Technique Tusedays: The Mahl Stick

Technique Tuesday mahl stick

What is it?

Today’s Technique Tuesday takes a look “behind the scenes” at a handy artist’s tool known as the mahl stick (sometimes spelled mahlstick or maulstick). A mahl stick typically looks something like this:

mahl stick

This kind of mahl stick is held in the non-painting hand, though some mahl sticks (like one we’ll see in just a moment) are designed to be hooked over the top of a canvas. The word comes from the Dutch word maalstok, or “painter’s stick,” as this took is used to support the hand with which a painter holds their brush. Not all painters use a mahl stick, but many find that it’s very helpful when working on an area with a lot of detail or a very large work, as it can act as both an arm rest and a tool to prevent accidentally touching wet areas of paint with one’s hand or wrist.

Examples from art history:

The mahl stick has been around a very long time, and has been depicted as part of a paitner’s equipment since at least the 16th century. You can spot it in many paintings depicting an artist at work, or self-portraits of artists at the easel, as in these examples below.

AH Collage Mahl stick
(left) Johannes Vermeer, “The Art of Painting”; (middle) Edouard Manet, “Portrait of Eva Gonzalez”; (right) Sofonisba Anguissola, Self-portrait

Examples at Principle Gallery:


Artists who prefer their brushwork to have a looser, more free appearance might not choose to make much use of a mahl stick, but an artist who works with a lot of fine and precise detail can certainly appreciate this handy tool. One such Principle Gallery artist is Cindy Procious, who we just featured last week in a post showing the awesome in-progress shots of her painting “Yin and Yang in a Crustacean World.” In fact, if you look at one of those in-progress shots, you’ll spy Cindy’s mahl stick making a guest appearance!

When you take a look at Cindy’s precise and detailed still life paintings (check them out on our website here!) it’s easy to see why a mahl stick could be a big help. If you happened to attend last year’s Face Off live painting demonstration, you also got to watch Cindy in action with her trusty mahl stick!


We love having live painting demonstrations at the gallery; it’s such a fascinating chance to see firsthand how these beautiful artworks that we show come to life. This year, you don’t have to wait for the Face Off to come around to watch some live painting at the gallery– mark your calendars, because May 15th from 6-9 PM, Teresa Oaxaca will have a live demo, followed by Robert Liberace on May 29th! Both events will be incredible, so if you can, be sure to stop by!

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