Why I paint with a palette knife

Gastone Fantuz' Painting Knives

The method of creation an artist chooses often gets overshadowed by their creations. While the finished piece is where the artist’s pride lays, the tools that birth an artwork also carry a part of the story. The paintbrush is so iconic an artist’s tool that it evokes less curiosity from an audience about its use. The same cannot be said for the sight of a painting knife. This tool has a short but rich history, only having gained traction since the 1800s. The palette knife was once reserved simply for mixing paint. Artists like Rembrandt and Matisse saw its value by adding to their art what the brush could not. Though the traditional palette knife is still used for mixing today, the artist now has a range of knives in different sizes that create the distinct imagery its pioneers pursued.

In our work, the characteristic style offered by painting knives has been crucial to forging a unique style. Both my wife (Emilie) and I were drawn to palette knife painting through individual paths. I’d previously used brushes but felt disconnected from my artwork. After inheriting my grandfather’s palette knives, my artistic process transformed with fervor. Emilie also felt the same intensity of inspiration upon using painting knives. She came to the method spontaneously, having befriended the local artist behind artwork she appreciated, only to find it was the result of palette knife painting. Ultimately, it was palette knife painting that brought us together as a couple, having discovered each other through social media in a hashtag dedicated to the method. The power that palette knife painting holds for us as artists shines through in both our work and lives. Upon picking up painting knives, Emilie’s work took on an urgency and focus that has birthed a well of joyful inspiration. In my own work, the change in method carried my practice to a level beyond the technical and aesthetic, but into a more universal and spiritual realm. Just as each person carves their life from the many options the world pres- ents, so too, does the artist carve their practice.

Emilie and Mike Fantuz in studio

What has made palette knife painting such a powerful method for us is the parallels this practice offers to the progression of life itself. The obscurity of this method offers fewer chances for self-comparison and less instruction for studying the technique. Such a path requires the artist to rely on themselves and dedicatedly pursue individuality in their work. In palette knife painting, both Emilie and I discovered a vehicle not simply for creative expression, but personal progression. The doubt and fear that confront us in the challenges of life also confront the artist in their work. Yet, just as in life, the challenges of palette knife painting provide the gift of growth, overcoming the inner obstacles that plague artists through the external artistic process.

Though it may not capture the audience’s attention like a finished artwork, the artist’s method can mirror the artist’s life just as closely. In our career, palette knife painting has been Robert Frost’s road less traveled—“it has made all the difference.”

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