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She’s got a knife!

Watch out! She‘s got a knife...

They don’t make things like they used to. Some things like hammers have probably gotten better: others things, not so much... like the plastic palette knife. Many beginners painting kits sport plastic palette knives, heck, Home Depot sells a set of nested plastic drywall knives, and while I acknowledge that there are some pretty reasonable uses for these ‘cheaper’ plastic tools, like mixing epoxy or fiberglass resins (disposable), there is just no substituting a good metal palette knife for oil painting.

When I say good, I had no idea of the breadth of metal palette knives available on the market. I think with the popularity of painting the market has definitely grown more robust. There are specialty texture ones with notches, RGM came out with some ‘good grips’ rubber coated handle ones like a new kitchen or construction tool handle, or garden implement. I’ve learned that there are some el cheapo wood handled metal ones sold at discount art stores where the whole shank comes out in your hand when you pull on the blade with paper towel to wipe the paint off.

Most of them are probably made in China today, but some are made in the USA and Japan. I remember discovering the cool line of synthetic bristle paintbrushes and giant palette knives made by Liquitex... monstrosities with black painted wooden handles and stainless steel blades... available in like 16 numbered sizes and flavors (shapes). They are perfect for monumental works the size of a side of the building. Recently, I discovered that there are handcrafted ones made in Japan with the craftsman’s mark on them from a single piece of stainless steel, perhaps considered the Rolls Royce of the industry from an area that made swords 800 years ago, none of them Samurai shaped with a sheath and wound woven handles, but as expensive as a Samurai sword, though.

I, recently, learned that there are palette knives and then there are painting knives. Some for mixing, some for scraping, some for applying paint, and now some for adding texture to the paint (think dragging a notched trowel through tile cement). Before that, I just kind of lumped them all together in my mind, and still use whichever for whatever purpose suits my immediate needs. I press a lot of non-art tools into the service of making art (tape measures, putty knives, window squeegee, you name it).

My mother’s pochade box didn’t make it. It lived in the basement in a closet under the leaky shut off valve for the outdoor hose bib (think wood... water, warmth, black mold). Her pochade box had a hinged latch front and slots so you could slide in several wet (wet paint) canvas panels and most likely a wooden palette (I was young and don’t remember the palette), and the main compartment held tubes of paint, paint brushes and small glass bottles of refined gum spirits of turpentine and linseed oil, along with a twin metal cup that clips to the palette for dispensing them. There were heaps of twisted little lead tubes of paint (maybe 20 ml). Mom, Felicita, had a degree in art from UCLA, and I’m sure she must have painted heaps of paintings in school, but none of them survive that I know of. She went into interior design and had a 30 year career at a famous DC department store, after I was old enough to go to school full time. I saw her paint twice, once at about age 5 when I was playing on a playground (I have that painting), and once in the nursing home when I had the idea to bring her some paint and canvas and wheel her outside to the pavilion one summer day. I had heard stroke victims were still good artists, so I tried it out thinking she might enjoy it. She certainly supported me in being an artist.

But, her palette knives, or I should say painting knives, do survive. I’ve never seen any modern one so fine, long, narrow, thin and so subtly flexible. They just do not make them like that today. Who knows who made them or where they came from back in 1940’s LA (I since looked under a magnifying glass and cannot make out the name , but I could make out made in Japan), but I cannot find one so thin and flexible today. Stainless steel ones don’t rust but are

so stiff. Mom’s palette knives are like a work of art in and of themselves. I don’t paint with palette knives as a practice (hers I use to dispense printing ink from cans)... I use them to make thin lines, but you could draw lines with these painting knives like you were writing in cursive.

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