaces. He would rough in a passage with a brush and then smooth the paint with the painting knife.

Camille-Felix Bellanger (1853-1923) described Bouguereau's paint application:
"His lay-ins were broad and thickly-painted ... He never left them in this state: as soon as the piece — which to anyone else would have seemed completed — started to solidify, he took up his palette knife and, with incredible skill, would go over the whole, in all directions, evening out, stripping, until the surface had acquired the desired finish and transparency."
There are a lot of palette knives to choose from, but the ones I like best are the ones with the triangular shape, with fairly straight sides.

Source for the quote: Bouguereau at Work by Mark Walker

More info in the new tutorial: Unconventional Oil Techniques: Fast-Drying Methods for Realistic Painting
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Susan Sorger said...

I had read this same statement about Bouguereau before but I had taken it to mean that he was "scraping down" with side of the knife rather than patting down or spreading out the paint. Like in this video:

Unknown said...

Hi James, thanks a lot for the video and tips. can you please suggest what is the best painting knife? the one with the right amount of flexibility to apply paint rather than mixing paint.

Gavin said...

Great information and video James, anyone serious about oil painting cannot ignore palette knives.
I came across Olga Wisinger-Florian recently, and when you see many of her paintings close up, a good number of them must have been painted (possibly exclusively) with a palette knife.

Penny Taylor said...

I lived this & I dontd even do oil. However, it made me realize the incredible versitality of these knives. I can see using them with upper, thicker layer of gouache, or scraping thin or varying lines in watercolor. And now that I know about mediums for decreasing drying times of oil, I may branch out (after I've worked longer to improve my watercolor & gouache.) I also love seeing the way you work on these paintings, beginning to end. The complete DVD it s enticing me.��

Penny Taylor said...

That should have read "loved"...

David Teter said...

I never knew that about Bouguereau and never would have thought it. Thanks James for the post. Palette/Painting knife on an industrial scale would be contemporary Lynn Boggess from West Virginia. He uses cement trowels, goes out to plein air paint in all weather, all seasons and has a set-up for painting that reminds me of any one of your home-made apparatus' James.
See the video of his set-up on EVOKE Contemorary Gallery website. It is pretty fascinating.

sunnysmith703 said...

Thank you for this information! Mixed media assemblage is really my thing, but I.m looking to use other methods in my work!