Ergonomic Easel for Neck, Back and Shoulder Pain

About 9 months ago I developed severe neck problems. Five vertebrae had seen better days. Unfortunately, a big part of the cause was my painting posture. Leaning in and holding my arm up for hours were contributing factors and left me unable to paint (or do much else). After a few doctors, misdiagnoses, physical therapists, acupuncture, etc., I’m happy to report that I’m a bit better every day. As of a few weeks ago, I’ve been able to paint for half-hour increments and I’m working my way up to full painting days. Things are getting back to normal, but I still have to be careful until I’m 100%.

In the spirit of getting back to work “permanently”, I had to rethink the overall ergonomics of my easel set-up. I realized it wouldn’t irritate my neck if I could keep the painting at eye level, be as close to the surface as possible, support my arms, and position the palette close to the painting.

It took a while, but I designed and built a desktop-style easel, which makes it possible to sit with my legs under the painting to avoid leaning in. It’s counterbalanced to easily raise and lower, keeping the area that I’m working on at eye level, and raises high enough to function as a standing easel. I use a modified monitor arm as a palette stand which is easily positioned and limits side-to-side movement (thanks to Natalie Featherston for this great idea!). I also purchased an ergonomic office chair, with a headrest, lumbar support, and 3D articulating armrests.

After using it for a few weeks, I can feel that it’s a far better painting posture and, in my current condition, it’s far less painful, which proves that it’s a better system regardless of neck issues. As an added bonus, I find it a little faster and more intuitive.

I wanted to post this for any artists who are experiencing neck or shoulder issues or looking for more ergonomic options or ideas. Hope it helps. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.


It’s mostly made with standard 2x4" studs, with 4x4" legs, planed down to make them look a little more refined. The pulley system is counterweighted with leftover floor tiles (cut to fit) from a bathroom remodel. 1/8" stainless steel cable. Varnished to seal and minimize warping. Because it’s front-heavy, the black boxes on the back are stabilizing weights.

Materials purchased (links):

Office Chair
Linear Rail Slides
Pulley Wheels
Adjustable Support
Satin Varnish
Monitor Arm
Monitor Arm Bracket


Thanks Slade!!!

This is awesome. I am just getting caught up on all of these posts now. Hope you and your family had a wonderful Holiday Season and have an amazing New Year ahead!

Best wishes,


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You are not just a painter but also a mechanical engineer! Amazing work.

BTW, I see the products you used for the modified monitor arm, but how exactly did you modify it for a palette?


Thanks so much Thomas!

I probably shouldn’t have used the word “modified”, it’s more of a palette holder “hack”. I used a standard monitor arm and only the bottom two monitor arm brackets (that hold the palette). I’m not worried about knocking my palette off, so I found the top brackets unnecessary.

For the palette: I use a piece of 3/8" plywood, painted neutral gray, and a piece of standard picture frame glass (which is thin and fragile, but it works for me). For something more substantial, I’d suggest 3/16" glass with the edges and corners sanded. I prefer the wood and glass to be separate because it’s more permanent than painting the back of the glass or adhering paper to it, but it wouldn’t work for anyone who likes to hold their palette. I have a couple of pieces of glass, cut to the size of the board, in case I run out of palette space or I begin work on a different section and want to freeze my paint from the previous section.

Hope this helps!

Thanks, Slade! I’m very seriously considering buying that monitor arm. I’ve always mixed on a glass palette on a table top but now I’m rethinking that because it seems inefficient to mix so far from the painting support, on a different plane, yet I’ve never held a palette on my arm and I don’t like the idea of doing it that way. I already have enough shoulder, neck, arm problems on my right painting arm. So the monitor arm looks ideal…

If I can just pick your brain a moment, I’d like to ask about lighting. I paint in my basement (it looks like maybe you do, as well) and I have this 4’ LED shop light above my head that is 5000 kelvins and 4500 lumens and it’s way too bright. It’s like a stadium light and it causes eye strain, so I’m trying to find a light fixture/bulbs that would be appropriate for general overhead lighting of the studio (preferably dimmable) in addition to an easel and palette light. I’ve seen some posts on here about light temperature and CRI but what do you think about the intensity (lumens) for studios?

Any advice is much appreciated.

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Thomas, I hope the monitor arm helps. I’ve spent quite a bit of time using it and I love it.

As for the lighting, I’ve tried many different types and this is my favorite combo so far:

I usually paint in a dark room, with only my easel light and a clip light for my still-life box (see the attached pic). I recently installed recessed lights in my studio ceiling (dimmable & 3 kelvin options). They’re great for general room lighting but, because of the lighting change on my still-life box, added glare on my painting surface and eye fatigue, I always turn them off while painting.

I have painted with 5000K lights, but I realized there was a problem with the color translation between my studio and galleries. Galleries and homes are most popularly lit with 2700K to 3000K lights. Once while visiting a gallery, I was shocked to find that the colors in my paintings, painted under 5000K lights, appeared less chromatic and lifeless under the gallery’s warm lights. Since then I’ve found that painting under 3000K 90+ CRI lights yielded better color mixing accuracy than 2700K, and colors translate beautifully to galleries or homes. I know this doesn’t answer your question about overall lumens for a studio, but I thought I’d share the lighting that works best for me.

Unfortunately, the bulbs I’m currently using are no longer available, but the specs on these are almost identical (except my current lights are 780 lumens and these are 800 lumens).

Thanks for sharing. I’m going to get those 3000K CRI 90+ bulbs and give them a try. That’s an interesting (and scary) story about seeing your work under gallery lighting with lifeless colors -after all that hard work! It’s also interesting that you paint in a dark room except for the easel lights (never thought of that!). I’ll give that a try.

It’s always fascinating to see how people set up their studio. I could ask many more questions about yours, but that will be for another time…

Congrats again on that custom built easel! What an accomplishment.

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