My Favorite Knife

Palette knives and painting knives are fundamental to my work.  I started using them 3 or 4 years ago and now use them almost exclusively in my studio work.  The variety of marks that can be made, the ease with which paint can be applied and removed, as well as the feel of application have all made the knife important to me.  This one is my all time favorite.  Many of my paintings are done with this knife alone.   Technically this is a palette knife, it’s purpose is to mix paint on the palette.  Is is sometimes referred to as a “scraper or a “large scraper” because of it’s ability to remove large areas of paint easily.  What I love about it is the shape.  There are actually 5 sides to it of varying length and depending on which side I build up paint on, I can get a huge range of marks.  Also, the flexibility of the large knife is perfect for both hard and soft applications.  I can gently layer wet paint without disturbing the layers underneath or I can scrape all the layers up with one hard stroke.  So, if you are knife shopping on a budget, this is the one I would recommend.

I should mention that all artists are different and like anything you do in life there is not only one way.  Some people hold pencils differently then others, some people play instruments differently then others.  This is the tool I have found feels most like an extension of my arm, wrist, and hand.  It is the tool I can most confidently maneuver to my whim. Do what feels right.

Acrylic Knife Painting

Lately I have been doing my landscapes in acrylic, still using the knife.  The transition to acrylic began with a request from some of my students.  I also like the slightly more posterized look of acrylics for some of my concepts.  Knife painting in acrylic has to be done very differently than knife painting in oil.  In oil I can play with the surface for as long as I like.  I can put down paint, move it around, mix other things into it, pick it up again, put it back down, etc. until I am satisfied.  Acrylics however dry much too quickly for this, forcing me to make a decision and stick with it or pile on top of it.  also, as the acrylic dries it’s consistency changes under the knife which creates some textures that are different from oil.

I like to change it up a bit- trying to do something different with the media forces me to keep questioning what I do and why.  Its part of being an artist to seek out new ways of challenging one’s craft.  It’s a life long process.

New Techniques

Over the past few months I have been refining my technique slightly.  I have continued to use a palette knife or painting knife as my primary tool.  However, I have begun to modify the painting with a brush once the paint is in place.  This allows my to create a larger diversity of mark making with finer details of the focal point or area of interest. The paintings, as a result, have become much more controlled.  This does not feel static or stale to me, but rather a more mature version of my earlier work.  I am also returning to color a as a primary subject matter (in some of my work I feel this intention had gone a bit off course).  With the festival season starting for me next week, I am excited by the prospect of clearing some space in my studio to make room for new development.  I have just finished gessoing a series of panels and canvases that I cannot wait to paint on!


Image: Approaching Storm (detail), oil on panel, 2012