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How to make and use a mahlstick for painting

Mahlstick

Before we explain how to make a mahlstick, you may be wondering what exactly that is. The mahlstick (or maulstick) is used by painters to stabilise the canvas or large board at the easel. Never used one before? This could totally transform your painting technique.

The mahlstick is one of those iconic artistic props, much like a floppy beret or painter's smock (you have those, don't you?). However, this ubiquitous little branch of cliché mustn't be underestimated. This is an extremely handy tool to have at your disposal, and it has a whole host of applications. Here are some top tips for getting started.

Want more top painting advice? Try our painting techniques roundup, packed full of advice. If you'd like to upgrade your kit, check out these essential art supplies. Or, to work on your drawing, see our list of how to draw tutorials.

01. Component parts of a mahlstick

Mahlsticks tips

Mahlsticks are made of three elements

Mahlsticks are typically made up of three main elements. One: a long, thin shaft, resembling a walking cane, that you lean your hand or wrist on while painting. Two: a cork ball, about the size of a ping-pong ball, fixed at the top end of the shaft, that leans on the canvas or board or hooks over the top of the easel. And three: a piece of protective chamois leather wrapped around the ball to stop the mahlstick from scratching, dragging or otherwise damaging your beautifully painted surface.

02. How to make your own mahlstick

Mahlsticks tools needed to make your own

Making your own mahlstick is easy and fun

Make your own DIY mahlstick by using a length of dowelling for the shaft, fitted with a cork ball at the end. Then fit the chamois leather around the cork ball and tie on a length of cord to hold it in place. When building your own, make sure you use a straight piece of dowelling for the shaft. This is crucial to ensuring you can use the mahlstick to its full potential.

If you prefer, you can buy a quality mahlstick on Amazon or at other major retailers like eBay.

03. Hook up your mahlstick

Mahlstick on easel

Hooking the mahlstick on the easel means you can position it at different angles

You can rest the mahlstick directly on the canvas, or hook the ball over the top of a small support or the easel. Hooking the mahlstick on the easel enables you to position it at different angles, and to perform tricky tasks. Remember not to lean on the mahlstick too much as you could disturb your painting.

04. Mahlstick painting techniques

Mahlstick on easel with person painting

A mahlstick doubles up as a straightedge tool

Use your mahlstick as a handy straightedge tool as well as a rest. Hook the ball over the top of the canvas or board so you can use your non-painting hand to manoeuvre the stick to get a straight vertical line. 

Then simply run your brush or charcoal down the length of the shaft to create your straight line. You can do this from any angle to also create horizontal or diagonal lines.

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Rob Lunn is a self-taught painter, and loves to paint in oils. His influences are Vincent van Gogh, Caravaggio and Ilya Repin. He has taught art workshops since 2012.