Friday, April 8, 2011

Studio Equipment: Part 1

-By Dan dos Santos

Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting a few pieces of studio equipment that I simply can not do without. First up is a simple tool that most painters make use of, a mahl stick.

Traditionally, a mahl stick is just a dowel with a ball of leather tied around one end. For those of you unfamiliar with the tool, it is simply a means by which to steady your hand, while avoiding the surface of a wet painting. The leather tip ensures you don't scratch your work surface.

Over the years, I have taken to customizing just about every piece of studio equipment I own in some way to better suit my needs. But by far, one of the most practical adaptations is my mahl stick.

My easel has canvas bracers that can be flipped upside-down, which make for nice rail supports. I decided to take advantage of this feature by designing a hands free mahl stick. All it is is a basic dowel attached to a  wooden 'hook' by means of a wing nut. I then cut an 'x' shape into the hook (with a dado blade) so that the dowel can pivot. By tightening the wing nut, I can lock the stick at certain angles.


It may not seem like a big deal, but having a free hand to answer the phone, hold reference, wipe my brushes, or drink while I work is a major help.

Obviously not every easel is designed the same as mine, so this design may not work for everyone. Instead, consider Donato's alternative, which is a simple piece of wood attached to a c-clamp. Since it is an actual clamp, instead of a hook, it has the advantage of attaching to just about any work surface.

Up next, on Studio Equipment: Part 2... sound systems and shotguns.


  1. Looking forward to shotguns part. :D

    Seriously though, this will be very interesting.
    As a mainly digital artist (apart from sketching currently) a Mahi stick is not really of use to me, but it gives ideas an helps for when Im taking the step to traditional (later this year actually).

  2. I finally got a good easel after many years. It's a Santa Fe, like yours. After I watched Donato's Mechanic DVD, although that painting was done at a drafting table, it occurred to me to use a C-clamp and a furring strip, pretty much exactly the same as Donato's easel. Simple ideas are the best........

  3. Ah yes, sound systems and shotguns. The cornerstone to any decent tool collection ;)

    Great post, Dan! I really like hearing about these kinds of things and seeing how every artist approaches this. At the moment, my maul stick is just a flat 1/8" thick, 1"x36" long piece of aluminum bar, bent at the top into an L shape to rest overtop of my easel or drawing board with a cotton ball wrapped around the bottom for support. I learned this from Tim O'Brien. These little tricks and tips are great hearing about and it's funny how once you have these things, you could never go without them. Thanks for sharing, man.

  4. I've intentionally been keeping a shotgun out of my studio...baha
    I've never actually used a mahl stick - but it looks so helpful; I'll definitely be trying this out on my easel - thanks!

  5. Richard Schmid uses a Cane in the top of the easel. Simple and of great use.

  6. I've had luck using a curtain rod... very inexpensive if you've got one lying around.

  7. Thanks Dan! We artists tend to stick with the first tool we learned (traditional Mahl stick for me) and never really think that there might be an easier, more efficient way out there!

    Now I've got an easel to modify....after I figure out where my wife hid my power tools....

  8. That's a nifty mahl stick!

    For years I used the rung that fell off of an old chair, and now I use a sign painter's collapsible mahl stick since it is very portable.

    But I've been thinking of something more useful after seeing Donato's Mechanic DVD, and now your post has opened up a new possibility as well.

  9. Dan this is really helpful. I just have one central pivot on the easel but am soon going to move to my desk - this way it will be something like Donato's. Thanks again for the tips - always very helpful!

    Cheers and keep rocking more awesome paintings - great fan of your work!

  10. I've found I don't use the mahl stick I made while painting, because I like to have a hand free to hold the palette. I shall have to make a clampy thing.

    Mahl sticks are, however, useful for closing doors that people have left open, without necessitating getting up.

  11. Hi,
    This is my version of mahl stick.
    I spent less than 10 Euro.


Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Whatsapp Button works on Mobile Device only

Start typing and press Enter to search