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.


One thing I don’t think I have ever talked much about is my technique.  So here are some thoughts of process…. Most of my paintings are on panel, though occasionally I use canvas.  Panel, with it’s rigidity, works a little better with the weight of the paint and pressure used while applying it.  I start with a panel primed with acrylic, usually I use a warm orange or red.  With a white pencil I gently sketch out the composition.  In my mind I map out the color relationships based on what I see.  Whether painting en plein air or in the studio, I look for interesting color patterns and plan if there are any I will exaggerate for dramatic effect.

To begin painting, I start with the sky.  I mix the color using a palette knife.  This color is most critical as it sets the tone of the rest of the painting.  I often spend a long time mixing this color until I am satisfied.  Because my work is small, I often pick it up off the easel.  I spread the paint on with a knife, using the knife’s edge to define the horizon.  It is like spreading peanut butter on bread.

I move on to middle ground and foreground, in that order, mixing each color as I go.  I save complicated shrubbery or trees for last.  All is done with a knife.  For detailed pattern I mix the paint directly on the panel.  The paint is often thick and applied with an impasto style.  While holding the painting in my hand I can rotate it freely to get different directions of stroke.  I have to accomplish most of the painting in one go, as it will start to dry within a day.  The textured surface makes it difficult to work on once the drying process starts.  It takes several weeks for the painting to be completely dry.



Image: Chromascape 67, detail