The Delightful Palette Knife

watercolour with knife using cerulean and cobalt teal

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
Watercolour with Knife using cerulean, cobalt teal, umber

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
Winter’s Edge Watercolour landscape with palette knife

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
The Headland, Ultramarine and cerulean watercolour with knife

 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
Watercolour with knife, in horizontal format

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
Palette Knife with watercolours on dampened Arches paper

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
Art Spectrum PK #1008 palette knife

Have Fun.  Imagine  and Create!


Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at and,

19 thoughts on “The Delightful Palette Knife

    1. Right back at you! your images are simply stunning 🙂 and thank you – Very Much
      it is wonderful to know other artists see and relate to the images 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks a lot for your compliment, Debi. I wish a day had more hours so that I could draw more. Just started some little flower drawings and some jewellery. Will post this later. Have a wonderful day, regards Mitza


  1. I couldn’t agree more Debi. I love using a palette knife and have so often been amazed how just a few strokes can change a painting from ho hum to something special. Your examples are just perfect 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew, I’ve loved seeing your canyon images – the textures and colours, the sun, are so apparent – the knife IS an amazing versatile tool for us! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful work Debi, love the textures and fluid lines you achieve with the knife. I use it would Senneliers oil pastels, but only for heavy texture as that’s about it with OPs. But one day I want to have a go at it w/oils, acrylic or watercolor and have a great time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Mary! and just a ‘what if’…. what if the paper was freshly turped and wet, then you had a warmed or Hot knife and slid some oil pastel on it then – quickly – gently stroked the knife across the wet/damp turps… ?
      what might happen?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting suggestion and idea Debi – I’m going to have to experiment and see what happens. My friend, another artist who paints with oil pastels, will melt some OPs with turps and then use a fan brush to lightly brush an area (almost like glazing) over a painting for a certain look.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Debi, We’re “Getting” your art and “Loving” it. Thanks for the latest slice made with your palette knife and the magic of Wabi Sabi. So good to hear from you. Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leslie, Thank you so much! So, are you playing with the palette knife ? let me know how you go with it 🙂 Thank you for your Post Comments! Debi


  4. What lovely effects you are getting with the palette knife an watercolor, I have only used them with oils or acrylics…bravo for your beautiful work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you very much Heather!! they’re fun with oils/acylics too… that’s what got me started! thank you for stopping in, and your kind comments too 🙂 Debi

      Liked by 1 person

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