Instructor Kurt Schwarz during the 2014 Portrait & Figure Festival

Instructor Kurt Schwarz during the 2014 Portrait & Figure Festival

What is a Mahl Stick?

A Mahl stick (also spelled “Maul” stick) is a tool that can be placed across a painting to steady a painter’s hand or to provide protection against the dreaded “palm touchdown” on a painting’s surface.

History

The word itself comes from the Dutch word maalstok meaning “painter’s stick.”Particularly useful for longer drying paint like acrylic or oil, a mahl stick is a little-used but still very useful tool for painters looking for an easy way to steady a tired hand or make perfectly straight lines across the canvas. Commercial artists often use them for delicate lettering, as well as oil painters and other artists working with slower drying mediums working on detail.

This tool is estimated to have been used since the 1500’s, and has been used by artists ever since (pictured below)

The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer, Portrait of Eva Gonzalez by Edouard Manet, Self-portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola

The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer, Portrait of Eva Gonzalez by Edouard Manet, Self-portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola

Utilizing a Mahl Stick

Using a Mahl stick can be somewhat tricky, but with practice it can be a helpful tool. Rest the soft (ball) end of the stick on the edge of the canvas (some artists even have a ledge for their mahl stick to slide along) or on a part of the painting you’re sure is absolutely dry. Then, hold the loose end of the stick in your non-dominant hand to steady your dominant hand wrist while you paint. Hang or remove from the canvas when not in use.

Kurt Schwarz, oil painter and Art League instructor, sheds some light on his process, “In a nutshell, you want to keep your painting hand in the same position as when you are not in need of it and gently place it under your painting hand to steady it.”

The Art League instructor Kurt Schwarz demonstrates how to use a mahl stick at our 2014 Portrait and Figure Festival

The Art League instructor Kurt Schwarz using a mahl stick at our 2014 Portrait & Figure Festival

Resources

Mahl sticks are also relatively easy to make. Check out some of the tutorials below which will teach you to make, use, and perfect this handy tool.

“How to Make Your Own Maulstick”

“The Mahl Stick”

 

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Michelle

Author of many travel blogs and user of www.travelmustard.com