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.
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)
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.”
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”