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May 24, 2010

Painting and the Chiropractor . . .

So I am back home from the Sonoma Plein Air Festival and have had one night of sleep. What an event. Almost five days of non-stop painting -- from dawn to dusk -- with one 19 hour day of painting on Thursday, extended into night to get the extra time required to prep works for the Saturday public showing. Was trying to get as many paintings out as possible before the Gala Dinner and Silent auction on Friday. Painted twelve, showed eleven. Sold three. I pretty much met my own expectations for my first time out.

We'll get to those paintings in a later post, but right now I wanted to show you a couple of videos my sister took of me when she and her husband Bill drove out from Santa Rosa to watch me paint one evening. I didn't realize it at the time, but she used her cell phone to shoot some video of me working, and the clips clearly explains why I often get serious neck and back pain after painting for an extended session. Assuming the video clip will play for you, can you guess why?

Hint: It's not the head bobbing that is my problem. That's just me trying to alleviate the pain and discomfort that is already there. That head bob is me trying to pop a vertebrae back into alignment. The correct answer is I must either change my body posture or dump the French easel I just bought and see if an an Open M or Easy-L system might be better. Both of those easels raise the palette up high and the painting support closer to the head. Apparently, I've been holding my upper torso cantilevered out over my working area for years and the strain has been taking its toll. It hurts and I'm so focussed I don't know it.

I went to a chiropractor today for confirmation and got it. The symptoms are classic. So I will first try to stand differently, more straight and in-line, and if that won't work start looking for a new easel. Clearly I can't paint this way anymore.

Ouch! . . .


8 reader comments:

Celeste Bergin said...

An interesting post--helpful to those who may experience the same issues. I am so fortunate, I do not have (knock on wood) back problems. But then...I have an EasyL. haha. I wonder if the problem isn't more your penchant for standing close-in...wouldn't the problem be solved by standing where one is "supposed to"... in front of the easel (instead of more to the side)?

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...


It is certainly possible that might help. And it is certainly one of the things I'll try. But I think the problem is in the way I lean over the palette and project my neck out that is causing the problem. We'll see. As I said, I'll try different positions before dumping the easel. If I make it to Eric's tomorrow and you see me standing in the old way please feel free to slap me upside the head . . .


kim said...

That does look painful. I've got some back issues that are aggravated by working at the easel too. I'm trying to correct my posture but I totally relate that when you are into it you can easily forget. Two things I would do. Raise the canvas up higher so you have to stand straight and get more distance from the canvas. If you can't see the canvas, then think about your glasses prescription. I realized part of my posture problem was because I have bifocal lenses. Changing posture habits is a slow process but in the end you'll be grateful. You might want to look into you daily, non-painting posture habits too. And remember to take a break and stretch. There's several positions that can relieve your back that you can try when you do break. Maybe your chiropractor can show you some or you can always ask a friend who is into yoga to give you some tips. You have my complete sympathy. Kim

Suzanne said...

Ouch! My neck almost hurt watching you lean over palette and then project your neck to paint. Those are exactly the positions I had when leaning over my repeated glazes of watercolor painting. My neck would hurt and I would have to lie on the floor and do repeated exercised I learned in physical therapy after whiplash years ago. All of this is part of the story of my conversion to pastel. The board is always straight up( or slightly forward) and I work to keep posture straight. My palette is placed to the side so that I don't get all the pastel dust on it. That takes some leaning over but your other easel sounds like a good idea. I still do my neck exercises daily. Hope you recover soon and checking on the progressive lens glasses may also help since our eyes go thru changes around this time.
Congradulations on your sales and all the successes!
See you next week.

G. Lindwood said...

Have you tried holding your palette in your left hand rather than having to bend down to pick up your paint? I know it would be a different way of painting but...
I've also got an EasyL and like it. The tripod is tall enough for me to work comfortably.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Gretha, Thank you for the suggestion but the rectangular palette in the French Easel really isn't balanced to hold on the left hand. (I tried it years ago.) Holding it would create more problems that it would solve. As silly as those big 'ol masters palettes look, they are balanced to set in the arm properly. (And they look so good with a beret!)

There are two issues involved, one is my bending over and the other is how I jut my neck out. Today I painted from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and was conscious of my posture. Everytime I bent over I stood up straight. And my friend John kept laughing when I did, which further motivated me. Today was much better but still some pain. I think the Easy-L or Open M is the answer.


Anonymous said...

Hey Thomas~ It was great meeting you Sonoma! And I'm going to take you up on your offer and come up to Oregon one of these days.

As for ergonomics thing, I get the shoulder / neck pain when I use the Open Box M. It comes from supporting the wait of my arm with just the shoulder muscles, and with the palette high up, I'm holding my arm up when I'm mixing the colors as well as applying paint.

Good posture is the solution, but it's not easy to remember that when you're focused on your task, right? Stepping back often helps to keep the weight distributed so the strain isn't always on one or two muscles, but when working en plein air, you often can't step back because there's a cliff behind you. or a ditch. or a wall. I've had more incidents stepping away from the easel than can count. Try dancing while you paint - you'll get looks but much less pain :-p

Great paintings you did in Carmel / Point Lobos!

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Terry, I will give your comments much consideration, considering you the one offering them. I have been more aware of my posture since Sonoma and my back is feeling better, but I still think a different easel may help even more. I also like the idea of having the palette up closer to the painting so there is less distance involved between the look, the mix, and the laying in of paint -- and the only way I will find out is to try a different easel.

As for coming to Oregon, consider it a standing invitation. If I have enough warning I can even offer you a place to stay.

Dancing as I paint. Ha! Believe it or not, I do that if the studio music is loud enough and I'm working a fun passage. I get weird enough looks from my fellow painters let alone from the general public. (Celeste, have you ever seen me do this as I work at Eric's studio? Ha! I should be embarrassed.)