Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ten Reasons to Ditch the Brush and Switch to Palette Knives

Ever thought of trying the palette knife but didn't know where to start?  


One of my fans emailed me with some questions about palette knives.  He wrote:

I am fairly new to painting and am experimenting at this point.  I have a limited budget and wish to explore the use of the palette knife.  Are there a couple of specific types or dimensions/styles of knifes (sic) you recommend that I begin with?

Perhaps, if you have not yet in prior blogs, consider expanding this kind of explanation in one blog post?  That is, why you prefer a knife over a brush when a certain type of opportunity is presented.  What at the advantages you have found over the years? 


Good questions!  Thanks for asking.  I bet other people have the same questions. 

I started out painting with brushes like a normal painter and used them for many years.  It wasn't until I started backpacking out into the forest to paint on location "en plein air" that I started using the palette knife.  Not quite sure what prompted the first time use except, perhaps, a sense of exploration and experimentation.  

Lighten the load while embracing impasto! 

I also wanted to ditch the painting medium in order to lighten the load in my backpack.  About the same time, I wanted to create a heavy, impasto surface that better conveyed the raw, wild energy of the forest.   When I had to use medium to mix the colors of the paint, it thinned it down too much to create the impasto effect I wanted.  So I had two reasons to dump the medium and turps:  lighten the weight in my backpack and get the heavy impasto effect in my paintings.. 

I ended up switching to a different brand of paint with the perfect viscosity to mix with the knives and without the medium.  That was all about 15 years ago so I don't remember which came first, the chicken or the egg, but it all coalesced about the same time.  

I love the palette knife so much, I use it 99% of the time.  Sometimes I pick up brushes again but end up back with the knives in short order.  Now, the brushes feel like I am painting with a mop!  Ha! I included a #8 Flat brush in the photo because I do still use a brush to sketch out the initial drawing for the painting.  I use a smaller brush on smaller paintings. 

And, so, here are ten reasons to ditch the brushes and pick up the palette knife.


1.  One or two knives can replace a handful of brushes plus medium and turps and lighten the load when painting on location. 
2.  The knives are super easy to clean unlike brushes.  All you have to do is wipe the blade with a paper towel.  If paint dries on the knife, clean it with steel wool.
3.  Mixing colors with the knives is a breeze.  Mixing up small or large batches of color at a time is easy as pie.  The artist is able to mix real clean colors and avoid turning them to mud.  Keeping your colors fresh, crisp, and clean is easy because of Reason #2.  Just wipe the blade before picking up a new color or value.
 4.  Ability to create a heavy impasto texture with the knife.
 5.  Ability to create a wide variety of marks with the knife from scratches to organic swathes to quick dashes.
6.  With a wide assortment of sizes and shapes to choose from The possibilities are endless.
 7.  Switch easily from a dark value to a light value, or vice versa.  With one wipe of the paper towel, pick up a fresh color, value, or tint and you are off and running again.  No worries that your dark value will go light or, worse, turn into mud.  No messy turps or handful of brushes for each color and value to deal with.
 8.  Great for use on a hard panel.  This is where the rubber meets the road and I find the steel palette knife works great on panels!  Like frosting a cake. 
 9.  Palette knives last darn near forever.  Just don't use them to pry open a paint can or screw in a bolt.  You can bend or warp the blade.  Yes, head hanging down, I screwed up one of my blades using it for something it wasn't intended.
10.  Loosen up your paintings with palette knives!  Palette knives force the painter to distill out unimportant details and focus on the big picture.  The result is often a painting that is more "alive" and that captures the essence of the subject in an exhilarating way.

 Everything but the kitchen sink!


Yep, I bought every single palette knife in the universe that I could find.  Big, small, skinny, fat, square, round, diamond, oval, triangular, pointy tip, rounded tip. You name it, I bought it. 

I bought every brand I could find on the planet, too:  Creative Mark, Grumbacher, Liquitex, Frederix, Tara.  Tara doesn't make anything except canvases anymore and Creative Mark has by far the largest selection of palette knives to experiment with.  I ended up buying thirty different knives to find my favorites.

 But you don't need to do that!  Unless you want to, of course. 

In the end, my very favorite is.....drum roll...the T3 by Creative Mark. This knife is numero uno in my book.  I have five or six of these and even though they are the same size and shape, each one "feels" different.  The "spring" of the blade, how the paint feels when being applied to the support, and how comfortable the handle feels in my hand make even one or two knives of the same style my ultimate favorite.  The smaller knife (above) is a good one for smaller marks and details but the number has long since been buried in paint so I can't tell you what it is.  There are plenty to choose from so just pick what you like.

Course, every artist has to try the knives for themselves and see what they like best.  What works for your style and taste?  How comfortable does the knife feel in your hand?  And how does it feel when applying the paint?  Does it have the right "spring" for you?   

Gotta start somewhere! 

I don't think you can go wrong if you start with the T3 by Creative Mark.  I have done very intimate, delicate work with it as well as large marks and large paintings.  The T3 is my "go-to" knife.  You can easily find this palette knife and others at your local arts supply store or at online suppliers.    

Thanks so much for your questions.  Please ask away and I will see what I can do to answer in a future blog.  I love hearing from you so either leave a comment/question on this blog, send me an email, or give me a call.  Yeah, I mean the old fashioned telephone and, yeah, I still have an old fashioned landline

Thanks for following along.

Happy Trails!



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