How to Paint with a Palette Knife: A Detailed Tutorial and Useful Tips

Have you ever tried to paint with a palette knife? If your answer is no, then this article will show you how easy it can be! Painting with a palette knife is a great way for artists of all skill levels to experiment with different techniques and textures. Many artists enjoy the freedom of using this easy-to-control tool that is just as versatile as brushes.

Whether you are painting in acrylics or oils, there are many techniques and tips for how to paint with a palette knife well. In this blog post, we’ll go over the basics as well as some more advanced tips so that you can start painting now.

What Is Palette Knife Painting?

Palette knife painting is a technique that uses the palette knife instead of traditional brushes. This tool can be used to create many different effects depending on how you hold it, paint with it, and move the canvas underneath it.

Many artists use palette knives to create textured effects with paint. This can be done in a number of ways such as using the tip or side of the knife and how much you add water when painting.

The History of Palette Knife Painting

Palette knife painting has been around for more than a hundred years. Some of the first artworks to be created with this technique were made in France during the late 19th century by Andre Seigneur and George Rouault.

Painting with palette knives can also be seen in some notable 20th-century paintings such as those done by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali among others. Today there are many artists who continue using this medium to create different effects on their canvases as well as other surfaces like wood panels and paper.

The Pros and Cons of the Palette Knife

Palette knives offer many benefits as a medium for painting.

For instance, the tool is quite versatile and offers different textures depending on how you hold it or apply paint to your canvas surface with it. It’s also easy for beginners because of its versatility compared to brushes which require more skill in order to control their movements while creating artwork.

On the other hand, some artists feel that they lack precision when using palette knives even though there are ways around this such as by practicing various techniques involving holding and applying pressure onto the knife itself.

Many people who try this method end up enjoying it after getting used to the tool since learning how to use traditional brushes can take years of practice!

What Kind of Paint Do You Use?

You can use just about any kind of paint for painting with a palette knife.

  • Watercolors may be less messy but require more drying time between layers due to the thinness of each layer applied. They work well for easy washes and delicate details such as flowers or animals.
  • Oil paints offer thick layers which mimic marble textures with patience and time spent on layering them one over another until desired opacity is achieved.
  • Acrylic paint dries quickly which makes it perfect if you are working under time constraints and don’t have too much patience when waiting for layers to dry before adding another one over top!

What kind of effects you want in your final piece determines how watery or creamy each layer needs to be so keep this in mind while applying them one over another until desired opacity is achieved. It’s best to do thin layers which dry quickly than applying thick ones and having them take forever to dry!

Once you’ve finished painting, it’s a good idea to wait for at least an hour before starting another layer on top of the one that is drying so your paint doesn’t get too smudged or messed up.

What Kind of Surface Do You Need?

The surface you use for palette knife painting will determine how thick or thin the paint application is going to be. Some people like using a wooden panel instead of canvas because it’s easier to clean off once finished with your artwork since acrylic paints dry quickly and can stain porous surfaces such as paper if not immediately cleaned up after painting.

Choosing the Palette Knife

The most common palette knife is the straight edge type with an elongated triangle-shaped blade which you can purchase at any art supply store for relatively cheap!

Other types include filbert, offset, and angled knives as well as plastic ones if you would like a disposable option since they wear down very quickly when used on canvas surfaces. You also want to make sure that your handle is comfortable so that it does not slip out from underneath your grip while painting because this could potentially ruin hours’ worth of work in just seconds!

Make sure that there are no rough edges or sharp blades either since these could damage your paint layer as well as cause accidents during use – safety first people!

There are also different sizes depending on how big or small your canvas is. You will most likely need many types if you plan on doing very fine details with smaller knives.

How to Paint with Palette Knife

Choose the Supplies You’ll Need

With painting with a palette knife, there aren’t any specific supplies that you need. Some artists prefer to use watercolors, oil paints, acrylics, or other types of paint when using this medium but it’s up to your preference and what feels most comfortable for you!

We realize that many readers will want to know what supplies they need before trying this method out, so we’ve listed them all here:

  • Paint Palette – Any flat surface will work but most people prefer plastic palettes because acrylics dry quickly on porous surfaces like wood and paper ones tear easily.
  • Canvas – Any type of canvas is fine but it’s best if it has some tooth so that your knife does not slip around too much when applying pressure.
  • Painting Medium – This will depend on what kind of effects you want to achieve.

Watercolors are a good option if you only need to add some washes here and there for more detailed areas because they can be mixed together easily.

Oil paints work well when trying to mix colors without having too much water involved by adding lots of thin layers over top of one another until opacity is achieved!

Acrylics may not have that same effect but do offer transparency if used correctly which makes fine details easy enough to achieve through painting with this method alone.

You could always use different types of medium depending on what kind of effects you want from each layer, just keep in mind that oils will take longer to dry than acrylics!

Prepare Your Canvas

  • Lay out your canvas on a flat surface where you can easily clean the paint off if it spills over while painting.
  • Apply tape around the edges to avoid any mistakes with getting too much paint outside of what you want to be painted.
  • Taping up most but not all of the edge makes it easier to keep track of how far inwards towards the center each layer is being applied so that no one spot ends up having way thicker or thinner layers than others. This also helps speed up time when painting because fewer excess amounts need to be cleaned later on!

Prepare Your Paint

In order to prepare your paint, it’s best if you squeeze out enough onto your palette (usually about an index card-sized portion) then use any type of mixing tool (such as toothpick or popsicle stick) to break up all of the clumps. Make sure there are no lumps of paint because they will not spread as easily across your canvas board if left undisturbed.

Mix your paints in a palette according to your desired colors and select which knives you will use for this project. Choose between different types of blades depending on how big or small each space is that needs coverage over it.

A filbert shape would be perfect for painting bushes while a straight edge one can be used to make lines across more open spaces!

Practice with Swatches

We recommend that beginners start out by practicing on plain white paper before moving onto more expensive surfaces which may be difficult to correct mistakes on, especially when first starting out learning how to paint with a palette knife with acrylics.

Techniques with Painting Knives

Palette knife painting is all about experimentation so it’s important to try out different techniques until you find what works best for you!

For example, some artists use more water than others depending on how thick or thin their paints are, while others may even mix mediums into them such as oil or acrylic mediums which can affect how quickly they dry along with other factors.

Background Techniques

Many artists choose to create their own background textures by applying paint in sweeping motions with knives along the surface. Imagine trying to mimic how actual paintbrushes look when applied to your canvas! The only difference is that you are using a knife instead of bristles so this creates lines and marks that can be even more interesting than what would have been painted on otherwise.

One specific technique stands out among the rest which involves creating an ombre effect across canvases while gradually fading colors from the lightest tone at the top downwards towards darker shades near the bottom edge.

This technique is quite simple and only requires a few quick steps in order to create such beautiful pieces of art:

  • First, choose your colors then mix them together on a palette according to how light or dark you would like them.
  • After that, use knives to apply paint along one edge starting from the top downwards towards the bottom applying more intense color at the very beginning, and gradually getting lighter as you go further down the surface. Remember not to press too hard because it’s better if paint flows smoothly across the entire canvas instead of leaving behind ridged marks which can ruin an otherwise amazing piece!
  • Do whatever feels natural while keeping in mind where white space will be most prominent so less attention goes there for the risk of ruining painting by accident! Don’t forget to leave enough time for drying.

Foreground Painting Techniques

In contrast to background painting techniques, foreground textures can be built up gradually using this same technique but in a different way.

In order for these blended colors to look natural and realistic, it’s important that they are applied unevenly with some areas appearing more intense than the rest while also leaving some white space behind.

One way artists choose to enhance foreground textures involves adding small dots around darker shades to give the illusion of lighter tones located just behind them!

This technique requires a steady hand and an understanding of how much paint should be applied to avoid accidentally making dots too big. However, this is one amazing way to create depth within your artwork that can’t be done with any other painting medium so it’s definitely worth trying at least once if you haven’t already!


Now that you know how to use a palette knife, the only thing left is adding those final touches which will make all the difference in your artwork!

The key here involves minimizing background effects as much as possible so they don’t compete for attention with those located further away from them.

One of the most popular details that many artists enjoy adding is a bit more contrast near larger shapes to make smaller parts stand out even more!


There are multiple ways in which lines can be created with a palette knife depending on the desired effect.

One way is to create very thin strands that stand out against darker shades while also forming unique details within an image! This works especially well when using complementary colors together because it creates even greater contrast between both making them much more noticeable for viewers at first glance.

Another interesting technique involves creating straighter line styles by applying paint onto a wet surface and dragging your blade across it afterward so everything remains smooth without any bumps or ridges throughout.


Another popular detail that many artists enjoy adding is a bit more contrast near larger shapes to make smaller parts stand out even more!

This can be done by creating darker shades in some areas while making others appear lighter so there’s a clear distinction between both without being too overwhelming at first glance.


One final technique involves using a color that contrasts with your foreground to blend everything together.

This method can be done across broad areas or in concentrated patches depending on how you want things to look when finished.

Smudging an area works best by smearing paint back and forth until blended properly but don’t be afraid to experiment when possible because that is the only way you’ll know what works best for each style!

It’s also important that these types of effects are smooth without any noticeable ridges which would take away from their overall charm so use smaller tools whenever possible during application (especially around details).

Thanks for Reading!

Overall, palette knives are a great tool to have in your arsenal and will help you create more detailed works of art than ever before!

Painting with a palette knife can be used for any type of art that you do with brushes such as oil paintings, watercolors, etc. Many people are also using this method to create murals and wall decorations in their homes since it’s easy to apply thick layers onto surfaces which is perfect for large designs!

It can even emulate the look of marble if done correctly so don’t worry about being limited by what you think you know about how these tools work together!

We hope that our tutorial has helped answer some questions regarding how to do paint oils with palette knife instead of regular artist supplies like brushes. We know that it can be a bit intimidating at first but once you get used to the feeling, there’s no stopping what kind of interesting artworks and designs you will create!

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