Easy abstract palette knife painting for beginners

Abstract palette knife painting for beginners is aimed at artists learning to paint abstract art but are either too scared to start or are finding it frustrating to make it work.

If you are new to painting or using palette knives you will find that they are one of the best ways to create beautiful, unique pieces of art that will look great in your home or office. However, there are many different types available and it’s hard to know which one will work for you.

We have created an easy-to-follow guide that helps you understand everything you need to know about using a palette knife when painting abstract art.

It includes tips on how much pressure should be applied as well as advice on choosing the right type of blade for your needs, types of paints to use as well as some examples and tips.

Our guide also links to step-by-step instructions so that anyone can learn how to use a palette knife effectively when learning how to paint abstract artworks at home or in their studio space.

Plan your abstract painting first

One of the first things that you need to do before starting to paint is to plan your artwork. Abstract paintings can be very versatile, but they often work best when there is a focal point or main area of interest.

When you are planning your painting, take into account the colors that you want to use as well as the composition.

Collect some reference images and plan your work, cut them out, and arrange them until you’re happy with the result.

If you are struggling with coming up with ideas for your painting, it can be helpful to collect some reference images.

This doesn’t have to be anything specific, just whatever inspires you and gets your creative juices flowing! Once you have a few images collected, start thinking about how you could translate them into an abstract painting.

The next thing you can do is start making some thumbnail sketches of your work to see what composition works best, plan your colors and shapes.

People think abstract painting is easy, they say “my 7 year old can do that!” but I have been painting for over 40 years and I can honestly say that abstract painting is one of the hardest styles to get right and one of the easiest to get wrong. It comes down to practice and planning.

Once you have your abstract artwork planned then working on it with a brush or palette knife is just a formality you can easily overcome because the hardest part is now done.

What is a palette knife and how does it work?

A palette knife is a tool that is used by artists to mix paint on their palette, as well as to apply it to the canvas. It is a flat piece of metal or plastic with a blunt end and a sharp edge. The blunt end is used for mixing paint, while the sharp edge can be used for creating fine lines or detail.

Why use a palette knife when painting abstract art?

There are many reasons why you might want to use a palette knife when painting abstract art. Some of the benefits include:

  • You can create unique textures and patterns that cannot be achieved with other tools.
  • The blade is flexible so you can move it in all directions, which makes it great for creating curved lines and shapes.
  • You can use it to apply paint in a thick or thin layer, depending on the effect you are trying to create.
  • It is easy to control and creates a minimal mess, so it is ideal for beginners.

How to use a palette knife when painting abstract art

There are a few things you need to know in order to use a palette knife effectively when painting abstract art:

  • Choose the right type of palette knife. There are many different types available, so it is important to choose one that is suitable for your needs. The most common type is the standard palette knife, which has a flexible blade and a blunt end. However, there are also other types such as the filbert palette knife, which has a long handle and a narrow flexible blade so it can be used for blending and sculpting.
  • How much pressure should be applied to a palette knife when painting will depend on the type of knife you are using and the effect you are trying to achieve. Don’t be fooled thinking that a metal palette knife needs a lot of pressure, you should use less pressure when painting with a palette knife than you would when using a brush as it flexes a lot and is less forgiving than a brush.
  • Experiment with various methods! The best way to learn how to use a palette knife is to experiment and see what effects you can create. You can lay paint thick or thin. You can use the sgraffito method which is just Italian for scratching. What you actually do here is lay paint and then use the blade of the painting knife to scratch away or scrape the paint off the surface exposing the canvas texture. You can also apply paint in dabs and work the paint in thick impastos of paint.
  • Ensure the blade is clean and free from paint residue after each use. Dirt and paint can get stuck, which will affect how smoothly the palette knife moves. Once the paint has dried, it will be harder to remove. The best way to avoid this is to rub acetone or turpentine onto the palette knife before cleaning it off with warm water and dishwashing liquid. Then dry immediately with a soft cloth such as a kitchen roll or an old T-shirt!
  • Have a bowl of water and a cloth ready when you need to rinse your palette knife, especially if you are using acrylic-based paints. Wipe your knives regularly to keep them clean so that dried paint does not flake into your artwork.

Painting knife vs palette knife – what’s the difference?

We hear both ‘painting knife’ and ‘palette knife’ being used, but what’s the difference? Although they are closely related, there are subtle differences.

A ‘painting knife’ is more likely to be long and narrow with a pointed tip, while a palette knife tends to be shorter, wider, and may have an angled corner.

Painting knives come in different shapes and sizes – some resemble palette knives with short, wide blades that taper off near the pointy end or become cornered.

You can apply paint with either a painting knife or a palette knife but from my own experience, it is best to use a specialized tool like a painting knife as palette knives tend to be too broad, too thick, and not flexible enough and it will show through in your artwork.

Palette knife types

There are many different types of palette knives available – here I will discuss some of the more popular ones.

Flexible palette knife: The flexible palette knife is my favorite as it can be used for lots of tasks, however, I wouldn’t recommend this one for beginners as it’s hard to control.

Tapered tip palette knife: This type is also very versatile and best suited to experienced artists as it gives great results; it has a long taper that works well with thinner paints or glazes.

painting knife types vs palette knives

It may take you a while to feel comfortable using this one but it’s worth persevering because once you get used to its characteristics, the results are fantastic!

Flat ‘squiggle’ edge palette knife: If you are looking for a knife that will produce interesting textures, then the flat ‘squiggle’ edge palette knife is a great option. It’s perfect for adding movement and interest to your paintings.

palette knives vs painting knives

So, which one should you choose?

If you are new to palette knives, I would recommend starting with the flexible knife as it is more forgiving and easier to control.

As you become more comfortable with their use, you can move on to the tapered tip or squiggle edge knives which will give you more flexibility in terms of what you can achieve with your paintings.

Whichever one you decide to go for, have fun and experiment – that’s the best way to learn! Abstract painting using a palette knife can be a lot of fun once you learn to relax and go with it.

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Palette knife prices & Painting knife prices

Palette knife and painting knife prices can vary depending on the type and quality of the knife. You can purchase a decent quality knife or set for any kind of budget, but if you are looking for something more specialist or high-end, you can expect to pay a little more.

I like to go to my local art stores so I can handle the painting knives and see how they feel in my hand. If you can’t do this, then by all means order them online and if you don’t like them, ensure they can be returned or exchanged.

grip palette knives

What kind of paint do you use on a palette knife?

The great thing about palette knives is that you can use them with any type of paint, whether it be acrylics, oils, or watercolors.

I usually use acrylics as they are easier to work with and don’t take as long to dry. However, if you’re feeling adventurous then go ahead and try oils – the results can be really beautiful!

Remember to apply the paint thinly to start with and then layer on more as required.

How do you hold a palette knife?

There are a few different ways that you can hold a palette knife, but the most common is to hold it like a pen.

You can also hold it between your thumb and first finger like a brush, or grip it between your thumb and fingers like a claw. Experiment with different until you find one that feels comfortable for you.

I like to hold them overhand, where the handle is underneath my hand and I am holding the neck of the painting knife with my two fingers. See below.

holding a palette knife
Hold a palette or painting knife under your palm

How do you use a palette knife for beginners?

Now that you know how to hold a palette or painting knife (I will use the terms interchangeably here), it’s time to start painting! There are a few things that you need to remember when using a palette knife:

  • Use light strokes – palette knives are not brushes and should not be used in the same way. You should use light strokes and only apply pressure when necessary.
  • Keep your hand loose – if you grip the knife too tightly, you will find it difficult to move it around. Try to keep your hand as loose as possible so that you can move the knife easily.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment – one of the best things about palette knives is that they are very versatile. Try different techniques until finding one that you like.
  • Clean your palette knife – when you are finished, clean the excess paint off of the palette knife. If there is too much paint on it, it will be difficult to move and this can ruin any piece that you are trying to create.
  • Work quickly and be loose with detail, painting with a palette knife is not about detail but about creating an overall effect.
  • Lay down lots of colors or shapes and you can be liberal with the thickness of paint being applied.

Abstract painting can be a daunting task for beginners. It can be hard to create something that looks good, and it’s easy to become frustrated. However, with a little bit of practice and some simple tips, you will be able to create beautiful abstract pieces with ease.

Tips and tricks for using a palette knife

  • Use a range of different colors and shapes, mix them together before you get started to create the desired effect.
  • Make sure that you are using large strokes or loads of smaller ones. The more paint on your palette knife, the easier it is to blend the paints together making your piece flow better.
  • Abstract painting is all about creating an overall impression. It’s much harder than people think, but it allows for mistakes to be included if they work well within the picture as a whole.
  • Be liberal with your application of color or shape; don’t worry too much about getting things perfect straight away because you can always go back over them later on when you have finished your painting.
  • Mix paint on your palette and then apply it to the canvas in a gentle, quick and short motion, this will help to create a more cohesive piece. Some artists like to mix their colors directly on the canvas but I would recommend that more for experienced artists. I have been doing this for years and I still pre-mix on a palette first.

Step by Step video

Video 1 – Very Easy Abstract Painting|Acrylics Demo|Palette knife Techniques for Beginners 51 SKY|Satisfying

Video 1 - Very Easy Abstract Painting|Acrylics Demo|Palette knife Techniques for Beginners 51 SKY|Satisfying

Video 2 – 6 Main Palette Knife Techniques. How to paint with palette knife

Video 2 - 6 Main Palette Knife Techniques. How to paint with palette knife

Abstract paintings created by artists who used the technique of painting with a palette knife

Abstract paintings created by artists who used the technique of painting with a palette knife have been used in galleries to help illustrate a range of different abstract paintings.

Abstract art is very personal and so there isn’t a particular ‘recipe’ for creating a stunning piece. The best thing you can do is experiment until you find the style that works for you.

Palette knives were used by Impressionists. Artists like Cézanne, Pissarro, Chagall, and even Vincent van Gogh were known to have used palette knives along with their hog hair brushes.

These artists were the ones who laid the foundation for broad and large strokes. Artists eventually evolved to those who exclusively used palette knives in their work.

Here are some examples of abstract paintings created using a palette knife to inspire you.

Sky Fall
Sky Fall – large abstract palette knife painting, 2019
by Ivana Olbricht, Slovakia

More contemporary abstract artists can be found on Singulart here. I also have a review of Singulart on this page.

Camille Jacob Pissarro (French, 1830-1903). The Climb, Rue de la Côte-du-Jalet, Pontoise (Chemin montant, rue de la Côte-du-Jalet, Pontoise), 1875. Oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 25 7/8 in. (54 x 65.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum
Paul Cezanne Palette knife painting
Sugar Bowl, Pears, and Blue Cup (Sucrier, poires et tasse bleue) by Paul Cezanne, circa 1866.
Musee d’Orsay/Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation

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