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Painting an Ice Cream with Oil Paint and Palette Knives for Beginners

For beginners


  • Brushes – Below are the brushes I used. I used the large flat brushes to blend the different blues on the background together.
  • Oil Paint – If you are looking to buy an oil paint set, I would recommend getting a Daler Rowney set. This brand is my favourite brand to use.
  • Palette Knife
  • Turpentine – You don’t have to use expensive virgin turpentine. I usually just buy a 5 litre can at the hardware store. The reason why artists use virgin turpentine is because it makes the colours appear brighter, but the difference is so subtle that it isn’t really worth it. Once you are done with painting, put a lid on your turpentine (for safety reasons). You can then use it a second time since the pigments all sink to the bottom of the jar.
  • Acrylic Paint – Daler Rowney System 3 paints are highly recommended.
  • Tissue paper – I prefer using tissue paper over a towel. I find a towel gets dirty too quickly when working with a palette knife. Oil paint is also difficult to wash out (and you can’t put it in the washing machine – I did this once and my clothes smelt of turpentine for weeks after that).
  • Canvas – I used a 35×35 cm canvas
  • Pencil and eraser for planning
  • Paint Palettes – You will need two, one for acrylic paint and one for oil paint. You don’t need to buy pricey palettes if you don’t have one. Instead, you can use an old tray or plate. One trick I like to use in order to make the cleaning process a bit easier is to cover the entire tray in cling wrap. Once you’re done with your painting, you only need to cut the cling wrap off and your tray is ready to use next time you paint.

Draw your ice cream

Start off by making a rough sketch of your ice cream. Here I used a simple HB pencil, but I would suggest that you rather start your planning with coloured pencils, since this is easier to cover with paint than an HB pencil. For this painting, though, It does not really matter, since we will be applying thick paint later on.

Block out the Three Main Tones

Even though we are creating an oil painting, I find that it is better to start any oil painting with a layer of acrylic paint first. I do this, because acrylic paint dries much faster than oil paint, so you can start painting your second layer within minutes.

Remember, oil paint can go on top of acrylic paint, but we can never add acrylic paint on top of oil paint, because the paint will then start to peel of the canvas.

As you can see here, there is very little detail painted and the painting looks a bit dull. This is ok, since this step is just to map out all the dark, medium and light tones for yourself to make it easier later.

To do this, look for the darkest tone first. Once you’ve covered the darkest tone, go on to the lightest and paint them white. It will then be easier to fill in the blank spaces on your ice cream with a medium tone.

You can use a brush to do this, since you have more control over the brush than the palette knives.

Paint your background with Acrylic Paint

Choose how you would like for your background to look. Since we are using acrylic, you can experiment a little and easily change it or adjust it within minutes after it dries. I decided to go for a very smooth and plain background. I did this because the contrast between the rough palette knife paint on the ice cream and the smooth background will make the ice cream stand out more.

Start painting the background in Oil

Once your first layer of paint is completely dry, it is time to start painting in oil! You’ll find that this second layer of paint will really make the colour a lot more vibrant.

I started off by giving the background a second layer with oil paint. So you’ll see here that I did not mind going a bit over the edges of the ice cream, since it will be easy to cover later. My main focus here was just to get the gradient background looking as smooth as possible.

You will find that the oil paint will be a lot easier to work with when it comes to blending, since you can really take your time with this medium.

Whip out your palette knife!

You can now start by painting the ice cream with your palette knife and oil paint. Oil paint is the best medium for this, since the consistency of the paint is nice and thick so it is easier to work with than acrylic in this case. But you can add other mediums to acrylic to achieve this if you do not want to work with oil paint.

Remember that it is important to enjoy the process and to not have a very specific image in your head for the end product. Palette knife paintings also tend to look a lot better when you don’t try to control it too much, since your playfulness will translate through the paint. In other words, if you try to control it too much and get stressed out about what it looks like, it will show in the painting.

How to start

You can start off with your knife the same way you started the painting; by blotting out the dark, medium and light tones.

The Palette Knife angle

The key thing you need to remember about palette knife painting is that the angle of your knife makes a big difference in the outcome of the mark on your painting.

Have a look at how I am applying the paint here. I am only adding paint on the tip of the knife since i want to make a smaller stroke for a highlight. I am also holding the knife at an angle, leaning slightly to the right and forward (with the back of the knife upward and the tip on the canvas)

how hard you should you press on the canvas with your palette knife

If you really want to add a lot of thick paint (this is also called impasto painting) to your canvas, it is important not to press on your canvas too hard, since this will make the paint spread out too much.

You can see it as that you are sculpting with the paint, since you don’t want it to be the same thickness everywhere. Perhaps you could try to add thicker paint to the lightest areas of your painting. This way, there will be a slight shadow casted by the paint on your darker areas, since it doesn’t stick out as much.

Use your paint brushes for the smaller areas

Just because you are creating a painting with a palette knife, doesn’t mean you can’t use a brush every now and then, especially in those smaller areas, like the shadow at the top of the ice cream cone.

You can then continue to work over this in some areas with a palette knife.

Don’t be afraid to scratch into your painting with your knife for texture

Use a towel or tissues to wipe all the paint off your palette knife before doing this. As you can see here, I scratched some lines and wrote on the cone with the palette knife.

Tie all your strokes together

Before doing this, clean your knife with some tissue. You can then make larger swoops over some areas you painted, going in the direction of the lines your ice cream is creating. This will slightly mix the paint in some areas and give you some more medium tones.

You then need to continue on top of this with some more bold palette knife strokes which you won’t blend in.

Have a look here at the medium tones created on the area circled here.

Rounding off

Finish off your painting by adding the very lightest areas of your ice cream.

Aaaand you’re done!

I really hope enjoyed painting with palette knifes!

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