I thought about titling this “Ergonomic Aides for The Artist,” but I know better: nobody would read it, and I couldn’t blame them. But stick with me here, because this is something really important. If you’ve been making stuff for years and years—and I mean almost any kind of stuff, from collage to sculpture, wire work to clay—sooner or later you’re going to have to start thinking about the toll it’s taking on your body, from the tiny joints in your fingers that are getting stiff from years of beading to those serious low-back issues from bending over and lifting things out of the kiln. So just go ahead and think about it now, because it’s never too early to plan for a long, long career doing what you love. Because I started having to deal with osteoarthritis at an early age, I’ve been having to think about ways to make sure I can do the things I love for as long as possible. There are all sorts of devices that can help you do things: cool little gadgets that will help open jars with dried-on lids, tools with bigger, softer handles that are easier on the grip. Fiskar’s spring-loaded scissors are way easier to use than regular scissors, and they’ve got the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation to prove it.
But of all the cool things I’ve found to make it easier to do the stuff I do, the very best things ever are these:
You’ve seen these probably a million times, usually sold as bed risers to lift a bed higher off the floor so you can store stuff under it. Maybe you even have a set already, maybe under the legs of one of your studio tables. (Or maybe you’re like a friend of mine who uses empty paint cans filled with rocks. Note: these are easier to stack.)
What’s so cool about these is that they’re lightweight and totally stackable, so you can adjust the furniture in your studio to the perfect height: not too high so that you’re lifting your shoulders, but high enough so that you’re not spending hours ruining your back. To make all this work well, you need to start a collection, as I have. I have a number of folding tables that I set up for various projects: some are 6′ long, and some are 4′ long. Usually when these are set up, I’m using the ironing board, too. (And sometimes all the tables are covered in plastic sheets, hence the used look in the photos above.) Usually two of the risers together will make things the right height, and I can set up two tables and the ironing board at roughly the same height so I don’t have to adjust as I move from one to the other. So I have a lot of these, bought over the years from IKEA, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart.
For other work, you may need a higher table: for me, I need just a little added height if I’m cutting something with a rotary cutter, something where I’ll use some upper body strength. For other work, like tracing or close-up work, I like the table to be higher, maybe 3 or even 4 risers high, depending on whether I’m standing or sitting on my tall padded garage stool (the kind mechanics have and that you can buy in the Big Box Hardware Stores). Experiment to find how much height is optimal for each kind of work you do so you can minimize the strain on your back, neck and shoulders.
My mother used the same ironing board all her life, and because she was taller than average (for what was average back then), she had attached wooden blocks to the legs of the board to make it taller for her. I use these risers instead, something I started doing before arthritis, back when I was doing a lot of iron-on transfer work and wanted to have the pickily-detailed images up close so I could micro manage their placement. I can raise the board right up to chest height with these, making tiny detail work way easier with no bending over.
If you have knee issues that make it difficult to get up from your work stool or bench, you could use several sets of these to adjust the height of your seat as well as the table at which you sit. With some experimentation, you can go a long way toward correcting the things that make work a pain rather than the sheer joy it should be.
If you’ve found other studio solutions and have photos, we’d love to have a link so we can see them, please.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
For more art studio solutions, check out the Art Studio Solutions value pack featuring two of Ricë’s books.
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