Artists have been using a mahl stick for centuries. The main purpose is to support your painting hand
away from the surface of the painting while the mahl stick is being held by the other hand. They can be bought from art shops and sign writers supplies but you can easily make one. I made my one many years ago as can be seen from the paint. It is made out of aluminum tubing about 15mm in diameter. I have a narrower piece that is inserted into the main shaft. I found that without this it was a little shorter than i needed. This inner aluminum shaft is from an old UHF television aerial. Ii can slide in and out depending on the length i need at the time. The overall length as shown in the photograph is about 1300mm. Aluminum tubing can be bought from hardware outlets.
They can just as easily be made from dowel. I would recommend 10 to 15mm in diameter. Too thin and they bend too much . Too thick and it becomes a bit cumbersome. I used aluminum tubing as it is light with little flex.
On the far right end i have pushed on a rubber stopper that i got from a hardware store. This protects the painting surface if you accidentally scrape the end across the painting surface. Being rubber it also allows me to lean in against the painting close at hand without too much risk of it sliding off and falling on the studio floor, just when you need it.
The bulb end on the left, which rests on the painting, is traditionally made from leather folded over the end and tied. Usually with some packing underneath to form a bulb shape. The most important function of this "bulb" is to provide some friction so that it doesn't slide off the painting surface when you are using it. May not be a such a potential problem for textured work but my paintings are a smooth satin finish,
I have tried a few variations to make this bulb with materials to minimise the risk of slipping. Really frustrating if it slips when you are in the middle of painting a straight line. Leather is good but the best i have found is foam mattress rubber. I got a chunk of it and cut it into a rough sphere before cutting a small hole about halfway through and inserting the end of the aluminum into it, Then i tied it very tightly around the shaft. With scissors i then pinched out vertical concave pieces. I found this gives it more stick to the surface of the painting.
The bulb on my mahl stick has just been replaced. It is cut from a bit of mattress foam as described above.. Below the bulb i have taped a rag which i wound around the shaft and secured with masking tape. I like to dab off excess paint onto it as I work.
I use the mahl stick for a few different reasons.
-- for supporting my painting hand when painting very small areas with small brush. This gives more control as you are at a much better angle and distance from the surface.
-- When working on area that is wet or close to wet areas where you need some control.
--For painting straight lines. This is the one that needs lots of practice and is the primary reason that sign writers use them. I will go into more detail on how i use the mahl stick to achieve straight lines and clean curves.
To achieve the best result you need to rethink your painting hand technique a little when using a mahl stick. I am left handed so will explain my technique that way.
It is best to have the easel height setup so that you are working at about eye level. that way you can see the brush delivering the paint and yet have good control. Too low and it is very awkward to get smooth movements. Too high and you can't see the paint coming off the brush when you need to.
Positions the bulb end as far away from the area that you are working on without the risk of it slipping over the edge. I always work standing up and for painting straight lines or smooth curves this will give you more body control. To get the best result you need to be able to create an arc movement from where the bulb is resting. For painting straight lines i find that it is easier to keep the flow of the line smooth and even when my painting hand is further away from the bulb anchor point.
Hold the brush as you would normally but rest the palm of your hand on the shaft of the mahl stick. Then smoothly move the other hand, that is holding the other end, down in an arc with the brush delivering the paint onto the painting surface. The trick is to let the mahl stick guide the brush as you move it rather than painting strokes as you would normally paint.
Paintings with man made objects like building, furniture etc will have straight lines. The best brush to paint these is a rigger brush. These are very long bristled , essentially round brush. The long bristles give a lot more control than shorter bristled brushes.
more to come......................