Art knives may be used instead of paint brushes to mix and apply acrylic and oil paint to a surface such as a canvas or board.


These blunt knives with no sharpened cutting edges are primarily used for mixing paint colors, mediums, additives, paste, pigments, and so forth directly on the palette before applying them to a surface. Art knives are symmetrical, like a kitchen spatula, but often with a slight crank between the handle and the blade, allowing fingers to keep clear of the paint and palette.


Art knives are available in two types:

1. Palette Knife, resembling a putty knife with a rounded tip, suited for mixing paints on the palette.

Palette knife

Palette Knife

2. Painting Knife with a pointed tip, lowered or “cranked” like a trowel, suited for painting on canvas. Blades are available in a variety of shape.

Painting Knives

Painting Knives

Paint applied with a painting knife has a visible texture, ideal for the painting technique known as impasto. Impasto very thickly lays paint on an area of the surface or the entire canvas, so that the paint strokes are visible. Paint may also be mixed right on the canvas. When dry, impasto provides texture, giving the illusion that the paint seems to be coming out of the canvas. It is interesting to note that the root of the word Impasto is “paste”.

Impasto Technique

Impasto Technique

Brushes might hide paint pigment within their bristles, causing unintended color mixing or paint application errors. When a painting knife is wiped clean, the artist can be confident that the colors on the mixing palette or canvas are indeed the ones he or she intended. Art knives may also be used to scrape or remove paint from the canvas.


Art knives also work well with wet-on-wet technique, where wet paint is applied on layers that have not yet dried. Brush bristles may lift off the wet under layers, causes unintended results which cannot be corrected.


In addition to creating thick texture, vibrant colors and the ability to work wet-on-wet, art knives also allow the artist to place tiny or delicate shapes of color, ideal for highlights and shadows.


Because of the modern appearance the art knife lent to paintings, I had assumed art knives were a tool from the mid-20th century modern art movement. After doing some research, I was intrigued to learn that the art of painting with knives is not that new. Famous knife painters include Titian, Rembrandt, Courbet and other distinguished impressionist and early post-impressionist painters!


Rembrandt used art knives in his painting, “The Jewish Bride” to apply the gold on the man’s sleeve with thick strokes which reflect the light.

The Jewish Bride, Rembrandt

“The Jewish Bride”, Rembrandt

In 1867, Paul Cézanne painted a portrait of his maternal uncle, Dominique Aubert with oil paint applied with art knives.

Cezanne, Oncle Dominique Oil Painting

“Oncle Dominique”, Paul Cézanne,

Henri Matisse’s small-scale oil painting, “The Little Pianist” was an early experiment with art knife painting.

Matisse, The Little Pianist

“The Little Pianist”, Matisse

Marc Chagall’s was known for his art knife paintings, notably his “Blue Angel”.

Marc Chagall, Blue Angel

“Blue Angel”, Marc Chagall

From Rembrandt to Chagall, art knife painting has had a tremendous impact on the art world and continues to influence and inspire painters, today such as Jan Ironside.

Jan Ironside

Jan Ironside

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For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Art Curriculum and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli, visit the website or Facebook page.








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