Walk in Assisi ~ Palette Knife Painting

Lots of rain this week. An opportunity to work in the studio, revisit street scenes, explore abstract compositions with a palette knife.

palette knife painting
Walk in Assisi, oil, 14 x 11

10 Steps to Palette Knife Painting

Palette knife painting is a great way to cut loose from details and express abstract design.  Artists often express their desire to paint expressively.

Using a palette knife is a perfect way to create a strong composition, unified color palette and distinguished lifelike details.

Compose & Design

1  See Large Abstract Shapes

The natural urge to start with details is out of the question with a palette knife. Instead, start by blocking in the large abstract shapes. In this case, two large shapes dominate the composition; the building shape and the sky shape. (Yes, I wanted to paint the flowers ~ not just yet!)

The entire right half of the painting is building shape! To block it in, I noted its proximity to the mid-line of the composition. Intentionally violating the mid-line, at the top I edged the roof beyond it. Letting the sky shape dive deep into the composition with a narrow slit, set a counter balance to the large building shape.

2  Distinguish Warm & Cool Tones

To distinguish these two basic shapes, I chose warm and cool tones. For the building shape I used Gamblin Torret Warm Gray. The cool sky is Ultramarine Blue with Quick Dry White. Seeing these two large warm and cool shapes, roughly blocked in, creates the design for the whole painting in the first 10 minutes.

3  Distinguish Light & Shadow

The top part of the buildings is in sunlight, lower in shadow. To set up this contrast, I choose cool red (Cadmium Red Dark) for the shadows and warm red (Cadmium Red Light) for the sunlit areas. I mixed each of these into the Gamblin Warm Torrit Gray, adding a bit of Quick Dry White to make the values the same.

I blocked in the lower building shadows first, roughly with a small palette knife. Since this panel is small, the small palette knife I have with me is sufficient. Then I blocked in the upper sunlit sections.

Develop Meaningful Color Relationships

4  Unify the Palette

With the building only partially blocked in, I stopped to block in the sky shape. How the building appears in the painting is dependent on its relationship to the contrasting sky. It is important to establish this relationship early in the block in process. Waiting until the building is more established would disconnect these two important design elements in the painting.

5  Distinguish Textural Contrast

To paint the sky, I used Solvent Free Medium and painted with a 1″ flat wash brush. This created a contrast to textural palette knife painting on the structures.

Expressive Calligraphy & Details

6  Calligraphy

A palette knife is much like a pen. Each person’s signature has a particular, recognizable personality. This signature often gets lost when painting with a brush. Strokes mush together.

With a palette knife, strokes stand apart distinctively. Personal calligraphy is much easier to see and enjoy. Notice the contrast between the simple vertical strokes used to express the facade of the building and the wiggly strokes of blooming flora.  Another example is the simple vertical window shapes on the building across the street, against the shadowed facade of the structure.

7  Adding Details

Details are simply smaller shadow or highlight shapes. They are approximate ~ not exact! In this case, detail highlights are created with a slightly lighter, yellower version of the previous mixture of Warm Torrit Gray and Cad Red Light. I blocked these in to the upper part of the building.

Likewise, I added a bit of Ultramarine Blue to create a slightly cooler, deeper version of the shadow tones. (Warm Torrit Gray, Cad Red Deep plus Ultramarine Blue, with White to adjust the value) This creates the deep shadows in the lower portion.

8  Adding Contrast

In contrast to the structures, blooming geraniums cascade along the facade, How to put them in and have them integrated with the structure?

These contrasting shadows and highlights must be related to the palette which has been established in the painting. Continuing with my rule of painting shadows first, I mixed a green version of the cool shadow color previously used in the lower portion of the building.

Painting this shadow first anchors it to the shadows of the building itself. These shapes are approximate ~ not exact! Letting signature calligraphy be as it is, lets the artist’s own style emerge.

9  Highlights

Note the difference between the shadow greens and highlight greens. Shadow greens (in the lower portion) are cool, Highlight greens are warm. These simple colors describe light and shadow of the foliage shapes. Letting a few stray strokes of calligraphy be without fussing over them, lends spontaneity and life to the painting.

10 Pops of Color

The Flowers? Yes, I finally get to paint the flowers! Like setting the stage for a fine soprano, the star sparkles only if left alone to do her own thing!

I used two reds to create the blooms. The cool Cadmium Red Deep, full intensity or with a slight bit of white creates the blooms in the shade. Cadmium Red Light, with a touch of Cad Yellow Medium pops the ones in the sunlight up.

Put them in and leave them alone! Like dotting the i or crossing the t in your signature, don’t think about it. Just do it!

Happy Painting!

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