Brushes? We Don't Need No Stinking Brushes!

Painting with Knives

Whenever I get feeling a little too precious or careful about my work, I have found it a real joy to leave the brushes at home and paint only with knives. The benefits of this approach open up with the first stroke of paint. Suddenly all the familiar old tricks of how to paint fall away and I am left to try and make new kinds of marks which are more like plastering and troweling than drawing and painting. This is immense fun and can lead to some wonderful new expressive possibilities!

A. This is my pochade set-up showing an assortment of knives and my composition roughly indicated. 

A. This is my pochade set-up showing an assortment of knives and my composition roughly indicated.

B. Blocking-in goes very fast and uses lots of paint. Be sure to bring extra along. Without brushes there is no possibility of laying in a thin underpainting first. My method is to scrape or plaster my local mass tones in first, and then lay half-tones and color changes on top wet over wet, using different knife shapes to create texture and form.

Blocking-in goes very fast and uses lots of paint.

C. Here you can see how easy it is to make changes as I work – literally shoving the paint around, or scraping back and reapplying as needed. Changes at this stage are so easy and fast that they really encourage experimentation. Remember how much fun it was to paint in elementary school, before all the rules and craft took hold? What little craft I am using here is incidental to the sheer pleasure of "pushing paint around".

Here you can see how easy it is to make changes as I work.

D. I am beginning to suggest some details at this stage and putting in the other forms. Notice that I am also being very free about using color as I see fit, mixing colors together directly on the canvas with my knives.

I am beginning to suggest some details at this stage and putting in the other forms.

E. Changing light forced me to pick up the pace here. No worries, as I can really lay the paint on. It is also fun and effective to cut back through the paint with the tip of a knife where needed to create finer details, like grasses or tree branches.

Changing light forced me to pick up the pace here.

F. Close-up of knife work using the thin blade to create smaller marks and strokes. Notice the multiple colors on the blade, which I allow to drip and drag off as I work. Happy accidents are therefore encouraged.

Close-up of knife work using the thin blade to create smaller marks and strokes.

G. Detail showing the juicy surface textures and calligraphic marks.

Detail showing the juicy surface textures and calligraphic marks.

Here are two finished works using the palette knife:

Spring Coming by John Hulsey, oil painting, 9 x 12.
Spring Coming by John Hulsey, oil painting, 9 x 12.
Winter Thaw by John Hulsey, oil painting, 9 x 12.
Winter Thaw by John Hulsey, oil painting, 9 x 12.

Join us on The Artist's Road for many step-by-step demonstrations in oil, pastel and watercolor along with other inspiring articles.

–John and Ann

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Oil Painting Blog
John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

6 thoughts on “Brushes? We Don't Need No Stinking Brushes!

  1. Wonderful. I loved this and am going to link it into my own beginners painting blog.
    Once I finish the canvases that I am working on I am going to give this style a go. So glad you added this to your work
    Peace

  2. ENLIGHTENING AND VERY INFORMATIVE . I THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
    . I AM HOPING TO MAKE USE OF YOUR DIRECTIONS! I MAY NOT DO IT AS WELL AS YOU BUT WILL TRY!

    I JUST QUESTION THE NEED FOR THE DOUBLE NEGATIVE . BEAUTIFUL ART AND BAD ENGLISH! SOME THING LIKE THE NEW WAY TO USE “AT”

    MAGGIE B WISE

  3. Palette knife painting is so yummy! I tried my very first just a few days ago. This demonstration certainly encourages me to try again. Thanks for sharing this wonderful technique – beautiful work!

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