Palette knife Guide

Palette Knife – Quick Guide to Mixing Paint

Want to learn how to use a palette knife?  Here’s a palette knife tutorial for getting the most out of your painting sessions and learning the basics of paint mixing.

About Palette Knives

A palette knife is a painting tool that consists of a blade and a handle.  The cheapest ones are made of a solid piece of plastic while the higher quality palette knives are typically made of metal (stainless steel) and a wooden handle.

metal palette knive vs. plastic palette knife

I can’t strongly suggest enough: get a quality metal palette knife! . It will cost around $5 – $8 compared to a $1-2 plastic model but it’s 1000 times better.  The plastic palette knives are not sharp enough to scoop paint off your palette.  They leave paint behind wasting the paint… so in essence they end up costing you more money in the long run.  Besides, a plastic palette knife is super frustrating to use.  Buy a decent metal palette knife and you’ll never regret it!

For a painter working in oils or acrylics a palette knife can be used as a tool for:

  • Mixing paint on a painter’s palette
  • Applying paint (instead of with a brush)

In the photo below you can see that palette knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  For most paint mixing applications a single palette knife is all you need.

palette knife shapes


A small blade is good for mixing small amounts of paint and a large blade is good for mixing larger quantities of paint… rocket science I know 😉

Mixing Paint

Why not just mix paints with my brushes?

You can but you will decrease the useful lifespan of the brush.  Paint mixing with brushes really mangles the nicely formed shape of the bristles.

Also worth noting is that it’s really hard to do a thorough job mixing multiple colors together if using only a brush.  The two or more paint colors will not completely mix causing unpredictable colors to leach out of your brush while you’re painting!

So now you are hopefully sold on at least trying a palette knife!  Next, you’ll learn how to efficiently mix paint with a palette knife.

Paint Mixing Tutorial

Want to learn to mix acrylic or oil paints like a boss?

Step 1

Set up your paint blobs around the edge of your palette.  You’ll take from these colors to create your mixtures.  Consider the outer edge of the palette your paint repository!  Keep it clean and tidy.

organizing painter's palette

Step 2

Scoop up some paint from one of the paint blobs and place it in a clear area of your palette.  This will typically be somewhere closer to the center of the palette and away from the edges.

Step 3

Wipe the palette knife with a rag.  This prevents colors from getting into other paint colors as your move paint around on your palette.  You want to especially avoid contaminating the nice, clean paints sitting on the outside edge of your palette.

Step 4

Scoop up another color and add it to the paint you added in step 2.

mixing blue and yellow paint with palette knife

Step 5

Mix the two paints together by moving the palette knife in a circular motion.  Add pressure by pressing down on the metal blade of the palette knife.

palette knife blade pressure

Step 6

Scoop up the mixed paint into one compact pile.  You can even move the newly mixed paint to where you’d like it be on your palette.

Rather watch a video on this?  Here you go…

Palette Knife Video Tutorial

 

Paint Mixing Best Practices

  • A painter’s palette and her palette knife quickly become such an important part of one’s painting practice.  Keeping your paints organized will allow your thoughts and approach to art-making stay organized leading to less accidents and more predictable results.
  • Most painters use the outside edge of their palette for the clean, reserves of paint blobs as they come out of the tube, and use the center of the palette for paint mixing.
oil painter's palette
  • Make sure to add enough downward pressure on the palette knife when mixing your oils or acrylic paints.  You are not merely stirring the paint!
  • Flip the palette knife over every once and a while to make sure all of the paints are mixed.
  • Want to stay super organized?  Wipe your palette knife off frequently to avoid cross-color contamination!
  • If adding thinner to your oil paints add a small amount at a time.  This advice always reminds me of how one has to slowly add flour when making gravy in the kitchen.  If you add too much flour at once you get a lumpy mess which is hard to fix.  Add a small amount of thinner at a time and if you need to thin your paints more you can always add some more thinner.

Color Wheel Paint Mixing

A great way to practice using your palette knife is to create a color wheel.  Start off with 3 optimal-mixing primary paint colors and mix the rest of the in-between colors on your palette.

By practicing with this limited palette you’ll really get the hang of not only using your palette knife but your colors as well!

Optimal-Mixing Primary Colors:

  • Cyan ( phthalo blue)
  • Magenta (quinacridone magenta)
  • Yellow (cadmium yellow light)

See if you can create an accurate color wheel by starting with these 3 base colors.  A 6-hue color wheel is good to start but you should strive for mixing up a 12-hue color wheel like the one shown below!

color wheel | helloartsy.com

Bt the way:  I am not a limited palette painter and I’m in no way advocated you paint with only 3 colors either.  This is just a mixing exercise to get the hang of your palette knives!

8 Comments

  1. Global Art says:

    Hello ,

    You have share wonderful information with us. I like your blog.

    Can you please give information about drawing and painting classes for kids in Singapore

    1. John Morfis says:

      I have no idea, sorry.

  2. Sheila Hutton says:

    I’m a beginner with oil painting. I had a class years ago, and I forgot what is the best thing to add to my paint to speed drying. Thank you for all of these great ideas. I’m getting inspired to start painting again.

    1. John Morfis says:

      Wonderful, good luck with your paintings.

  3. Cheryl Curtis says:

    Thanks for the info. I’ve been using an old brush to mix acrylic paints, but will utilize the 3 or 4 high-end palette knives I own. (They must be left over from clay work I did years ago!) I can see how effective this application is and am trying these right away!

    1. John Morfis says:

      That’s wonderful Cheryl. Best wishes on your painting journey!!!

  4. Frans Noltee says:

    The best description I have come across of how to physically mix paint. Thanks!

    1. John Morfis says:

      Thank you Frans, I’m glad you found clarity in this!

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