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Under the Knife - Excerpt

 

Under the Knife 
 Using Palette Knives to Create Impressionistic Paintings in Oil

 

photo of palette knives
A small collection of my painting knives

 

     We are always trying different painting tools in an effort to discover new ways of image making. Different tools can help us get out of our comfort zones, where we are divorced from familiar, reliable techniques and perhaps even a little uneasy with the process. This is good! Good art can come from being "in the zone", or highly focused on what we are doing, but it can also come from a place where the outcome is highly uncertain and we no longer have the accustomed control of our materials. This is the area where the mind can play more freely with ideas, because our expectations of so-called success are different than when we work with our usual reliable techniques. The only way to learn about a new tool is to experiment, play, have fun and see what is possible. If you have never tried painting with knives before and you'd like to shake up your painting style a bit, we hope this article will encourage you to do so.

 

photo of mixed oil paint on palette
My inital color string

   Before I begin painting, I prefer to develop the main mass-tones on my palette by mixing color strings. This is my initial string which covers the first lay-down of cool yellows and greens. Here I have started the string with Cadmium Yellow Medium into Cobalt Blue, then Cadmium Lemon in the center into Cobalt Blue and then Ultramarine for the deepest blue-greens. This string is about 24 inches across.

I will use this palette mix for the entire painting, adding or side-mixing additional warmer or cooler passages from this master string as needed. For example, when I need a very warm orangeish color, I'll draw paint from my master string off to the side and add Cadmium Orange or maybe a bit of Cadmium Red to create what is needed. In this way, my palette remains harmonized to the original color string and that harmony unites the painting.

drawing on masonite panel

   This is my 11.5 x 27.5 masonite panel which I have sealed and triple-primed with gesso. My drawing is fairly precise, having worked out the composition in sketches. I use charcoal or pencil and seal that with a light spray of fixative. My initial paint strokes go down in the center so that I can work out gradually to the ends.
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Max the Easel Butler is an ultra-light tool that fits most easels, and creates a great platform for your palette. Replaces bulky, rigid shelves and attachments. Mounts in seconds. It can even mount on the side two legs rather than the front to allow more room to be closer to your painting. We like it so much we keep one in every painting kit!  Also in our Store: Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels. We only offer things for sale in our Store that we enthusiastically believe in.

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About Us
Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 35 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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We are also regular contributors to the Plein Air blog at Artist Daily.

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