Oil (and acrylic) painting can be done in many styles. Most commonly, paintbrushes are used for painting, but sometimes artists prefer using painting knives for spreading paint on the surface. For artists looking for a new edge to their painting, using painting knives instead of brushes can give a kick to a tired or unsatisfying painting routine.
Painting knives are tools that artists use for painting in oils or acrylic. The knives are usually made from metal, such as stainless steel, and have a wooden handle. Knives made for painting have a bend or crank in the blade to keep the artist’s fingers from sweeping over the palette paints. The bend keeps the hand from dragging through and smearing the paint already applied.
The Handle of a Painting Knife
A smooth wooden handle can be a joy to hold. The handle should feel comfortable, with rounded edges. The knife needs to feel balanced when held. The handle and knife blade work together to enhance the variety of marks an artist needs for painting.
Tips to Care for Wooden Handles
- A wooden handle should be sanded smooth.
- Don’t wash a wooden handle in water.
- Smooth a little oil over the handle to keep the wood from drying out.
The metal blade or tang should be tight and secure at the place it exits the handle. It needs to be well attached so that there is no wobbling. And it should not be so loose that the blade rotates as pressure is applied to the painting surface.
Picking up Paint from the Oil Painting Palette
Hold the handle the same as if holding a butter knife. The fingers curl under for a secure grip or hold by the fingertips for a more flexible grip. The blade is tilted or rotated to create different kinds of marks.
A painting knife has a long flat blade. The blade can be said to have two surfaces, top and bottom. Most people are inclined to scoop up the paint on the top of the blade, by tilting the knife towards the body. But it is easier to use a knife in painting if the blade is tilted away and paint is picked up on the back of the blade. The paint is then easier to apply to a flat surface.
Follow these steps to pick up paint from the palette:
- Tilt the knife and cut into the edge of the blob of paint.
- Pull it sideways in a scraping movement so that the paint is evenly spread along the edge of the blade.
- Tilt the blade above the painting surface. The full length of the knife edge should be parallel to the canvas or board.
- Skim the blade along the surface.
Let the paint flow out in thick bands or sheets to cover wide areas. Spreading the paint is a bit like buttering a piece of bread. Tilting the knife and applying paint at various angles provides a variety of ways an artist can make marks.
Making Marks with the Painting Knife
There are many different marks an artist can make. Textures, impasto strokes, and shapes can all be done easily. Marks with a painting knife look very different than marks made with a brush. The artist is almost forced to stay loose and large. Thus painting with a knife can bring a freshness or difference to an artist’s typical style. It may seem awkward at first, but knife painting can be fun and expressive.