What wondrous things a palette knife can do! Soft diffusions of colours and tones and  heaped up delicious globs of paint, I think I’m a bit obsessed with my PK 1008 palette knife.

watercolour with knife using cerulean and cobalt teal debiriley.com
Watercolour with Knife using cerulean, cobalt teal, umber debiriley.com

But I’m sure you can see why its so easy to get lost in all the delightful patterns, textures and colours that’s created with a palette knife!


Whether its watercolours, acrylics or oils – I find a way to get the palette knife out and into the action. Ironically, the Knife is an extremely  sensitive and responsive tool.

You think of the word “knife”  and may have certain images that drift through your mind.  Not all pleasant and soft and gentle, I’m betting. But for me and how I use the knife,  that’s exactly what result I aim for and enjoy getting when I use it.

Winter's Edge watercolour landscape debiriley.com
Winter’s Edge Watercolour landscape with palette knife debiriley.com

Winter’s Edge Watercolour Landscape has quite a bit of cobalt teal used in it,  I’m sure this was a subconscious reflection from my prior post The Artist’s Eye with the Sea Foam photograph that was predominantly in cobalt teal.


There are many types of palette knife techniques

Impasto, is one of the most common. Impasto is using the palette knife with a heavy load of paint to build up very thick textures on the canvas or paper. It can look really stunning, if its done judiciously with  sensitivity and not darkly heavy handed.

Though,  its not my preferred approach, I do like to use it on occasion. It can look very nice as a counter balance to a soft and mist enshrouded area,  i.e.  some ‘substance’ and weight in the midst of the ethereal expanses.

Most of the time, my approach is to dampen the support slightly first. Then with a loaded knife, glide it across the surface in a delicate skimming movement. Careful not to smash down the knife into the paper or canvas. That would create a mashed up mess of colour, not a clean lively pure,  stroke of paint.


watercolour landscape with palette knife debiriley.com
The Headland, Ultramarine and cerulean watercolour with knife debiriley.com

 Serenity in Nature Inspired Themes

Nature based themes are my main source of inspiration for me to work from, I may have memories of forests, ponds, lakes, hills tucked away in my mind that slowly emerge as the knife comes into contact with the paper.

I may have one of my inspirational photograph boards on the walls that I’d been admiring for a few days that my subconscious self has decided to reinterpret and create from.

Generally,  almost all of my knife paintings will be nature based.

It is very Zen, very relaxing.   I find a calmness and serenity in using the palette knife for nature inspired images.

watercolour with knife debiriley.com
Watercolour with knife, in horizontal format debiriley.com

Over the years its been a case of trial and error, learn as I go.

Which palette knives are the most useful, sensitive for me seem to be the ones that have a unique balance, weight, lightness, and responsiveness and shape.  Sharp angle with sharp tip,  I find very versatile.  I have several from Daniel Smith, Riot Arts, Oxlades, Jackson Art Supplies ….. Art Spectrum makes the type PK#1008 for right handers.

This knife is perfect for branches, trees, hills, grasses, skies, water, petals, etc.   The other types of knives are too dull, too blunt, too clumsy and unwieldy to do provide me with these effects!


Yes, it is very easy and temping to get carried away with slapping more paint on, and on, with the knife.   I have to continue to remind myself:

  • Wabi Sabi  –    there is beauty in the unfinished, the imperfect, the impermanent
  •  less is more
  •  soft edges
  • light and shade    I must have a very good range of  tonal values       
palette knife with watercolours debiriley.com
Palette Knife with watercolours on dampened Arches paper debiriley.com

Currently,  we are doing a series of palette knife paintings in the next few weeks in watercolour and acrylics at Atwell Gallery, Perth WA and so far the overall results from the course participants has been stunning!!   I hope to get some photos to illustrate some of those results soon to show.

Using the palette knife,   specifically, … the one that is most sensitive for you,  is a joyful experience!  It is liberating in its freedom of expression in which  you are able to convey, with a simple stroke of the knife so much with a minimum of marks.  Again,  not all palette knives will give you this delightful sense of fun and adventure.

You’ll have to experiment to find what does it for you, but do try the one I like too!

palette knife PK 1008 debiriley.com
Art Spectrum PK #1008 palette knife

Have Fun.  Imagine  and Create!