Palette Knife in Hand

3 Apr 2014

The Beginning of Memory by Melinda Matyas, oil on canvas
The Beginning of Memory, oil on canvas, 2010.
All works by Melinda Matyas.

Palette knife painting sounds a little edgy and dangerous, but it’s really all about texture—the thick impasto swipes and flat sweeps of color that make up the surface of an oil painting. I’ve never created an entire painting with just a palette knife before, and I wanted to see what the appeal was for Melinda Matyas, a Hungarian-born artist who works in Romania. Several of her pieces are in our Member Gallery.

Matyas definitely know what she is doing with this particular implement. She went through a “palette-knife period” for several years, painting with the tool no matter her chosen subject—self-portrait, figure study, still life, or cityscape. Nowadays, she isn't using just the knife, but combines it with her planar brushwork.

“Using the knife, the color remains more lightsome,” says Matyas, referring to the fact that the bright patches of color in a palette-knife painting often have an airy, effortless appearance. The paintings also create a unique sense of dimension, which is the major appeal for me—it is like looking through the viewfinder of a shifting kaleidoscope.

Away by Melinda Matyas, oil on canvas
Away, oil in canvas, 2010.
A palette knife isn’t just for putting down large swaths of color. You can use it to execute several oil painting techniques. The tip of the knife can be used for small details, the edge of it to create fine lines, and pressing the blade squarely into paint will squish paint out of the sides, and when you lift it up there’ll be ridges. You can also use the sgraffito technique, which means to scratch through layers of paint to expose the underlayers of color, though you have to be careful not to nick your canvas when you do this.

Matyas' work has really opened my eyes to the possibility of working with a palette knife in a way I've never thought of before. It was like looking at her work gave me a complete oil painting lesson in one, which makes sense because sometimes the best insight and support an artist can receive is from fellow artists.

Matyas agrees. She came to Artist Daily “because of the quality of the articles and the vast information about art.” And that is what Artist Daily is here to provide—a meeting place for artists across the world to come together and, most of all, to give you high-level instruction from our editors, writers, and artist-instructors. The same can be said for The Artist's Magazine, which strives to provide the same access and artful instruction that we all want and need to propel is forward in our work. Enjoy!

And if you have paintings and drawings that deserve some attention, post them in the Artist Daily Member Gallery. I'm always on the lookout for work that deserves to be showcased!

Blue Glass, oil on board Roundabout, oil on canvas
Blue Glass, oil on board, 2005. Roundabout, oil on canvas, 2011.

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MichaelJ57A wrote
on 8 Apr 2011 9:24 AM

I love your posts. I have one complain though, the images you share... why can't they be enlarged?

It makes it frustrating to want to study or better yet, to not be able to see much better the images because they are defaulted at the image shown.

You have great points and then the images is stuck in the one size can this be fixed? I see it in most of the blogs I've joined and I can't say all of them but most of them allow for being able to view the images in a larger size.

rsfloresart wrote
on 8 Apr 2011 9:52 AM

Viewing the images at a larger size will allow the viewer to capture and reproduce, this feature is a safe guard. That's only my opinion.  

fred910 wrote
on 9 Apr 2011 12:51 PM

For MichaelJ57A: To view a larger version of a favorite picture, just save the picture on a PC, in pictures, then open with MS office picture manager, where you can enlarge it using the zoom tool, bottom right.

on 11 Apr 2011 8:39 AM

Hi all,

Sometimes the artists don't have larger images and on the web, we keep the images "web ready" so loading the website isn't slowed down too much. The bigger the image--the slower they sometimes appear. But I definitely empathize with wanting to get an up-close view of the images. We'll see what our IT guys have to say. Thanks for the inquiry and the enthusiasm!


Dawn53 wrote
on 21 Jun 2011 9:01 AM

Beautiful work, thank you for sharing the your thoughts on this technique.

Just a point on the running conversation above, it is possible to set the site so that the pictures can be enlarged by using a 'mouse over' script on the shown image and then a larger one will come up in a small window, like a pop-up. This will allow fast web upload - your comment regarding loading time for a page is correct if you directly loaded several images with a high resolution. To safeguard any copyright, you can limit the enlargement to suit a better viewing of the work without being too large and thus compromising this or only have a section of the piece in the new window that shows the techniques used at a size that can be enjoyed by others wanting to see and learn from for themselves.

I came across your article searching for knife techniques, I am very glad I did.

donnorthern wrote
on 4 Apr 2014 12:06 PM

I have searched everywhere for articles , books, and DVD's that will help me learn the techniques of knife painting.  Do you have any suggestions?   Perhaps this could be added to your sidebar lists?????

Maestro72x wrote
on 4 Apr 2014 3:00 PM

Drag the photos on your desktop.. they are a bigger than what you see. The webpage is shrinking them down.

on 4 Apr 2014 3:44 PM

Hi Courtney,

I have had the pleasure of studying oil painting with Susan Sarback who founded the School of Light and Color near Sacramento, CA.  She taught us using a palette knife, only.  She incorporates palette knife and brushes now.  But I have continued to use the palette knife, only.  I like the ease of cleaning...just wipe with a paper towel....and the ease of mixing on the palette.  I had not worked with oil before taking classes with Susan, but had used watercolor and pastels.  I guess exploring brush work with oil will be a new adventure!

 By the way, Susan tutored the drawing crew of the first Shrek movie to help them develop their use of light and color.  I am always amazed at the colors when I watch a Shrek movie.

  The School of Light and Color has several artist teachers on board, with all painting and drawing mediums and techniques.

 Happy Trails!

Sherry Wolfe

leviherris wrote
on 17 Apr 2014 12:35 AM

@donnorthern If you want to learn the different oil painting techniques using pallete knife ,Have a look at this link they have an amazing video on how to use a Palette Knife in Oil Painting