Zebralang, approx 3 x 4’ / .91 x 1.2m, Acrylic on Canvas, 2011
Acrylic, to me is kind of like, if you like birds and you like horses, chances are, you’d like a pegasus. Or, if you like a good-looking guy who can dance, you’d like Gene Kelly. Or, if you like Oreos and vanilla ice cream…you get the idea.
What attracts me most about acrylic, I guess, is its versatility. I always said that if, one day, I had absolutely no more money to buy paint (and that day, I’m afraid is all but upon me), I would just sink what little I had left into acrylic. (Then live on crackers and water, lol.) I can use it like oil, and I can paint with it like watercolour.
Come to think of it, I didn’t learn to use acrylic at art school—everything I know about it, I learned in art classes at the museum, and my fantastic teacher there taught me how to use it both ways. (We did use acrylic at art school, but more like a support medium / like for ground or underpainting and not as a medium in itself.)
I remember she said acrylic, basically, was a lot like liquid plastic, and it had only been in use really for art in the past 50 years. (That was some 20 years ago, so I guess I should say 70 years, now.) That said, people won’t really be sure of the archival value of works in acrylic until a few hundred years or so have passed.
Then again, given how people keep going on and on about how plastic isn’t biodegradable, I guess it’s fairly safe to say works in acrylic on canvas, at least, ought to be a good enough investment down the road. (That is, if you’re buying art for that purpose.)
I’d like to begin this guide by fully disclosing that I was never really taught how to paint with a palette knife.
I didn’t learn it in any of the bazillions (it seems) of formal, extra-curricular art classes I’ve taken since I started taking them when I was about 13. I didn’t learn it at art school proper, where we were told that palette knives were for mixing paint, and that you would wreck your brushes if you used them for this purpose.
And yet I’ve done two entire shows featuring palette knife painting (not counting a third ‘sort of solo show’ #itscomplicated) plus another with a couple of pieces done the same way)—along with the few odd pieces for group shows. I can’t help it—palette knife painting is insanely addicting.
So it’s on the basis of that that I’d like to share what I’ve learnt over the thirty odd years I’ve been ‘playing with knives’. On top of maybe sparing you a learning curve (although there’s a lot of fun that can be had in that), I’m hoping you might find the same intense enjoyment in this particularly tactile, energetic and expressive method of painting.
So to sort of follow up on the Quick-Start Beginner’s Guide to Oil Painting I made for my students last summer, this is a very informal, loosely written quick-start guide to painting with a palette knife. (Which actually is more like a slow, rambling love story between me and palette knife painting.) Such as it is, this guide will be covering
Quite a number of the terms I’ll be using, I made up, mainly because (as I’ve said) I never attended any real ‘How to Paint with a Palette Knife’ classes. I’ll be sure to let you know which terms are mine, though.
But before anything else, I guess you could say that the first thing you might ‘get into your head’ for oil painting is…