4 Tools to Build Texture in Paintings

Abstract painting lends itself well to experimentation, and that includes the tools you use. Brushes have their place, but palette knives, putty spreaders, and wedges are my favorites to use because of the unique impasto marks they make. In addition, they are inexpensive and easy to acquire and clean. Let’s talk about these how to use these tools!

Impasto Technique

First, what is impasto? Impasto is the technique in which paint is applied thickly to a surface so that the texture is visible. If you want to do impasto, you will find it very easy to do with one of these tools. I find that the paint gets “lost” when I use a brush to apply paint thickly, so finding another tool for impasto is recommended.

Palette Knives

Palette knives come in a variety of sizes and shapes so that the artist can apply curved or hard-lined edges easily. The cheapest ones are made a plastic, while the sturdier ones are made with metal. To use a palette knife in an impasto technique, you would simply mix up the desired quantity of paint, add medium if you would like, and then put the paint on the bottom of the palette knife. Then, drag it along the painting surface to create the desired impasto texture.

Putty Spreaders

One of my favorite tools to create abstract paintings are putty spreaders, which is a tool my good painter friend Julianna Poldi introduced me to many years ago. The putty spreaders I like to use are made of resin, are rigid, and work really well to apply thick paint. Here’s a brief video showing how several dabs of paint become an beautiful little painting in minutes with a putty spreader!

Credit Cards

Don’t have a putty spreader or palette knife on hand and really want to try this technique? You can get an old credit card or ID card of some sort, and use that to apply the paint! I have witnessed several students make amazing paintings with one of my old credit cards!

Princeton Catalyst Wedges

Finally, there are the catalyst wedges from Princteon. They come in are a variety of shapes and sizes, and are great not only for acrylic paint, but also for clay and oil paint. The wedges feel great in your hand and have precise edges, so are a great purchase if you end up enjoy using alternative painting tools. They are reasonably priced and will last for a long time if you clean them after each use.

Painting Mediums

Using a painting medium is a great idea if you want to thicken the texture of your paint. Mediums also change the sheen of your acrylic paint. I almost always use mediums mixed with my acrylics. Learn about my five favorite painting mediums by signing up for my mailing list!


To conclude, if you want to do the impasto technique or show the texture of your paint in your artwork, using a palette knife, putty spreader, old credit card, or one of Princeton’s Catalyst Wedges are all solid tools to use. I would love to hear what tools you like for doing impasto painting—feel free to comment below!

Do you know I teach painting classes and 3-day artist retreats at my professional studio in Santa Fe, NM? I teach people how to paint using a step-by-step method that I developed from 28 years of painting experience. I make learning how to paint approachable, relaxed and fun, while at the same time teaching students the fundamental principles of good design so they develop the confidence to continue art-making at home. Book a class today!

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