Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Plein Air Painting Essential Tools: Small Painting Knife


Most novice oil painters resist the painting knife.  After just having learned to manage a brush, a knife can seem as cumbersome as eating udon noodles with chopsticks.  (Can't I just get a fork, please?)  But a small painting knife in the plein air kit is a multi-purpose tool.   You don't just have to paint with it.

I use mine for:
  • Laying in the block-in roughly so I can finish with a brush
  • (Or finishing with the knife after blocking-in with a brush)
  • Scraping clear my palette when I need to make a clean mixture of color
  • Picking up and mixing clean color when my brushes are dirty
  • Paring down a brush stroke that is too wide or that has a bad edge
  • Scratching through the paint to create the fine lines of twigs
  • Making sharp, straight edges in architectural elements
  • Adding a dark accent or light highlight with thick paint
  • Scraping off a mistake
  • Scraping off the whole painting if I think I'd be better off just taking a walk
And of course, I sometimes paint with it exclusively.  Granted, working with a knife is a skill to be learned, just like handling a brush.  But it's a very useful skill, indeed.

Top:  Pro Art knife

The knife I recommend is small with a trowel-shape.  Before the weld broke, I really loved my 1-inch Pro-Art knife.   With it, I painted everything from 4x6 on up to 16x20.   I replaced it with a weld-free, solid-piece knife from the RGM Ideal Line.

RGM Ideal Line knife



These have no weld to break, but the uncushioned metal grip is very hard on the hands.  I tried wrapping mine with bubblewrap and duct tape to cushion it, but it felt too "squishy" in my fingers, so I've returned it to its uncushioned state for now.  I like to suffer for my art.

You can find more helpful tips and tools in my book, Backpacker Painting:  Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, available at Amazon from this link.

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