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Palette Knives & Chisel Shapers


Untitled -Oil on Panel - Charles Hawthorne

oil on board
Charles Hawthorne
American, 1872-1930

click image for larger view

Charles W Hawthorne 1872-1892 an American painter and a noted teacher  established his own outdoor painting school the “Cape Cod School of Art” in Provincetown, Massachusetts  in 1899.

Although evidence supports heavy impasto painting techniques were used by Rembrandt and of course Van Gogh, Hawthorne is accredited as the first to utilize the palette knife as a tool for painting. Somewhat more of a  traditional painter, he loved to experiment with  light, color and technique. 

He  originally started to paint with putty knives and the technique continued to expand and progress from that point on.  

Not unlike the European masters he had studied with,  his impressionist style documented the ability to remove issues of color perception with this unique painting technique.

So today, the use of a palette knife goes far beyond mixing paint or scraping off your mistakes to start over. Since Painting knives are made in a large variety of styles, shapes, and sizes, in your attempt to create definitive brush strokes consider the use of a palette knife. They can be an asset for paintings created in oils, acrylics, encaustic, and most heavy applications of mixed mediums. Because the amount of paint you apply prepare yourself  for the additional dry time. Since encaustic more or less possess working properties that favor painting with knifes (when working at lower temperatures), no special medium additives are needed. 

Then again, medium additives that can often be used with oil paints in impasto techniques such as 
CAS AlkydPro Medium
or  Maimeri Impasto Medium will help you to obtain your goal within a shorter time.  With acrylic paint   Liquitex Acrylic Mediums, Golden Self-Leveling Clear Gel Medium  or Liquitex Modeling Pastes are all used to reach the same results. Some artists prefer the wet on wet technique as a means to apply these colors and pull from the under layer as a means to blend or to create texture. 

There are some who will argue a distinct difference between a palette knife and a painting knife. They have always had the same meaning to me. If  I were to use the knife to mix paint, put it on or scrape it off canvas, and the blade was used like a brush it’s a “palette- painting knife”. I never use these to clean a palette. A stiff putty knife is much more effective.

Although it looks similar, the palette knife or painting knife  is constructed differently from the putty knife. The blades are made of a light forged or stainless steel and are very flexible. The painting knife  handles are also made of wood where the metal of the blade extends through it. However, almost all of the differently shaped blades have curves edges to prevent cutting the canvas and are usually mounted on  curved extensions.Use of the palette knife is similar to the paint brush in as much that you should use the right size tool for the job, starting with the largest one to establish tone and background and tapering down to the smaller tools for fine detail.

Set of Six Italian Painting Knives
Set of (6)
Italian Painting Knives 

Stainless Steel Painting Pallette Knife 5- Peice Set
Stainless Steel Painting
Pallet Knife 5-Piece Set

This method is fine for a wet on wet painting you intend to work continuously until your painting  is finished.. If not,  it is better to plan painting in blocks or sections working down from a top corner of the painting such as frescos where the dried sections will not interfere with your work. Then again there are times when painting over a dried previous under layer and scratching off lightly to reveal the undercoat works. Great for fine lines normally performed with a liner brush.

You should not feel restricted to use only a knife or brush. The two work exceptionally well  together.  Many times you will find the use of a painters knife applicable for use in creating lines such as the branch of a tree or blade of grass in a plein air environment. They also create wonderful effects and textures with floral paintings.

Chisel Shapers or Colour Shapers

Taking shape from the original brass tools used in sculpting the colour shaper is a great modern tool used for blending, smudging, creating distinctive surface textures and painting lines accurately. Working  well with plaster, wax, and viscous paints, they are marketed in a variety of shapes such as chisel, angle, cup, and flat.  Although most desired effects with paint can be achieved with palette knifes, with the soft or firm silicone-rubber tips they are great for creating 3D  effects.

They are also great for removing frisket masking  from art with out damaging the foundation surface by rubbing like an eraser or scraping. And work well to remove wet paint from your canvas when working with watercolor to create texture.

The softer tipped shapers work well with pastels to move the color around the canvas for blending, smearing, scraping, etc. They don’t absorb the color like Blending Stumps & Tortillons and clean up easy to avoid color contamination. Cleaning is fast and easy, for all water soluble mediums, just dip the tip in water and wipe clean. With dried colours clean with denatured alcohol or solvent. Paint usually won’t stick to the tips.  Most oil-based paints and printing inks wipe clean after a dip in solvent. Because the silicone rubber  tips can decompose do not soak in solvent.

Colour Shapers Tools Colour Shapers Tools

Made of an advanced rubber composite. Apply oil or acrylic paint straight from the tube with a Colour Shaper, and then use it to carve back into the paint for a variety of texture and surface effects. The tool easily lifts paint from the surface or draws lines, contours, and edges on the color. With seamless nickel ferrules and lacquered hardwood handles, they offer the quality needed by dedicated artists. To clean, simply dip the tips in water or solvent and wipe with a cloth. Don’t worry — dried color just peels away! Available in Soft or Firm tips. The ivory-colored tip is soft and designed for responsiveness with fluid and soft colors. The gray tip is firm and offers better control over heavy bodied paints. Choose your size, shape, and firmness, or try a sampler set of 5.



What is Impasto? Thick, Textured Paint.


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