TECHNIQUE - Knife painting

You will need:

  • Primed panel
  • M. Graham oil paints
  • Painting knife
  • Cup attached to the side of your easel for walnut oil

Holding the knife

It is best to have a light touch. Hold the painting knife loosely between your fingertips and allow it to be a flexible extension of your arm and hand.
Painting with a knife is like icing a cake. If you push too hard on the cake, you’ll find crumbs in your icing.
Gently layer paint on top of existing paint or the panel. Sometimes you may want to push down through the layers, but don’t do this so hard that you dent the paint and scrape down to the primer of the panel. And be careful that you’re not treating the knife like a bulldozer, scraping up all the paint you laid down previously. A soft attitude is needed.

Consistency of paint

Your paint needs to be whippy, similar to the consistency of mayonnaise. If it isn’t, add a little walnut oil to achieve the desired feel.

The edge

The edge of the knife is for painting sharp thin lines: the more paint, the thicker the line, the less paint, the thinner the line. Generally, if you cannot persuade the paint to come off the edge of the knife, you will need to add more walnut oil until it does. Lines generally need more walnut oil.

Picking up the paint

Use the bottom side of the knife to hold the paint. Swipe it up from the palette on either the right, left, tip or edge of the knife. Place the paint on the portion of the knife you want to pull the paint from.

Cleaning your knife

Cleaning your painting knife is simple with a paper towel. Use the same towel as long as you can, until it is too full of discarded paint. Then dispose of your towels in a lidded metal tin, which should have some water in it. M. Graham oil paints are made with vegetable oil and are safe to carry on aircraft.


Here is a quick start to a few basic marks you can paint with the knife

Knife tip

Load the paint to the underneath side and tip of the knife then pull straight down with even pressure.

Knife side

With thin paint, but not too runny, tilt the knife on to its right side to deliver the paint.

Right face

Load paint on the underneath right side of the knife and pull down

Daryl Urig

Daryl is a US-based artist and tutor. Email [email protected] if you have any questions about this article. Daryl’s latest book, Painting Knife Explained, is available from Find out more about Daryl on his website at