LATELY I’VE BEEN painting en plein air with the palette knife. I don’t use the palette knife for the entire painting. At the right you can see a painting I did a few weeks ago where I used a palette knife on the first 90% of the painting. At the the very end of the session I went in with a bristle bright and gave texture and direction to the knife strokes (click the painting to see enlarged strokes).
Rather than painting with a brush in my right hand while loading it with a palette knife in my left (like I normally do) I simply held the knife in my right hand and picked up paint mixtures and applied them directly to the canvas. This allowed for a very quick application of paint (always a good thing in the field). Additionally, this method allowed me to focus on major value shapes and to apply those as flat value zones and it encouraged all of the initial lines to be very hard. In other words, it remedied my major faults of painting en plein air; not focusing enough on value zones and allowing edges to become too soft.
I don’t think that using the palette knife exclusively in plein air would be satisfying to me. I enjoy the direction and texture of brushstrokes too much. But choosing the right tool at the right time can force a painter to focus on the important task at hand, reserving concern for texture and line quality until the end.
Give it a try let me know how it works for you.
Brad Teare September 2012