Why Palette Knives?

Why Palette Knives?

I’ve just finished writing an essay for an independent magazine, “Seen Journal” where I was asked to describe my artistic process, specifically why I use palette knives. Then I thought to myself, ‘have I ever shared this with you, my friends?’ Well if I haven't yet, let me explain!

A couple years ago the talented folks at Wahoo Films spent an afternoon with me in the studio. They filmed while I painted and asked me a ton of probing and personal questions. Most of the questions Michelle, the director, asked centered on the "why’s". Why the subject matter, why the layers and why knives instead of brushes. I realized that I hadn't really thought much about the "whys" prior to that point and found it to be quite a clarifying exercise for me as I reflected back on the events that shaped my current process. 

When I first came back to painting, I went the traditional route I was taught in school: brushes on canvas, delicately and thoughtfully applied in the most realistic way possible. About a year into the re-discovery process of finding my voice creatively, I went to an abstract class with a friend to explore a genre I didn’t particularly appreciate. The instructor, a gifted professional artist in her own right, challenged the class (me especially) to get out of our own head and explore the way we approached our artwork by: blind-folding us, having us use different mediums, applicators (including knives), explore color theory and intuitive mark-making. At first, the thing I discovered in this process was when I “intuitively” created, I sucked. No joke.The first few things I created with this new found exploratory endeavor I affectionately called "Purple Vomit". It was plain awful to take these canvases home and sit with their "barfiness" for a week until the next class. I usually turned them around, so I didn’t have to get frustrated looking at them while I was in the studio producing in my familiar style.

One day while I was working away on another piece, the “Purple Vomit” piece was taunting me with its ugliness saying “you’ll never make this mess better!” Those who know me best know I can be a wee-bit competitive, and on that day, instead of cutting the fabric off of the stretcher bars and tossing it, I decided to paint over it leaving bits of "Purple Vomit" exposed. And I did it using only knives. I renamed the completed revised artwork “Reflections” and I saw the process as a metaphor for life: the layers representing seasons of life, and the knives, oh those hard to manage tools that are more like weapons, those knives were the cornerstone to the entire process! It wasn’t just the tools themselves, it was what they began to represent. Knives are sharp, hard to use, painful when they run across your flesh, they create unexpected bumpy texture with paint. Our lives are often like that: sharp, hard, painful, bumpy. As I was working through the wake of a difficult season personally, I started to see each painting as a metaphor for my life, specifically in my “Petals” (or “Beauty From Ashes”) series.

We think we can control our lives (I bet God thinks that’s funny…or sad). Painting with knives is unwieldy, nearly impossible to control and super messy. In a way, painting with knives is a lot like life – you really can’t control what’s happening. I mean you can try to a degree, but not fully, and that’s where the real excitement in creating begins – the letting go. For me, the knives help me let go of fixating on the details of the subject I'm painting, embrace the messy, revel in the essence. When I stop and consider how much I try to control my life, I realize when I let go...at least a little, life is more beautiful, less stressful, easier to focus on the essentials. The paintings came from my life experiences and now my life is being modeled by how I create...God's beautiful mess. 

So that's basically it, why I paint with knives. Hopefully my paintings and the process behind them take on a little different meaning for you now. If you're interested to hear more, here's a link to the Wahoo video.

Otherwise, as I enter the final few weeks of my three month show sabbatical, I'm putting the finishing touches on several commissioned pieces and prepping for my return to the 25th annual Amelia Island Concours in Florida, March 5-8. Soon after in April I'll be exhibiting for the first time at the La Jolla Concours and then at ArtWalk Mission Federal, both in the San Diego area. If you're in the vicinity please stop in to say hi and check out the latest works of art.

Thank you so much for your continued support and encouragement – you genuinely bless my socks off!

Cheers friends!


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