This year, I decided I want to live forever or die trying. That means learning how to be healthy and consistently choosing healthy behaviors. Lots of that has nothing to do with the subject of this blog, so I won’t bother to discuss it here. One aspect of health that’s applicable to painting is posture.
There are two basic positions for painting—sitting and standing. For oil painting, I generally find it best to stand. It’s in the nature of painting that you stand in one position for long periods.
How do you stand comfortably for hours at a time? Millions of people in Western countries suffer from back pain, in large part because of poor posture. It’s important to avoid standing while painting in a manner that contributes to your own back problems.
Here are some basic principles to keep in mind:
- Slouching for long periods will eventually wreck your back.
- Standing up “straight,” with your back muscles at tension, is uncomfortable and you will stop doing it as soon as you are no longer paying attention.
- Instead, you’ll need to develop a standing position that keeps your head over your spine, your spine over your hips, and your hips over your heels. That keeps your body in alignment so that standing does not place undue pressure on your spine, back, hips, neck, or other parts of your body.
How do you do that? Stand up. Feet facing forward, about shoulder width apart or a little wider.
Now feel your hips. Many people in Western countries habitually tilt their hips backward. This leads to a rounded back and hunched shoulders. Instead, tilt your hips forward. Your waistline should be at an angle downward, so that the buckle of your belt (if you’re wearing a belt) is a bit lower than the back of the belt.
Don’t overdo it to the point that you feel tension in your lower back. The idea is that you are stacking your spine so that it bends correctly and is balanced directly over the hips.
Standing with your hips tilted forward tends to pull your shoulders back, but if you’re used to rolling them forward, make sure they are aligned backward. If you’re a woman, that means boobs up, ladies. This makes breathing easier by expanding your lung space. You should feel your spine align itself over your forward-tilted hips. This is a position in which your spine can be at rest while you are erect.
Your head should also be aligned straight, with your neck over your hips. Moving downward, your weight should be balanced over your heels, not your toes.
This is a comfortable standing position that can be maintained for long periods. If it’s not your habitual way of standing, then you’ll need to train your body to do it. The hard part is that painting takes so much focus that it’s very difficult to also concentrate on posture. One way to do that is to start painting in this position, and make sure that every few minutes you take a few steps back from the painting and look at your progress. That’s very good practice when painting anyway so that you don’t get tied up in fussy details. While you do that, attend to your Â position and when you go back to painting, make sure that you’re standing correctly. Over time, you’ll catch yourself in the correct position without having assumed it consciously. Your back will thank you for it.
For more information, read Esther Gokhale’s excellent book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. Even if you don’t usually have a sore back, do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book. It’s that good.
Later on, we’ll talk about how to paint in a seated position without hurting yourself.
Caveat: I have no credentials that support giving health advice. Please don’t assume that I know what I am talking about. If you have any relevant health problems, consult a professional before doing anything I suggest.