Knifed Rocks Exercise: #1

After the exercise on painting rough water, Ron Hazell’s book provides instruction on painting rocks. He proposes two methods, one in which you glaze successively richer tones over the rocks, and a second where you knife out the highlights on the rocks.

I have never found success with knifing, so I tried it here. This is the most success I’ve had with this technique yet. It seems there are a few things that are absolute keys to this working. I have written before on the water content in the brush, the paper, and the palette, and how that’s important for successfully knifing edges. But what I didn’t realize until today is that the base color is just as important as the water content of the layer that you end up knifing.

Here, I painted a base layer, dragging pigment into white highlights to leave a ragged white highlight on the rocks. Then I let that dry completely. Once it was bone dry, I went back with a very wet wash of a midtone Earth value and let it dry until the sheen was gone. Then, I knifed the highlights. In the past I have tried to almost paint with the knife – trying to control where it dragged the pigment, trying to draw specific lines. This never worked, and muddied the paper. This time, I started at the outermost edge of the highlight, then in one quick, fluid motion dragged the knife across the paper with a good amount of pressure, pulling pigment into the shadow. When the palette knife stopped moving, I held it there for a breath and then picked it up. This seemed to work well, though I applied too much pressure on the top-right rock, and tore the paper slightly. (140# Arches rag).

I think the water content is definitely important for knifing to work, but more important seems to be setting down a first wash with strongly contrasting values and hues, then being confident with the knifing technique. Just scrape and it. Just go. Don’t over think it, don’t plan it forever while your hand hovers over the paper, just slap the palette knife down, drag, pause, pick it up. The result will never be “what you wanted.” It will be “what the paper gave you.” And that’s what you want. Don’t fight it, don’t grumble and wrestle when doing this, just make your movement with confidence, and take what you get.

I also noodled with the sky some more. I hate it.

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