A painting made with painting knives looks very different than one made with paintbrushes. Painting knives are great for putting on thick layers of paint quickly. They are excellent for impasto work. And by using the painting knife skillfully, an artist can create a wide range of marks and textures.

Painting knives work best with oil paints. Watercolor paints and acrylics can also be applied with knives, but oil paints have a thick, buttery consistency that can be spread so nicely with a knife. Acrylics can be thickened with texture paste or gel to make the knife painting more effective.

How to Gather Paint on a Painting Knife

The easiest way to pick up and spread paint is by lifting paint on the underside, not the top side of the blade. How much paint is applied and the shape made by the spread of paint depends on how much paint is lifted onto the blade. A thin, knife’s edge bead of paint can make a thin line. A large blob of paint can be spread widely, like buttering toast.

How to Hold the Painting Knife

Hold the handle of the painting knife. After picking up paint, the blade is then placed onto the canvas at about a 90-degree angle. Tilt the blade with the paint down, and spread out smoothly from under the flattened blade. This method can easily create a nice sharp edge that can be drawn out and feathered (thinned).

Painting knives can easily create

  • Thin lines
  • Texture
  • Broad shapes
  • Small dabs.

Thin lines are made by lifting paint on the back edge of the knife and then dragging the edge along or by tapping the edge down sharply.

Dragging the loaded blade lightly along the canvas can make dips or gaps in the paint as it is spread. This can create a nice texture to a stroke.

If paint is picked up with gaps along the blade, these gaps will appear in the applied paint. Alternatively paint can be flicked or touched down quickly to make small dabs of color.

Paint can be lifted in a big glob and dropped onto the canvas. The painting knife can then be used to push or smear the paint around to create specific shapes. Paint can even be squeezed straight onto the canvas and then moved around with the knife.

When to Use a Painting Knife

Some artists prefer the ease of painting with a knife to using a brush. But creating an entire oil painting by using a painting knife is not for everyone. However, the painting knife can be used within a brush painting as a way of creating texture or making specific marks. A painting knife can make a unique addition to traditional painting technique.

Artists are frequently drawn to try new painting techniques, methods, or materials. It’s part of what keeps painting fresh and unique. Using painting knives can give a fresh approach to an old style or open a window to a whole new mode of expression through paints.