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I recently received a comment from a student that I’d like to share about the difficulties he is undergoing in painting rocks with a knife.


Watching your rock video is tough.

I just see brown spots, then I use your knife technique and the highlight blends then I put the blue and brown shadow lights and it also just mixes or blends so I have decided to develop my own style if I may.

The rocks move from being brown rocks to brown shale or lignite. That’s OK, I am going try other colors to help me ascertain highlight from just plain rock and then the low light.

This is the toughest thing I have ever tried. For this to be so simple yet it is not. And of course, I waste an entire canvas to include liquid white, Prussian blue, titanium white etc. I think I have to have a real objective like a scene not just an inanimate object like a rock.

I suffer from pure pragmatism! This is as close to impressionistic as I can get and live with myself. I can see why Van Gogh cut off his ear. To see an image in your mind, then see how the paint and brushes go their own direction is quite frustrating.

It is just me, nothing you have done or said in your tape. I will get over it, I am just demanding perfection from myself based on your example and I can’t seem to copy that no matter what I do. I think I do rocks better with a filbert than a knife. Richard.

The key Richard is never give up.

Let’s review basic rock highlighting with a knife.

Hold the knife between your thumb and forefinger on the metal ferrel when painting the rocks. Make sure that you have a small roll of the highlight paint on your knife. Remember, your stroke is just like you were painting a huge mountain, except we’re painting a tiny rock.‚ Now lightly, no pressure, with the knife just hovering above the right, lightly stroke the rock, making sure fingers are on the knife properly and not on the blade. No pressure and complete your stroke in the air. Do another stroke if the rock is larger than one stroke.

When you’re painting the shadow light, use the small edge of the knife and load up the same way and stroke, but this time in the opposite direction.

Now, I have a story for you.

I had the most awful time learning how to do highlights for trees. I mean, everyone would show me how to use the #2 brush and the #1 brush, the huge round brush, the half round brush, the fan brush and I couldn’t highlight to save my soul. Like you said below, it just kind of came out muddy.

One day Bob Ross introduces the black handled oval brush which is like a major big filbert brush.

I didn’t have anything to lose.

But wham, watching Bob and then working with my instructor Jessie Martin, I got it.

My brain finally understood how to highlight trees using that brush.

Well, let me tell you, over 2 years of frustration and it finally clicked. And even better the way I painted with the ‘big filbert helped me learn to highlight trees with any brush.

I got so good with the brush that when I went through BR certification, the other classmates simply stood behind me and just watched I’m so deaf I didn’t hear them back there. Only knew they were there when I backed up and stepped on somebody who got close behind me.

As I turned around, a student said, “Darrell, you make trees worth dying for”. Right then and there I knew this was the brush for highlighting. Dana Jester came by and said, he only wished CRIs could do this well.

Now the funny thing is, once I made the breakthrough, I was able to transfer that knowledge of how I was using the oval brush to any other brush. It doesn’t matter which brush I use now, I can highlight trees fairly well.

The moral of the story is keep trying, never give up and once you find what works, master it and then apply what you’ve learned with that particular brush or knife to all of the other implements and you’ll be just fine.