How To: Palette Knife Painting for Beginners

Whether you’ve always been creative or art is a newfound hobby, painting can really be relaxing and enjoyable. And while many artists, new and experienced, use brushes as the main instrument to apply paint to canvas, palette knife painting can be just as fun. Where they are mainly used to mix paint, artists can get some pretty stunning effects by using a simple palette knife for painting and create beautiful works of art.

What Is Knife Painting?

Palette knife painting is when an artist uses a palette knife, an artist’s tool with a flexible steel blade primarily used for mixing paint on a palette, to apply paint to the canvas. While the blades can be of various shapes, lengths, and sizes, most palette knife painting tools resemble long trowels with a pointed, lowered blade in a rectangular or diamond shape.

While some artists use palette knives to add texture in limited ways – say as snow on a mountain – textured palette knife painting as the paint application of paint for an entire piece is becoming very popular. Some of the more famous or well-known palette knife painters are Howard Behrens, an American and the world’s most renowned palette knife artist, and Leonid Afremov, a Russian-Israeli artist.

READ MORE: 8 Realistic Painting Business Ideas for True Artists

Artists who use palette knife painting as the main form of application certainly recognize the benefits. Palette knives are cheap and easy to clean. But they also allow for the wet-on-wet technique (paint doesn’t blend as it does with a brush), can use the edge of the palette knife to create sharp lines, and the texture it gives is unmatched with brushes.

Tools & Materials

Getting started with palette knife painting for beginners is as easy as buying some artist’s paint (acrylic works best to start) and a canvas to apply the paint. It’s also important to have a place to mix paint (a palette – make-shift or store purchased), a rag to wipe the paint off, maybe some water and of course the palette knives themselves.

READ MORE: Canvas Painting For Beginners: 8 Easy Ideas

While you can certainly buy a full set of palette knives, you can just as easily get away with just buying a few different sizes for your palette knife painting. When purchasing, make sure the palette knife has a flexible but sturdy blade, a comfortable handle, and a long, straight edge. Avoid buying the plastic palette knife sets as they aren’t robust enough for applying paint to canvas, and should only be used for mixing paint.

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Step by Step Palette Knife Painting

When you have all the materials and are ready to go, starting a palette knife painting is as easy as mixing paint and putting it on canvas. But to make it even easier, we’ve put together these palette knife painting tips and step-by-step guide to help any artists get the most out of their experience.

1. Start with a small canvas.

Starting with a large canvas can be overwhelming for even the more experienced artists. When just beginning palette knife painting start with small canvases to really get a feel for the process.

2. Make a plan.

Whether you’re making a landscape palette knife painting or a still life, or even an abstract, making a plan BEFORE you get started is always the best way to start. Taking a pencil and lightly sketching the idea or image beforehand will give an idea just where everything should go.

3. Mix your paint prior to applying it to the canvas.

While yes, you are using a palette knife to paint with, and yes, can use it to actually mix your paints, it’s best to use separate palette knives for mixing so that the color you want isn’t tainted when you apply it to the canvas.

4. Apply as if you would butter on a piece of bread.

It really is that simple. Scraping up a bit of paint on the palette knife, and applying it like butter on bread is really the proper way to apply paint to canvas using a palette knife.

5. Consider texture.

There are also other unique ways to use a palette knife. Consider pressing the blade into the thickly-painted surface, using the thin edge of the knife down to create fine lines, pressing just the tip of the blade to produce small dots, and even scratching into the paint using a pointed blade to reveal the layers underneath.

6. Clean your blade.

To keep paint from mixing and getting color where it’s not wanted, make sure the blade is wiped clean with a cloth.

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7. Plan for plenty of dry time.

Creating palette knife paintings can often mean that artwork will take months to dry completely. So it’s important to store your finished canvases carefully so that nothing can disturb the paint. And once dry, apply a layer of protective glaze for added protection.

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Whether you’re new to painting or not, palette knife painting is a great way to jump into the arts without a big investment in brushes, and a big learning curve. So get some paint, a few knives, and a canvas and get to work creating a beautiful masterpiece!

Check out Daily Mom’s article on DIY Sidewalk Chalk Paint.


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Lauren Austin
Lauren Austin
She's a full-time Financial Coach, professional designer, and part-time home DIYer. As a business owner of Financial Fundaments, and an awesome mom to 3 young kids, she has a full plate but loves every minute of it. Lauren became a Daily Mom to satisfy her need for writing while helping other moms take control of their financial health.

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