WORKSHOP: Palette knife painting

In my proposal I stated that I wanted to me more experimental with artistic techniques. During GCSE art I always enjoyed using acrylic paint with palette knives so thought I’d revisit the process for this project.

I learned the technique from local artist Stephen Lee who sells his work in a small workshop on Lymington quay. As a person he is genuinely inspiring. His insouciance is relaxing – it makes you really listen as he tells you to do what makes you happy and ignore the pressures and restraints of society. A true creative.

His art is contemporary and very distinctive in style. He specialises in seascapes and makes most of his money through clients of a sailing background, who apparently request custom paintings of themselves/friends or family members featuring their sailing boats. The narrative is clear despite minimalism which is evidently the reason for his success.

His technique involves not overthinking. Simply pour paint onto the canvas and use a palette knife to gently direct it around the page. Light strokes are the most effective and the thick texture of the paint gives control in direction. Unlike brush strokes the knives allow paint to remain built up in areas which then act as the main features of the painting. For example Lee uses built up areas of white paint for boat sails, directing with a knife to form triangular shapes without using any real technical skill.

My version of painting in this style was inspired by the nova check – an iconic pattern unique to Burberry. I felt it was important to understand the print before trying to style it and one of the best ways to do this it to recreate it. I began with blobs of paint in appropriate colours and used a palette knife to guide in downward motions. This wasn’t actually as effective as I’d imagined so I switched tools and used a plastic fork.

The pattern wasn’t as easy to see as I would have liked so I added more paint and consequently found myself with a colourful mess and no visible pattern. One of the things I’d learnt from using palette knives before was that if you press hard enough an imprint is left on the page so my next move was to try scraping some off. Fortunately the theory worked and discarding the top layer revealed distinct lines of check print.

I had fun doing this workshop, sometimes it feels there’s a lot of pressure with illustration so doing a workshop which is completely down to interpretation was quite refreshing. If I were going to do it again I would try varying the pressure of the knife further and also use less black paint as I feel it was quite overpowering.

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