Art Gallery Gauvin

Australian Bush Legends

header photo

Tools for Painters with Arthritis

Welcome to my page for painters with arthritis.

 Does Arthritis Mean You Must You Give Up Painting?

Like every painter who has advanced arthritis, in any of its many forms, you know how painful it can be to stand at the easel or sit at the drawing board for long sessions. Perhaps your limit has been reduced to only one hour.

Yet you still have to lay out your materials before you start and then clean up afterwards. Can you do enough in one hour to make the effort worthwhile or should you take up some other interest?

In her exquisite novel Luncheon of the Boating Party Susan Vreeland quoted Renoir: 'A painter should be dead if he can't paint.'

Here are five fairly simple tools that could help you decide to stick with your art. They were developed during the four decades since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I call them the   ABC of Tools for Painters with Arthritis.

  • A is for an Artist's Palette you can hold without cramping up

Deformations from arthritis in your hands can make holding a traditional palette out of the question.

Over the years, I tried several improvised alternatives. None was really successful and all were uncomfortable to hold. So, for most of my career I have made do with a sheet of plate glass on the benchtop of my supplies cupboard.

The drawback, as you can imagine, was having to load the brush with a mixture from the palette, then lift it to the target section of a canvas usually four to six feet in length and three to four feet in height. Finally the frustration forced an Ah Ha! moment.

What was needed was some kind of fully-rounded handle attached to a half-moon plate. Something like a tennis table paddle but impervious to oil paints and turps. Since I have the constructional talents of a goldfish, I took this idea to my partner and waited with well-founded confidence for him to produce the desired artefact. You can see the result in the gallery of at right - just click on any image to enlarge it.   

  • B is for Brushes and a painless way to clean them

In the early years, my mother (who often carried a miniature toolset alongside the lipstick and powder compact in her handbag) devised a way of building up the handles of my brushes so my fingers could grip them. She wrapped the handles with layers of foam plastic, held firmly in place with elastic bands.

This solved one problem but until very recently, there seemed no way to avoid the painful process of washing the twenty or more brushes after a session. As you oil painters know, turps is not enough! Hog hair brushes need a final wash in pure soap and cold water.

A Tip for any  beginners: Detergent and hot water are ruinous to hog hair. When these mis-treated brushes dry, their bristles frizz up like a bad home perm.

Here's my new trick: Fill a dispenser with liquid soap ( not the kind that includes a moisturiser ) and pump this out as needed onto a flat, white surface ( a lightweight dinner plate will do. ) Holding the brush vertically, you can push the bristles onto the soaped plate, then rinse in clean water.

Repeat until no colour remains in the bristles or at the ferrule. Stroke the brush back to shape and stand it to dry in a suitable container. If, like me, you use sables as well as hog hair brushes you can still use this method but with a gentler touch.

  • C is for a Clock to time your sessions in the studio


Studio time is not the same as clock time. Rapt in what you're doing, it is all to easy to forget about taking a break until your arthritic joints scream out the need. If you are as pig-headed as I have been for so long, you will often end up losing the next day's work or even more. In this electronic age, a clock can be any device you choose. But there's a lot to be said for the old-fashioned wind-up kitchen timer. Just make up your mind to obey the alarm and down tools when it rings.

Tip for oil painters: If you plan another session after your break, a sheet of cling film will keep your in-use brushes and the colours on your palette from drying out.

  • D is for your Daybook


In it, you'll plan the day ahead and at day's end log your achievement. It's a morale-booster to see your targets marked off with a tick. Be sure to get a hardcover journal with one-week-to-the-open because anything bigger may seduce you into keeping the kind of detail that really belongs in a Diary.

And do you have the time and energy to spare?

  • E is for a motorised Easel


With the help of a qualified electrician, the home handyman/woman can make one like that built for me by my partner and an artist friend who had been an electrical engineer. It is run by an electric roofer's drill connected to a threaded steel rod. The drill has good torque but is limited to 550 revs.

A touch of my toe on a battery-operated switch at the base of the easel runs a threaded block along the rod, forwards or in reverse, to raise or lower the painting without effort or pain to my shoulders, elbows, hands or wrists. My contribution to the build was to rub in three layers of Swedish oil, which has kept the timber in good condition for over twenty years. Please don't attempt this without the help of a qualified electrician.  

Whatever type of arthritis you are dealing with, your doctor will have explained to you the importance of limiting the stress to your already damaged joints. The information in this article obviously is not medical advice. It does come, however from someone whose entire career as a painter has been conducted along with managing arthritis.

For all the tomorrows of your personal life, your artwork and its development, and the future of our shared planet and all its lifeforms, I hope you will  say along with me that: The Best is Yet to Come!  

 read Dorothy Gauvin on Practical Tips for: 

 Living with Arthritis.1  What is Crippling Arthritis and  How Can You Deal With It?

Living with Arthritis.2  Coming to Terms With Crippling Arthritis

Living with Arthritis.3  How to Live With Rheumatoid Athritis - On Your Own Terms

Living with Arthritis.4  Rheumatoid Arthritis - Practical Tips for Overcoming Its Obstacles