Mahl Sticks and Such

A rare snowy day this winter and I find myself at sixes and sevens bumbling around the studio…eager to get the next painting up on the easel but there are gremlins about. I have a stable full of panels that are prepped but stand awaiting their final coat of gesso…the good stuff. This means that, once I decide what I’m going to paint and find the appropriate sized panel, put that gesso on and let it dry, then do the final smoothing wetsand… I have at least a day if all goes well before I can start the next painting.

Today, there was little cooperation from the muses. After telling myself not to try to do this without a drop cloth, I dumped a full quart of gesso on my favorite handmade rug…after I told myself to put on a smock…there went the shirt and pants…etc. Even when it did dry and I started the wetsand there were troubling areas that seemed to wipe completely down to the canvas so I had to re-apply and wait for that to dry and then sand again…twice !

So, while I practice patience and wait for that hopefully last coat to dry… it’s time to get back into the blog world. Last week my friend Peter Follansbee had an entry on his blog about the painting he is doing on his groovy new toolchest.

I noticed that he was using a mahl stick..

The simplest of painting tools it is basically a stick used to rest your hand on to steady it and the brush. It’s especially helpful for fine detail.

The one I’ve been using for decades I made from a twisty branch I brought back from Tucson. I sharpened the end, put a superball on it and wrapped that with a piece of soft leather. Wrapped this way the ball provides a soft pivot point that won’t marr the painted surface as you rest that end on the panel.

This one is about two feet long but has it’s limitations.

Then I watched a video that Bob Jackson has out now in anticipation of his newly published book,

Click on his painting above, The Feast, to view it’s creation. It’s a crazy slideshow look into his work process and along the way I saw him using his mahl stick. Couldn’t really tell because of the speed of the video but it looked to be somehow attached or anchored at the top of the panel or on his easel. This gave him a nice pivot point which seemed sturdier than my floating version.

So…I looked around the studio and found… The Niblick.

It’s an old wooden golf club that was used as a prop in the painting, Tea Time…

and now it is reincarnated as painting tool. It has just the right flexibility from the thin wooden shaft, and the iron head provides a nice weight, and the hook of the wedge is perfect for catching the top of the panel, or cross pieces on my easel. Because that edge is sharp and hard, I softened it by tying a piece of leather on and also wrapped the handle with a chamois for extra comfort there.

It’s just the thing for those tiniest details…

The painting I just finished yesterday was quite a bit larger than the one featured above and when the stick was hooked over the top of that panel it did not reach low enough for me to work on the bottom half of the painting. So… I dug around in the golf bag and came up with a 5 Iron. Not as asthetically pleasing with it’s metal shaft but the sturdiness of the metal seems to be needed for the extra length. I do have to close the curtains when the sun rakes in though…it shines off the silver and casts wierd light onto the panel surface.

Well the sunset came on quickly and the snow covered branches are blue against the darkening sky. I’m going to go see if that panel is dry enough to sand and then work on tuning up the sketch. Then it’s home to the fireside with Herself and Finn…and the snowy walk home will make it all the warmer.

One thought on “Mahl Sticks and Such

  1. You got snow? wow..
    thanks for the notes about mahl sticks. I have been too busy to chase it, but I have a memory of a Rembrandt painting showing one. Could be a fabrication, who knows?
    And the golf club! I used one back just after art school for a while for the same purpose. Your custom job is very nice…

    OK – back to it for both of us. Hope to see you both in the spring..
    PF