Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Painting Grand Majesty with a Tiny Knife


"Precipice at the Grand Canyon" 16x20, oil - SOLD


I spent the last week working on another studio piece for the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art this next September.   This one is a 16x20 and took many days.  Why so long?  Well, I painted with a teensy-weensy painting knife.

If you haven't painted with a knife before, you're in for a treat.  Because a single wipe of the towel cleans your knife perfectly, you won't be going into your palette with a dirty tool, and your color mixtures will be richer and cleaner.  And, the fact that you can clean the tool with a single wipe is a real pleasure.  You use very little mineral spirits or, sometimes, none.

My Two Knives

The size of the tool is inversely proportional to the time it takes to paint with it.  The smaller the knife, the more minutes and hours.  Although I have several knives, I chose to work with smaller ones.  I wanted a bit more detail and to take a little more care with edges and the shapes of things.  In some ways, my smallest knife was like digging the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon.  It can be tedious, but it can also be like meditation, especially with the right radio station.

I started off the painting by toning the panel with a mixture of Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre and alkyd Transparent Red Earth (Gamblin FastMatte.)  This gave the panel a rich, olive tone that dried quickly.  Next,  using a #4 hog bristle flat, I sketched in my design with Burnt Sienna.  Then I did a quick block-in with a #12 bristle flat to establish a foundation of color.  I've learned that painting with a knife goes faster if the color you're spreading on is somewhat like the color that's beneath it.  That is, don't try painting with a knife on a white background, and don't try it with red on a green background.  If the background color is too different, you'll obsessively try to paint over every speck of background color.  (Unless you're less obsessive-compulsive or paint more impressionistically than I , and can let those little spots go.)

Next, I went from background to foreground, working with the larger of my two small knives.  With this knife, the sky went rapidly and so did the more distant parts of the canyon.  But once I moved to the cliff in the middle ground and the foreground precipice, I switched to my smaller knife.   Finally, I moved back into the distance and added implied detail to the distant canyon areas with this same knife.  Here are some detail shots of the painting for you to enjoy.





12 comments:

daniela.. said...

You have a way with color harmony, Michael, and I love the texture, the painting almost makes me nostalgic - and I have never been there.

from Felicia Barnes said...

I am drawn to this knife painting. It has the feeling of the spontaneity of plein air even though it is a studio painting and has more detail. Its larger format allows me to roam around, explore more, and the detail keeps my interest. Breathtaking!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, everyone!

Mick Carney said...

Wonderful advert for the use of the knife. First rate image.

Cindy Michaud said...

harmony? absolutely...beautiful, just how many colors are on your palatte? will you share?

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Mick and Cindy! Cindy, it's the same colors I always use - cad yellow lt, cad yellow deep, cad red, permanent aliz crimson, ultra blue, phthalo green (or maybe it's phthalo emerald), plus chromatic black.

Catherine M said...

No white at all in that palette? Curious about the actual color of the white-appearing areas in this wonderful painting.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Sorry, I assume white is always a given. Titantium-zinc white.

Libby Fife said...

I have been following along for a little bit now (and benefiting a lot so thanks!) and wondered about the choice to go with the knife rather than finish with brushes. I haven't painted with a knife before and apart from the ultra clean color, which really appeals to me, was there another benefit that you saw? The results are lovely in any case so I just wondered about your opinion.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Hi Libby, thanks and good questions! For me, the decision to use a knife for finishing is really in the cleaner color and ease of cleanup. But also, if the painting has dried somewhat between sessions, you can get some really neat textures that are harder to get (IMHO) with a brush.

C.B. Gupta said...

Liked every painting you have put up here. Very beautiful work. Colour, object compoition, depth and form - all are so harmonious.

mchesleyjohnson said...

Thanks very much!