Palette Knife Acrylic Painting: Make your Portrait Step-by-Step! | Charlene Van den Eng | Skillshare

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Palette Knife Acrylic Painting: Make your Portrait Step-by-Step!

teacher avatar Charlene Van den Eng, Artist Palette Knife painting

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

16 Lessons (33m)
    • 1. Let's Get Started

    • 2. Class Project

    • 3. Your Model

    • 4. Let's Talk Materials

    • 5. You Do the Math!

    • 6. Sketching

    • 7. Color Inspiration

    • 8. Prepare your Canvas

    • 9. Grisaille...Say What??!

    • 10. Practice & Get Comfortable

    • 11. For Your Eyes Only

    • 12. Nose Job

    • 13. The Mouth

    • 14. Cheek to Cheek

    • 15. WET-in-WET


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About This Class


Which seems so easy but when you started it turns out to be really hard? 

Well, it is EASY... when you use the right tools!    


This class will take away a big frustration and I will show you STEP-BY-STEP how you finally can get started on that bold and stunning portrait! 

What always seems so hard turns out to be really Cool & Fun with PALETTE KNIVES!!

Together we are going to make a portrait and I will teach you the TECHNIQUE how to work with Palette Knives.

This class will cover all the stages. I will break it down into several lessons, 

in which we:

  • Choose the MODEL and MATERIALS.
  • SKETCH and PREPARE your canvas.
  • We will look into the Color Palette INSPIRATION and add the first layers 
  • We are going to PRACTISE some strokes
  • I will DEMONSTRATE how to paint the EYES, NOSE and MOUTH with the knives
  • And finally, I will show you how to blend HAIR and BACKGROUND with the WET-IN-WET technique   






This will lead into a PORTRAIT, completely made with PALETTE KNIVES!



I’ve been working as an artist with the palette knives for over more than 10 years now. And I'm really excited to teach you everything I know. So you can skip the messy part and jump directly into a nice clean effect :-)



The most important thing at the end of this class is that you have learned a very valuable TECHNIQUE in which you will feel comfortable using and I will encourage you to Enjoy and mix the knives freely into your own work and style.

This class is perfect for everybody who wants their portrait to stand out with amazing paint effects and you will find a new way of expressing yourself creatively. Both beginners as more advanced students can join, although a bit of sketching experience will come in useful. I will provide a link of some great Skillshare teachers if you need a little extra help on your sketching.

At the end of this class, you will surely be SURPRISED BY YOUR SKILLS and your portrait, completely made which Palette Knives, is ready to exhibit in our “Class Project’ gallery.

To jump right into the Class will need a set of palette knives, a canvas, a mixing palette, acrylic paint, paper towels a small sponge and a container for some water. But I will go more into the materials in class. Just start with the first lesson and follow me from there. 

Let’s Enjoy Together because in Joy most Wonderful things Will Happen.


If you want to see more of my work, you can visit my website and get inspired to learn this Skill yourself

If you need some extra help with your sketching

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Meet Your Teacher

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Charlene Van den Eng

Artist Palette Knife painting


Hi, my name is Charlene, I am an artist living in Holland and I made PORTRAITS with PALETTE KNIVES!

I’m excited to share my First Class with you.



I hope this Class will guide you in learning a new skill 'working with the palette knives', so you can get comfortable with the tools and mix them freely into your own work and style.

Pls. Leave a review, this will be very valuable for me :-)


If you like to get notified when my future class will be online, just hit the +Follow button.

Or get inspired to learn this skill by visiting my website

or follow my work on  



 Ch... See full profile

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1. Let's Get Started: Have you always wanted to make a portrait, it seems so easy, but when you started it, it's really hard? Well, it is easy when you use the right tools. Hi, my name is Charlene. I'm a Dutch artist living in the heart of Holland, surrounded by nature. In this class, I will take away your big frustration and show you step-by-step how you finally can get started on that bold and stunning portrait. I will teach you the technique, how to work with palette knives and show you where I find my inspiration, which will mostly be from the expression of human beings and nature. I hope you will enjoy because in joy, most wonderful things will happen. When I started working with palette knives, I remember that I smeared all the colors together and the outcome was one big mess. I couldn't find a proper technique how to work in a really clean way so I developed my own technique, which to my surprise, immediately had a super nice effect. I've been working as an artist with the palette knives over more than 10 years now. I paint commissioned work like for the gaming company, PUBG, and I had the chance to hand over my portrait to our Prime Minister. I participated in several TV shows, including the Dutch version of Painting the Stars. My work has been shown and sold internationally in is part of the collection of several international art collectors. Here in my atelier, I teach students weekly how to integrate the knives into their work. I'm really excited to teach you everything I know so you can skip the messy part and jump directly into a nice clean effect. Both beginners, as well as more advanced students can join. Although a bit of sketching experience will in useful. You will need a set of palette knives, acrylic paint, and mixing palette, paper towels, water, and a canvas. I will go more into the details about the materials later on so don't worry if you don't know which knives to use just yet. I will break down the class into several lessons. We should first look at the model and the materials. We will practice some strokes. I will show you how to set up the sketch and prepare the background. Finally, how to apply the palette knife technique in your own portraits. This class is perfect for everybody who wants their portrait to stand out with amazing paint effects. You will find a new way of expressing yourself creatively. I will encourage you to enjoy and mix the knives into your own work and self. It will be so great to see all the results at the end of this class as everybody has their own unique handwriting. Be sure to upload your portraits. Let's enjoy together. Hope to see you in class. 2. Class Project: Your class project will be creating a portrait with palette knives, something like this. In this project, you can apply everything that you will learn by simply following me as we go along and build your portrait step-by-step. I will guide you on your own pace how to prepare the canvas, and I will show you where to find my inspiration for color. I will give you many tips and tricks on how to get the most amazing paint effects. After this, it's time to paint. Together we will go to different stages. Each lesson will cover one specific area, like the eyes, nose, mouth, or hair, even how to deal with the background too it'll be covered. This will finally result in a portrait which you have completely made with the palette knives. Taking this class is not only a lot of fun by making the portrait with the knives, but you will learn a very valuable technique to use in your future work and mix it freely in your own style. In our class project field, I will provide some detailed pictures of my work and links for your use. At anytime you can go back to this. Here you will find some amazing examples of good model faces, the scaling technique, material list, and painting details as a reference. To get ready for this class, you can simply open the first lesson and follow me from there. At the end of this class, you will be surely surprised by your skills. Your portrait completely painted with palette knives, is ready to exhibit in our class project gallery. So don't forget to upload. See you in our first lesson with the palette knives. 3. Your Model: In this lesson, I want to explain to you how I choose my model. I see a lot of students who want to paint a partner or a child or another relative, this, of course, can be really cool. But when you just started painting with palette knives, I would not recommend this. It's so important that you allow yourself to make mistakes in this new process. By painting a loved one, you'll probably want to have it perfect, and this perfection can hold you down on the creative process. When you have learned yourself the new technique, you can go ahead and paint all your loved ones. When I choose my model, I start by making a little plan. If you want to paint a man or a woman, if this will be from the front or a little bit from the sides, if you want their eyes to be open or closed, this will give a very different feeling. With this plan, I start to look for great picture. You can just pick a picture from the Internet, but know that photographers use copyright for their pictures. As an artist, we will give a personal interpretation to the picture, so probably, we will not infringe water copyright, but just to keep this in mind. There are also some great stock pictures to get for your use freely. I will provide in the link in our project page for you to visit. Our final picture will be a printed close-up face. We will be painting on a scrap comforts, around 16 inch. So look for a nice crop face into a square format and print it on a letter size paper, A4. The size of the picture does not really matter. I will explain to you how to re-skill and enlarge the picture to fit your Canvas later on. Palette knife painting will rather give you an interpretation of a photo then a copy. So really small details is not what we're looking for. So also don't look too much at the surroundings. Just concentrate on a clear look. In our project, we will paint the background only with some strokes of the knives. I will go into that later. In this stage, colors are also not important because we will make our own color card for this painting. Even black and white pictures we'll do. One more thing, these are really small and therefore hard to paint with palette knives. So better to select a picture with a nice smell without physical piece. So make your plan, look at the angle in the expression of the face you like, and don't worry too much about background into colors. Enjoy selecting your model. 4. Let's Talk Materials: In this lesson, I will show you exactly which materials I use. Let's start off with the most important tool of this class, the palette knives. You will probably use multiple knives at the same time. Palette knives are really simple and cheap too. You can order them everywhere. Choose a palette knife with a metal blade and a wood handle. Try to avoid the plastic palette knives, which are not so flexible. It will break easily. They are mostly offered in a package. You can already find a set around $10. Big plus, the knives are very easy to clean with just one wipe of a paper towel. You will also need a mixing palette to mix your paint. Anything with a flat surface will do, but not a mixing pellet with the [inaudible] holes in it. You can use wood or plastic palettes, and I prefer a block with a disposable paper, even less to clean when you finish painting. We are going to work with acrylic paint for this class. You can find acrylic paint in student and professional quality. The prices can vary a lot, so it's a good thing to shop around a little bit. A student-quality paint will just do perfect for this class. With white, magenta, yellow, and blue, you can make all the colors you need, but this will take some mixing experience so I suggest you pick a few basic colors like a white, paints gray or black, a cadmium yellow, winsor blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, and choose some colors you want to build your portrait in. I use pale olive and a green, but you can use whatever you like. We will go more into this in a lesson where we take a look at the color inspiration. For our project, we will work on a square stretched canvas. Also, here, there can be a lot of price differences. A student-quality is just fine for the purpose so look for a stretch canvas around 16-inch, but also 18 or 20 will do. Next to that, you will need a small sponge, paper towels to wipe off your knives, a ruler and a pencil, and a simple plastic container for your water. You will find a list of all the materials in our class project and research page. Last thing to think of is if you want to stand up or sit down while painting. Both is fine. I always paint standing in front of my easel but sitting down with a tripod or table easel is also fine just if you have free space to move. Now you have your materials and your picture, I will show you in the next lesson how to scale your model to the size of your canvas. 5. You Do the Math!: In this lesson, I will show you how you can resize your printed picture into the size of your canvas. You will need a ruler and a pencil for this. Your canvas is obviously a lot bigger than your printed picture, so we have to enlarge your picture. Your Canvas will be a square size, around 16 inch. You have printed your picture on a letter size or A4, which is more common in Europe. There are different ways to enlarge. For example, using an overhead projector or a transfer graphite paper. They are perfectly acceptable. You can try these if you like. But for me, the grid method is the best way, also to train your drawing skills, instead of just tracing lines. First, we have to make the photo into a square size to fit your canvas. We simply fold the parts of the picture to make it square. See how you like the best look. If your photo is already a square size, you can go ahead with the next step, which will be making a grid on the print. For this, we are going to draw a grid over your reference photo in really thin lines. Thin because we want to erase them later easily. We are going to draw a grid onto the canvas of equal ratio. This means that you will have the same number of lines on your print, also on your canvas. The grid will help us draw our model more easily. You can add as many lines as you want, but remember to keep the lines really thin. When you've made your grid, you can continue with the next lesson, in which we are going to sketch our model. 6. Sketching: In this lesson, we are going to sketch our model. We have made a grit on our canvas, which will help us to transfer what we see in the photo onto the canvas. Look really carefully what you see in just one block. Make reference points on your photo which you can connect to get your lines on the right place. Try to find the reference points as often as you can and see the bigger picture. If you made some reference points on the edge or even outside your picture, if necessary. Make lines in your head and connect them. Maybe this will take some practice, but enjoy this part as much as the painting part. You will see your joy back in the final result. Don't see this step as a necessary thing, but a nice relaxed moment to spent on your project. So take your time. In our particular research area, I will add some links of great teachers here on SkillShare if you would like some extra help with your sketching. But keep in mind, we are going to make a portrait with two palette knives. This will be more an interpretation of what you see, than a realistic outcome. Your handwriting in this will be your charm. Enjoy. In the next lesson, we will take a look at my color inspiration. 7. Color Inspiration: In this lesson, we'll take a look how at to find inspiration for your color palette. This is my favorite part. Actually, I don't have to look for it, but it'll come to me, the same as it'll come to you if you open up for it. Most of my inspiration I find in nature. Here you can find the most beautiful color combinations with naturally match perfect simply by walking around and focusing a bit more on the details of your surrounding. If you want your painting to really be really colorful or more naturally, you can find it here. If you walk around, try to see the details and how many different stones there are to choose from. I always make pictures and find the colors which match with them later. What you are attracted to will be very different for everybody and will make it so personal and perfect for you. You don't need a lot of different colors. My basis is simply a titanium white, cadmium yellow, and Winsor blue, burned sienna, raw sienna, and a dark gray or black. Add one or two contrast colors you like. With white and black you can make all the different shades of one single color. Keep in mind that colors have also a different transparency. You can play with this as well. The benefits of a small color code is that the outcome will have a really coherent visual effect. Later on, you can decide if you want your background to be more light or dark. We will come to that later. Enjoy collecting your colors. In the next lesson, we are going to prepare our Canvas with one of two of these colors. 8. Prepare your Canvas: This lesson is a small and simple step, but it is essential. We are going to add the first layer on our canvas. This is called an implementula, which is Italian and means first layer. This will be a very transparent layer, almost like watercolor. The main reason why we are doing this is because this layer will be our cement or our binder for the painting. This will give us the freedom to leave parts of the painting open or transparent. It's really nice to vary with the thickness or the volume of the paint. For this purpose, we make the first layer in one of the colors you want to work with. We're going to apply the paint mixed with a lot of water, so it will be very thinner liquids. Therefore, we'll use a sponge. This is a really easy and quick task and doesn't need to be really smooth or even. Be careful that you don't use too much water. You don't want your canvas to be too wet and this will also disappear your sketch. If the layer is thin, it will quickly dry. One tip, if you want to speed up the drying process, you can always use a blow dryer. In the next lesson, we are going to apply the first monochrome layer. 9. Grisaille...Say What??!: In this lesson, we are going to apply a monochrome layer of paint by a compass. This is called a grisaille. We'll use a sponge or a towel for this. A grisaille is important to make the volume of the light clear. By making grisaille, you can completely concentrate on the lighter and darker parts without paying attention to the colors just yet. That's why we'll use only one color for this part. I prefer to work in the same color as the imprimatura, which we made in the previous lesson, or you can also use gray tones. You start with looking for the most dark parts of your picture, and apply the paint in all the places with this dark color. After this, you continue with a little bit lighter part. In this way, you will work through your painting, starting with the darkest areas and ending with the lightest parts. We have done this, you will see that you already have a really nice overview of your painting in the form of the heads and the shadows in it. Good luck on your grisaille. In the next lesson, we're going to practice some strokes with a palette knife. 10. Practice & Get Comfortable: In this lesson, we're going to try the different knives and the effect you can get with them. You can practice the strokes on a piece of paper or whatever you have available. You have different sizes of knives. You can say that by using the smallest knife you will use on the smallest part of your painting. This can be true but it also completely depends on the effect you want to create. As a rule, I always say there are no rules. That means that you need some feeling with your knives. That's why we are going to try all the knives and see what the result can be. When you use a nice flat, you will see that you create big strokes. When you hardly touch the canvas, you get some spots on the edges. This is also a great effect. Try to use the more or less pressure and see and feel the difference in the outcome. When you use the same knife on the edge, you will see that you can make really thin lines. Probably you will notice that the paint is quickly finished when you use them on the dry part of your painting. If you use the same stroke again on a wet part, you will see that the lines will be more smoothly and longer. Working wet-on-wet is a very valuable technique. You can use this wet-on-wet technique also to get smooth transitions between two color parts. They will blend automatically, especially with a little extra pressure. The opposite is also perfect if you want your colors not to blend. In this case, you can use a knife on the dry part or with hardly any pressure. Try the strokes you've practiced so far also with different knives and see what the effect will be. Enjoy your practice, and get comfortable with all your knives. In the next lesson, we will continue with your portrait using the palette knives. 11. For Your Eyes Only: In this lesson, we're going to paint the eyes with a palette knife. You have to start somewhere. People often ask me, "Where do I begin?" Well, there's not one answer for this, but I mostly begin with the eyes. I would like to start off with three comments on how to look at your picture. Try to look at your picture in color planes, notice how shadow make your flat picture into a 3D form, and nothing exists only out of one color. When we look at an eye, we can divide the different part of the eyes into planes. You can distinguish the eyelids, top and bottom, the iris, the pupil, white part of the eye, the eyeball, tear line, the tear duct, and eyebrow. I start with the shadow underneath the eye and create it with a wet-wet technique, the lighter part of the bottom eyelid, where the under eyelashes begin. Because of the [inaudible] you can already see the darker part, underneath the eye. From here I continue with the eyebrow in different shades of gray. Look at the shadows at both corners, which indicates that ball of an eye is around. Only just a small part of the eye is white. I give the iris also multiple colors with the lightest part against the side of the pupil. Don't forget the shadow underneath the upper eyelid. For the eyelashes, I use the wet-on-wet technique. Maybe this means that you have to work on the shadow and eyelashes at the same time or that you have to apply first paint on the eyelid, so you can make smooth strokes again. Try to avoid contours with the continuous line and you are working on your portrait. In the next lesson, we'll continue with the area of the nose. 12. Nose Job: In this lesson, we will work on the nose. Now we have painted the eyes. It feels natural to follow the shadow of the inner part of the eyebrow, which leads us to the side of the nose and parts of the cheeks. Try to look in color planes again, the same as what we did with the eyes. We can distinguish the tip, the nostrils, bridge roots, the wings, side of the nose, and the septum, which is the under part and leads us to the mouth. Notice that the septum is darker, that gives a nice 3D effect in our painting. The tip and the bridge are the lightest parts. Don't forget the shadows around the nostrils. Start with the darkest parts and put lighter planes on top of them. Try to create smooth transitions which [inaudible] Tip, don't forget to break the nose with some shadow at the tip and at the root of the nose. This will avoid to have a long flat nose. I will provide the color plane overview in our project and research area for your reference. Have fun, and in the next lesson, we will work on the mouth. 13. The Mouth: In this lesson, we are going to paint the mouth. When we look at the color planes of the mouth, we see that upper lip is a bit darker than the lower lip, which catches more light. Under the mouth will be a strong shadow to indicate volume. Lips had a lot of volume, so follow with your knife the direction of the lip and apply your paint in round strokes. The corners of both lips are darker, which emphasis the round shape as well. Notice that the little dip above the mouth runs into the nostrils and rise at the tip of the upper lip. Here is the highlighted part which is called the cupid bow. The cupid bow in the middle of the lower lip will be your lightest parts. Look carefully at your picture, what you see, and enjoy painting. I will provide all the sketches of the color planes in our project and research area. In the next lesson, we will link our painting with the cheeks and the forehead. 14. Cheek to Cheek: In this lesson, we are going to paint the cheeks and the forehead, and link all the painted details together by doing so. The most important thing about painting cheeks is the volume. This part gives a face its characteristics. Therefore, it's important that you look really in detail at your picture and see where the shadows are and where the light is. When you paint, try to follow with your knife the direction of the cheeks. This will give round textures color planes, and lead the viewer's eyes into the right direction. The shadows on the side of the face will give the shape of the face. Don't be afraid to use a lot of contrast. The more contrast you use, the better the volume will be created. For every part of the facial paint, it comes at you paint what you see. Try not to think. People tend to think that they already know what [inaudible] looks like. But when you stop thinking and simply paint what you see even when there are really strange forms, I am sure that you will be surprised by yourself. Always keep looking at your picture, and focus on the color planes and the contrast. Really enjoy again. In the next lesson, we will take a look at the background and how this will blend into the hair. 15. WET-in-WET: In this lesson, we are going to paint a background, which includes hair, if you have any. If you want to paint hair, it depends on the picture you have chosen. But even in a later stage, you can choose if you want to paint hair or maybe just an indication of it, or even a free creative expression. The background is the area where you can go wild and show your handwriting. We don't have to concentrate that much anymore. You can be as creative as you like. You can also choose to add another detail in the painting. As leaves, or color blocks or even textures will have a very nice effect. I will give some example in our research field. I love to use big knives for this part, which gives an extra bold effect. In this example, I simply use some big strokes and blend her hair into the background, so there will only being suggestion of hair. Notice, that a dark background will have a very different feeling to the portrait than a lighter background. You can play with this and choose whatever you like. I can't wait to see your portrait, so don't forget to upload. 16. FINAL THOUGHTS: I would like to thank you for sticking through my very first class art skills here. This was a learning experience for me too. Congratulations, you've finished the class painting with palette knives. We have covered everything from the models and the materials, how to rescale and sketch a picture to the color inspiration. We looked into specific areas as the eyes, nose, mouth, and background, which leads us to a portrait completely made with palette knives. It still amazes me how much fun it is to work just with the knives. You have learned a new skill, which you will find yourself comfortable enough to mix and match this technique in your own work whether this will be only with the knives or combined with brushes. Keep in mind there is not only one way to achieve a great results. I just showed you my way and hopefully this will inspire you to create your own cell. It would be so great to see all the different outcomes. Please share a picture of your portrait in our project and research section. You can also leave your thoughts and questions there. I will be more than happy to answer them. When you would like to learn more topics on working with the palette knives, you can also follow me and you will be notified to where my future classes online or you can follow me on Instagram or visit my website. I will share the link in the resource section. Finally, please leave a review about these lessons. I will definitely look at your comments which will be very valuable for me. Thank you, and keep creating. Enjoy.