6 Essential Palette Knife Painting Tips for Beginners
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Choose the right palette knife
  2. Prepare your paints properly
  3. Practice your strokes
  4. Clean your knife regularly
  5. Experiment with texture
  6. Don't be afraid to scrape and start over

Whether you're a budding painter or an established artist looking to explore new techniques, palette knife painting is a rewarding and versatile skill to add to your artistic repertoire. This blog is your handy guide to mastering the art of palette knife painting. Armed with these practical and effective palette knife painting tips, you can confidently embark on your painting journey, create stunning artworks, and discover your unique artistic style. So let's dive in and explore these six essential tips together.

Choose the right palette knife

One of the most important steps in mastering palette knife painting is choosing the right palette knife. The knife you choose can greatly influence your painting style, texture, and overall outcome. Here are some key factors to consider when selecting your palette knife:

Size and Shape

  • Size: Palette knives come in different sizes. If you're just starting out, it might be helpful to start with a medium-sized knife. This gives you a good balance between control and flexibility.
  • Shape: Similarly, the shape of the knife can also affect your painting style. Some common shapes include the diamond shape, the teardrop shape, and the spatula shape. Experiment with different shapes to see which one suits your style best.


Palette knives can be made of different materials, including plastic and metal. While plastic knives are cheaper and lighter, metal knives tend to be more durable and offer better control. The material you choose will depend on your personal preference and budget.


Another important factor to consider is the flexibility of the knife. A more flexible knife allows you to spread and mix paints more easily, while a stiffer knife gives you more control over your strokes. Choosing a knife with the right flexibility can be a game-changer in your palette knife painting journey.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to palette knives. The best knife for you will depend on your personal style, comfort, and the type of painting you want to create. So, don't be afraid to experiment and find the perfect fit for you.

Prepare your paints properly

One of the cornerstones of palette knife painting is preparing your paints properly. This might seem like a tedious task, but it's an important step that can greatly affect the ease of your painting process and the quality of your artwork. Let's explore how to do this right.

Select the Right Type of Paint

It's crucial to remember that not all paints are created equal when it comes to palette knife painting. Oils and acrylics are often the go-to choices for this style of painting because of their thick consistency and slow drying time. This allows for more manipulation and texture on the canvas. So, make sure you're selecting the right type of paint for your palette knife painting project.

Mixing Your Paints

Once you've chosen your paints, it's time to mix them. Here's how:

  1. Consistency is key: When mixing your paints, aim for a thick, buttery consistency. This will give your artwork that rich, textured look that's characteristic of palette knife paintings.
  2. Use a mixing palette: Use a separate palette for mixing your paints. This will give you more space to work with and prevent your colors from getting muddled.
  3. Don't overmix: When it comes to palette knife painting, it's okay to leave some variation in your colors. This can add depth and interest to your artwork.

Load Your Knife Correctly

How you load your palette knife with paint is just as important as how you mix your paints. You want to scoop up a generous amount of paint with the back of your knife, like spreading butter on a piece of toast. This gives you a good amount of paint to work with and makes it easier to apply it to your canvas.

With the right paint preparation, you're well on your way to creating beautiful, textured palette knife paintings. Remember, the key is to experiment, practice, and find what works best for you.

Practice your strokes

Now that your paints are ready, let's focus on one of the most crucial parts of mastering palette knife painting: practicing your strokes. Developing your stroke technique is like learning a new language—it might feel a little awkward at first, but with practice, you'll start to feel more comfortable and fluent.

Getting Familiar with Different Strokes

Palette knife painting isn't just about slapping paint onto a canvas. There are various strokes you can use, each creating a different effect:

  • Flat strokes: These are done by holding the knife parallel to the canvas and dragging the paint across the surface. Flat strokes are perfect for creating smooth, wide swaths of color.
  • Edge strokes: For this, you use the edge of the knife to create thin lines or fine details. It's like using a pencil, just with paint.
  • Scumbling strokes: This involves lightly brushing the knife over the canvas, leaving a broken, textured effect. It's an excellent way to add depth and dimension to your painting.

Mastering Your Grip

Your grip on the palette knife can greatly affect your strokes. A firm grip near the base of the handle gives you more control and precision, while a looser grip can create more spontaneous, expressive strokes. Don't be afraid to experiment and find what feels most comfortable for you.

Practicing on Different Surfaces

Practicing your strokes isn't just about technique—it's also about understanding how different surfaces react to your knife and paint. Try practicing on different types of canvas, paper, or even wood. You'll soon start to notice how each surface brings a unique quality to your painting.

Remember, the more you practice, the more confident you'll become. And with confidence comes the ability to express yourself more freely and creatively with your palette knife painting.

Clean your knife regularly

Moving on from practicing your strokes, another key palette knife painting tip is to keep your knife clean. This might seem like a small detail, but trust me, it can make a big difference in your painting experience and the final result.

Why Cleaning Matters

When you're painting, especially with multiple colors, it's easy for the paint to mix unintentionally on your palette knife. This can lead to muddy or dull colors on your canvas. Regularly cleaning your knife ensures that the colors stay fresh and vibrant.

Methods of Cleaning

Here are a few easy methods to clean your palette knife:

  1. Wipe with a cloth: This is the simplest and quickest way. Just wipe the paint off with a clean, dry cloth. Remember, the sooner you do it after using the knife, the easier it will be.
  2. Use a palette scraper: If the paint has dried on the knife, you might need to use a palette scraper. Be gentle to avoid damaging the knife.
  3. Soap and water: For a thorough clean, warm soapy water works wonders. Just make sure to dry your knife properly afterwards to prevent rust.

Regular Maintenance

Keeping your knife clean doesn't only make your painting process smoother—it also prolongs the life of your knife. So make it a habit to clean your knife after each painting session. It's a small step that can make your palette knife painting journey much more enjoyable.

With a clean knife, you're ready to create clearer, more vibrant colors in your artwork. So, let's move on to our next tip: experimenting with texture.

Experiment with Texture

Now that we have a clean palette knife, let's talk about one of the most exciting aspects of palette knife painting: texture. The palette knife is a fantastic tool for creating a variety of textures, which can bring your paintings to life in a unique way.

Understanding Texture in Palette Knife Painting

Texture in palette knife painting refers to the physical feel and appearance of the painting's surface. You can create smooth, flat areas, rough and bumpy patches, or a combination of both. The choice is yours, and it's all part of the fun!

Ways to Create Texture

There are several ways to create texture in palette knife painting:

  • Impasto: This is a technique where paint is laid on the canvas in very thick layers, creating a textured surface that can even appear three-dimensional.
  • Sgraffito: In this technique, a layer of wet paint is scratched with the edge of the palette knife to reveal the lower layer of color, creating a textured effect.
  • Scumbling: This involves lightly dragging a thin layer of lighter, opaque paint over a dried darker layer. The result is a soft, diffused effect with a texture that's subtle but adds depth.

Experiment and Practice

Experimenting with texture is all about practice and personal preference. So, play around with different techniques, see what effects you can create, and most importantly, have fun with it. Remember, there's no right or wrong when it comes to texture—it's all about what you like and what expresses your artistic vision best.

Okay, now that we've explored texture, let's look at our final palette knife painting tip: don't be afraid to scrape and start over.

Don't be Afraid to Scrape and Start Over

Let's talk about a fact that might have escaped your attention: painting with a palette knife is forgiving. What does this mean? Well, it simply means that if you're not happy with how a portion of your painting is turning out, you can always scrape off the paint and start over. Yes, you heard it correctly! It's like having an undo button in the art of painting.

When to Scrape?

Deciding when to scrape and start over is a personal decision and depends on how you feel about your current work. Maybe the colors didn't mix the way you thought they would, or the texture isn't quite right. Trust your gut feeling, it's usually accurate.

How to Scrape?

Scraping off paint might sound drastic, but it's quite simple. Here's how:

  1. Wait for the paint to dry: It's easier to scrape off dried paint than wet paint.
  2. Use your palette knife: The flat edge of your palette knife is perfect for this job. Gently scrape off the paint, taking care not to damage the canvas.
  3. Clean your palette knife: Before you start painting again, make sure to clean your palette knife properly to avoid unwanted color mixing.

Embrace the Process

Scraping off paint and starting over might seem like a step back, but it's really a step forward. It's a part of the learning process. Remember, every great artist was once a beginner who wasn't afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. So, embrace this part of the process, and don't be too hard on yourself.

Well, there you have it—six key palette knife painting tips to help you on your journey. Now, pick up that palette knife, and start creating!

If you're just starting out with palette knife painting and found these tips helpful, don't miss the workshop 'Improve Your Acrylic Painting Skills' by Rachel Christopoulos. This workshop will not only help you refine your palette knife techniques but also provide valuable insights into other aspects of acrylic painting, taking your skills to new heights.