Shoulds and oughts. These two cause trouble. I should be able to. I ought to do this. I should shove “ought” out and then kick “should” out right behind it. Seriously. They are everywhere and in a creative space might be some of their loudest moments. Because creating art is so clear cut, right? Sure.

One of the most surprising things for me was finding out that my least effective tool was a paintbrush. Now THAT was unexpected. I started out with paintbrushes because well, I was painting. So that seemed like a fit. I was not expecting this to be so challenging. The assortment available is vast, and the techniques you can use for each are even more so. I ended up with a bit of a collection and found I really enjoyed taking pictures of them. They looked so cool all huddled together in the mason jar I kept them in. It was obviously a photo opportunity not to waste. Photographing them was my preferred interaction, which was troubling because I was painting.  

Sheer ecstasy came upon me when I learned of palette knives. I knew Bob Ross used them when creating mountains (not for happy little trees – those are made with a fan brush) but I was not aware that you could use these to actually paint with. My Amazon Prime membership saved the day and put those puppies on my doorstep swiftly (the palette knives…not the happy little trees). The first time I used one, I literally felt a change as I painted. It was freeing.

Being a painter (as in one who paints), I still used brushes for at least part of the painting because it seemed wrong to leave them out. Guess what? I have left them out. Palette knives and I hit it off, and such is my tool of choice. Even when it comes to applying my signature, I am using a palette knife. Granted my signature consists of three initials because that is the most tedious aspect of a painting for me: creating a legible signature.

I am not known for my handwriting, and it’s even worse trying to sign with a pinpoint of paint on the tip of the finest brush. That method implied I might be a in an industry I am so not. This is still somehow not as bad as an electronic version which would come out better if I had the aluminum powder from an etch-a-sketch and could sort of form into letters with my bare hands. (Do not try this at home.) My solution to signing my artwork is to carve three letters into the corner regardless of whether it is “to scale” and call it done. It’s just part of my art.  

How about we pause for a minute to point out the irony of my working effectively with knives. My husband is a former chef who has graciously and patiently attempted to help my culinary knife skills develop. This has been a very slow process. Sometimes months, nay even years, go by between sessions. Working with me on this development includes noting things like sawing with the knife rather than pushing, rock the knife when dicing rather than karate chopping and just letting the knife do the work for you. Sometimes we have to note it’s okay for me to put the entire cutting board onto the counter because there really is another two seconds available in which to do it. We can wait. The food chopper we own is mostly mine because it’s just safer.

I am glad to know the tools that work best for me because it has offered a way to create a portable kit, which I have certainly utilized. It’s like having a home base even if you want to incorporate other elements and see how they work. For example, I used a silver sharpie in a painting one time because I could. So that happened. A friend who is a very talented artist knows no bounds when it comes to preferred tools. Preferred is what is nearby that they might discover a new texture or way of layering or the finishing touch that was needed. Paper towels, saran wrap, dry wall scrapers, you name it, it’s another resource waiting to be incorporated.

One thing to note about palette knives is that they do offer a level of interaction that can be another form of expression. I have been known to use these to punctuate a lyric onto the canvas, play just the tiniest bit of air guitar or time the largest layer of color I am applying right along to the beat of the chorus. It all depends on the playlist blaring through my earbuds. As my son says, “it’s just the sound of Mom painting.” You know it.