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):