Painting with Knives
Whenever I get feeling a little too precious or careful about my work, I have found it a real joy to leave the brushes at home and paint only with knives. The benefits of this approach open up with the first stroke of paint. Suddenly all the familiar old tricks of how to paint fall away and I am left to try and make new kinds of marks which are more like plastering and troweling than drawing and painting. This is immense fun and can lead to some wonderful new expressive possibilities!
A. This is my pochade set-up showing an assortment of knives and my composition roughly indicated.
B. Blocking-in goes very fast and uses lots of paint. Be sure to bring extra along. Without brushes there is no possibility of laying in a thin underpainting first. My method is to scrape or plaster my local mass tones in first, and then lay half-tones and color changes on top wet over wet, using different knife shapes to create texture and form.
C. Here you can see how easy it is to make changes as I work – literally shoving the paint around, or scraping back and reapplying as needed. Changes at this stage are so easy and fast that they really encourage experimentation. Remember how much fun it was to paint in elementary school, before all the rules and craft took hold? What little craft I am using here is incidental to the sheer pleasure of "pushing paint around".
D. I am beginning to suggest some details at this stage and putting in the other forms. Notice that I am also being very free about using color as I see fit, mixing colors together directly on the canvas with my knives.
E. Changing light forced me to pick up the pace here. No worries, as I can really lay the paint on. It is also fun and effective to cut back through the paint with the tip of a knife where needed to create finer details, like grasses or tree branches.
F. Close-up of knife work using the thin blade to create smaller marks and strokes. Notice the multiple colors on the blade, which I allow to drip and drag off as I work. Happy accidents are therefore encouraged.
G. Detail showing the juicy surface textures and calligraphic marks.
Here are two finished works using the palette knife:
|Spring Coming by John Hulsey, oil painting, 9 x 12.|
|Winter Thaw by John Hulsey, oil painting, 9 x 12.|
Join us on The Artist's Road for many step-by-step demonstrations in oil, pastel and watercolor along with other inspiring articles.
–John and Ann