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Palette knife painting for beginners

A palette knife, otherwise known as a painting knife, is a fabulous painting tool used by artists to create beautiful textures that wouldn’t be achievable with simply a paintbrush. You can add broken color effects, sharp lines, and other unusual shapes as well. With the sharp edge of the knife, you can create clean patches of color on a canvas, and with the aid of a paintbrush, you can create stunning artworks.

It really is important that you develop the skill of using a palette knife, as it comes in very handy when painting. You can not only experiment with bold strokes, but delicate strokes as well. In this article, we will go through some top techniques to use with a palette knife, and we will give you some tips as well when painting with one. 

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Most painting knives come with a wooden handle that you hold, and a metal edge that you paint with. When using it, for some techniques, you usually hold the knife at around a 45° angle to the canvas, or whatever you are using to paint on. Depending on what effect you want to produce, you use different palette knife strokes.

Creating lines

Simply by applying a layer of paint on the edge of the knife, and dragging the knife edge across the canvas, you can create ruler-straight, delicate lines that are perfect for things like buildings, furniture or fence posts. By applying slightly more pressure and changing the angle of the knife, you can also create slight zigzags and curves as well, which work well for things like ocean waves or lightning. This is a very basic technique, but can be used to great effect when mastered and practiced.

Broken colors

The second effect is creating broken colors, or broken lines, which can look very aesthetic and will enhance your painting. To achieve this effect, load your palette knife with paint, and at a 45° angle, gently skim it along the painting surface. This creates a cracked looking effect, with small openings to show the previous layer of paint underneath. This effect can be used for rough textures, such as rocks. It can also be used to create a snow effect on mountains as well.

A good tip to keep in mind with this is to make sure you have a layer of paint already placed and dried before using this technique. The broken colors effect should be mainly used for either highlights or shadows to enhance the effect, so adding a lighter or darker color on top of existing layers of paint is the way to go. 


This is a very versatile technique, and doesn’t require any paint on the palette knife. If an area of your painting looks too busy, or has too much paint on it, you can simply take the dry palette knife and scrape away some of the paint. Not only does it effectively remove paint, but creates a nice textured look as well. Of course, if you don’t want the textured look, simply paint over the scraped area with a paintbrush.

Adding color onto wet paint

A lot of the time with mediums such as oil paints that take a while to dry, it is very hard to add clean, bold highlights or shadows without the paint mixing in with the wet paint. This is usually the problem when painting with a paintbrush, as you use continuous brush strokes, which blends the color in. To fix this problem, you use a palette knife loaded with a dollop of paint. You then carefully add a blob of paint where needed, and that blob will stay bold without mixing in with the layer of paint below. A very easy application, but can bring your art to life with contrasts.

Creating edges

If you want to create crisp edges, this technique is perfect for you. This can be used in conjunction with the lines technique previously mentioned to create a very clean look that is harder to recreate with a paintbrush. To do this, make sure your knife is absolutely loaded with paint, or you may have gaps in the paint, creating the broken color effect instead!

Place your palette knife at a roughly 45° angle to the canvas. Then, wherever you want the edge, lay the knife flat for a bit, then spread the paint away from that edge, as if you are spreading butter on a piece of toast. This is great for sharp edges for things like mountains, rocks or walls. You can change this technique to create rough edges or softer edges if you want, by changing the angle and pressure. Take your time and experiment. 


Some general tips and advice

Now that you’re familiar with some of the techniques you use with a palette knife, the only way to improve is to experiment and practice. Take some acrylic paints or oil paints and get a canvas that you are going to use just to practice your different strokes. Rough edges, broken color, mixing paint, whatever you want. The more you get comfortable with using a palette knife, the more easily you will create stunning textures and effects with it. 

Every time you use your palette knife, wipe it down with a cloth or paper towel. This will not only ensure that your paint comes out smooth on the canvas every time, but also makes your knife last longer, as there is no dried crusty paint on it. So after applying paint and using it, just clean it quickly before applying more paint. 

If you are using a palette knife, sometimes it can be quite exciting and it may quickly become the only thing you use. However, remember to use it in moderation, as it is there to create effects and extras. If the main painting that you painted with a paintbrush is not well thought-out or rushed, then the effects will be of no use. So take your time with the paintbrush, and use the palette knife reasonably, as the icing on the cake. 

Palette knife product links

We will link some great palette knife sets for you to use below to help you get started using all the tips mentioned above! Click the image to go to the product.

Royal & Langnickel Palette Knife Classroom Value Pack - Set of 36

Blick Comfort Grip Palette Knives - Mix and Spread, Set of 6

Blick Painting Knife - Spatula, Set of 6

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