How to Make A Palette Knife Painting

Learn how to make your own palette knife painting using alternative tools found around your home! This video tutorial takes inspiration from Leon Gaspard’s Indian Mother and Child which is featured in Americans All!

Leon Gaspard (1882-1964) was a Russian-born artist best known for his impressionistic paintings. Drawn to indigenous subjects and people in his work, he traveled widely throughout Asia and parts of Africa before settling in Taos, New Mexico. His paintings of ceremonies, traditions, and everyday life in the Southwest reflect a variety of European styles and influences, including French and Russian Impressionism. His broad brushstrokes and vibrant palette inform the style that is uniquely his own. View Indian Mother and Child on the Americans All! Exhibition Page.

Materials Needed:
(Ideal) A professional palette knife
(Realistic) A butter knife, a paint scraper, an X-ACTO knife, or heavy cardstock
(Ideal) Oil paint
(Realistic) Acrylic paint

Step 1:

Gather tools around your home that have a defined edge such as a butter knife, a paint scraper, an X-ACTO knife or even heavy cardstock.

Step 2:

Experiment with each tool and your paint to find out how it works best. Which one can make a fine, controlled line? Which one covers a larger area? You might need to vary how you hold each tool to determine the full range of possibilities. Study the brushstrokes in Gaspard’s painting and see if you can replicate some of the same effects.

Step 3:

Create a rough outline of your composition. Artists inspired by Impressionism often painted subjects from daily life. You might create a painting of someone important to you using a photograph of them.

Step 4

As you begin to paint, you can continue your experimentation with its application. Acrylic paint is a forgiving medium that can be thinned down with water or easily painted over as it dries. Using your palette knife, you can scrape off unwanted paint or use the pointed end to incise details into the painting.

To replicate Gaspard’s technique, apply thick coats to the canvas as if icing a cake. In Indian Mother and Child, the artist uses very little blending. The palette knife is helpful for avoiding overmixing which is more typical with brush painting.

One technique is to load two colors of paint on your tool side by side. Apply the paint onto the canvas in one or two broad strokes, repeating this process to subtly blend them together. You can also drag a color into another on the canvas to create the broken color effect favored by the Russian Impressionists.