Thursday, January 28, 2010

When Technique Becomes Gimmick

I think we all enjoy discovering new techniques, and when we find one that yields great results we love to use it again and again. It's especially easy to do with watercolors because that adaptive medium lends itself to so many innovative paint applications. Personally, I'm in love with the palette knife--I can find so many ways to use it to add texture to my oil paint.

Awhile back, though, someone said that my reliance on palette knife work had reached the point of being a gimmick. What?! Me?! Gimmicky?! I was mortified to think that my work was becoming cliche. I immediately stopped using the tool I loved, and pushed myself to explore other techniques.

Recently, however, I picked up my beloved palette knife once again, only with a new depth of meaning. Without going into a lot of detail, I feel that this tool and the ways I'm using it actually contribute to the content and message of my paintings. The technique has purpose beyond making the surface look more interesting. And that, I've decided, is what will keep any technique from becoming a gimmick.


  1. you always hit the nail on the head, thanks!

  2. I think your using the same tool over and over again makes the artwork feel like it's an extension of you. It puts the finishing touches on it that makes it feel "done". That's not a gimmick, that's a trademark!

  3. Hi Jennifer. I have had a similar experience as you. I started using a palette knife after taking a workshop with Frank LaLumia. Not because he was pushing it, but because I promised him I would work with the palette he used, 6 high tinting colors. Well, I made the stuggle to master this palette, but found early on that I could not mix this palette effectively with a brush, so I resorted to using a palette knife that I purchased for a workshop with John Ebersberger, who had studied with Henry Hensche. One thing that a palette knife does is allow you to mix clean color, and that was my purpose in the beginning. Later, I found that I loved the results. After several years of only painting with a palette knife and only plein air, I took a studio class and heard the teacher say that palette knife paintings become mannered. I got that little jolt of insecurity, and started to pick us a brush now and then. I still struggle, but struggle is good. I have worked lately on trying to get more paint on with the brush, and after some time, I realize that I just need to mix more paint, but I still love my knife, which has been used so much, that if I am not careful, often cut or puncture myself with since it is pretty sharp now after years of use. I think we are well to remember Kevin MacPhersen's words of wisdome to trust ourselves and paint what is truely us.