Brush versus Palette Knife

Soft-Spring-Dogwoods_WEB_Robin-Wellner_8x10Spring-in-the-Neighborhood_WEB_Robin-Wellner_8x10I apologize in advance for those of you who’ve already heard me yak about brush versus palette knife.  One of my experiments lately is trying to figure out which I really prefer — or something somewhere in between.  I know I like more paint on my canvas.  I seem to have a harder time doing that with my brush.  Although the addition of cold wax recently is helping in that regard.  It seems to add enough body to the paint to make it easier to add a swipe of heavier paint.

These dogwoods I did one of those Sunday mornings when the weather was so glorious that I just couldn’t resist.  It was some place right around the corner, so I just set up right in my neighborhood.  The first was done with the brush — and actually using some of Terry Miura’s concepts about using a base of 4 values of grays – then mixing into them for all your color.  That’s a very shortened version of his concept, which is well worth reading on his blog.  He’s got some wonderful info there.

Anyway I got back to the studio and I couldn’t resist trying the same scene with the knife.  I can get a depth of color and value with the knife that I struggle with when I use the brush.  I think I’m happier with the knifed version, but the brushed has a “dreaminess” that’s interesting as well.

The other thing that I’m experimenting with these days is a limited palette.  It’s working fairly well with plein air.  I’m not willing to use it with my portrait work yet.  But I figure if Kevin McPherson can get those incredible paintings done with it I should at least try it! There is so much to learn in this game!!  Thank God I love it so!



4 thoughts on “Brush versus Palette Knife

  1. Bill Pruitt

    Hi Robin, I really enjoy your work. I found your site because I did a search for: painting incorporate knife brush work. I work with both knife and brush in oils but haven’t done both in the same painting so I was seeing if artists do that. Have you combined them? I’ve done the blocking in thin layers with brush and then do the knife work on top but in the end, no brush strokes even show so it’s essentially a knife painting. Thank you for your time in reading this. All the best.

    Bill Pruitt – Artist

    1. Robin Wellner Post author

      Hi again!! Thanks for your kind words. I do sometimes use brush and knife. Usually I block in with a brush, then knife over. Sometimes I will do some of both — brush then put some knife work in as well. The portrait I did of “Harmonica Mark” was blocked in with the brush, then I decided I was “not allowed” to use the brush from then on. As a result I sanded off his face at least 6-8 times until I was happy. Almost threw the whole thing out the window a few times!!! I don’t know if I’ll use it as much for portraits. I’ll look at your work — Best of luck — if you figure out any hints pass them on!!!

      All the best!

  2. Bill Pruitt

    I prefer the palette knife version as well. Love the texture in it. I’m curious, how did they compare time wise? Which is faster to complete and by how much time? Thank you.
    Bill P.

    1. Robin Wellner Post author

      Hi Bill. I actually think in plein air often the palette knife version takes less time. One of the reasons I started reaching for the knife was because I couldn’t get the depth of color in my brushwork— especially when I had wet layers underneath. Laying it in with the knife seemed to handle it. It’s definitely not faster in portrait work — because I’m going for a likeness as well — which is hard with either brushwork or knife!

      Thanks for reading!! Happy Painting!!!


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