painting without paint brushesFrom the earliest age, young artists learn how to paint freely with their fingers. I remember finger-painting as a kid, and feeling the paint between my fingers as I smeared color onto paper. As an adult artist I have painted exclusively with a paint brush, and it hasn’t occurred to me until quite recently how inhibiting that actually is for myself. My technique for creating modelled forms on canvas often requires gradual blending and shading. For years I have done this with brushes.

I have been inspired to blend the paint with my fingers instead of the brush, and to experiment with other objects.

In doing so, I am exploring several ideas which I have seen artists use as painting tools.


What painting tools can artists use to paint with besides paint brushes?


  1. Wyland Whale Tail Palette Knife Palette Knives

    I have tried this before but it doesn’t work well for my personal style. But, I have seen many artists create magnificent works of art by just using palette knives. The technique usually requires loading the palette knife with a particular color and moving it across the canvas. Different effects can be achieved with different knives and layered colors.


  2. Fingerpainting
    After seeing Iris Scott’s paintings, and her method of finger painting, (see the video in the sidebar) I have been inspired to try fingerpainting for myself. I put on latex gloves a few days ago, and tried finger painting for the first time since childhood. I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before to try this! Finger painting works perfect for the way I paint. It gives me more freedom of expression than I ever had with paint brushes. I will not be giving up brushes completely though. I still need them to define shapes and forms, and for small details – and for smaller paintings.

    This is what I like about finger painting. I have always been a “hands on” artist. I am just as much a sculptor as a painter – even though I haven’t created much since art school. In art school, clay was my favourite medium. I have fond memories of the feel of the clay in my fingers and shaping it with my hands. I hope to begin creating sculpture again someday.    

    But, I have continued my sculptural tendencies in my paintings. Most of my paintings are partly sculptural illusions. I model forms with paint and create the effect of light reflecting off surfaces. I love to create the illusion of depth in my canvases, even sometimes making it appear the canvas is more than a flat surface. Finger-painting (with latex gloves) seems to be a natural progression, and I am excited to see where it leads me.

  3. Winsor & Newton Oilbars Oil sticks and oil bars

    Oil bars are oil paints in stick form which can be used for directly applying paint to a canvas, similar to drawing with oil pastels – only these are wet. Applying pressure results in a greater flow of paint.

    Using oil sticks requires minimal clean-up and paint brushes are not even needed.


  4. Various other Painting Tools

    Touch People with your Art - Click Here!Artists can use just about anything (and have) to apply paint to a canvas. Experimentation is the key to find instruments for creativity. Just using brushes can be inhibiting for artists who want to explore the range of possibilities that painting entails. Some artists collect many objects, which they keep in their studios to provide various effects.

    Here are some ideas for painting tools and art supplies to use for applying paint to a canvas.

    1. Sponges – Get sponges of various shapes and sizes.
    2. Knives – Can be used to create straight lines and spread paint.
    3. Squeeze bottles – Paint narrow lines or a variety of other effects.
    4. Rags and paper towels – Great for blending, spreading paint, etc.
    5. Credit cards – Some artists use the edge of credit cards (sometimes cut into strips) for applying paint, creating straight edges, etc.
    6. Airbrush – Using an airbrush can create great effects.

These are only a few ideas of what artists have used to apply paint. What painting tools have you used and what effects have you achieved?


  1. I will try finger printing definitely.....seems awesome !!!!

  2. Iris Scott's finger painting video is most definitely inspiring... last time I did finger painting was in art school!!
    Thanks Graham for motivating us to get out of our comfort zones :)

  3. Yes, Iris has definitely opened up some doors for a lot of us. I look forward to seeing your new work. I come from the 3D pottery and sculpture world as well and I'm constantly striving to get more height and body into my work. This post reminds me of when I was helping a student paint a focal point tree and I grabbed a palette knife and used the point scraffito style which I do sparingly to create interest. He looked at me as if I had 3 heads!

  4. Great post! I have used ear buds in the past to get some stippling type effect. It was fun!


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