Picasso’s Assistant: Adjustable Easel and Marker Holder

Designers: Doug Helferich, Nissar Ahmed, and Sushma Reddy

Client Coordinator: Nancy Hoopingarner, PT

Supervising Professor: Kevin Caves and Richard Goldberg


Our client is an artistic high school student with cerebral palsy (CP), who enjoys drawing with markers. However she has severe contractures in her fingers, which makes it difficult for her to grasp and release marker pens when desired. Every time that she needs a new marker, a teacher or aide needs to manually open her fingers and place a marker in her hand. Also, her range of motion is limited, and as a result, she can only access a portion of the drawing surface.

We developed an adjustable easel that fits on her lap tray. The drawing surface rotates and has an adjustable tilt angle. The client can rotate the surface independently. A teacher or aide can adjust the tilt angle, although once the optimal angle is set, adjustments will be rare. The device also includes a marker holder so that she can access up to eight different markers. She can slide the marker holder out of the way when desired.

The client tested prototypes and provided feedback throughout the project development to insure that the device would meet her needs. Her teacher said that “the device has allowed [the client] to be more independent with her drawing” and that she is “really excited when she gets to use it.”


The easel consists of a stable base and an adjustable drawing surface, both of which are made of furniture grade plywood. The top surface is mounted to a backing using a lazy Susan, which allows the surface to rotate relative to the backing. The plywood backing is connected to the base with a hinge along the front edge. Several adjustments are possible. The drawing surface is 14” x 20” and the client can access about half of this area at any one time. By rotating the top surface, the client can position any part of the paper within her range for drawing. By tilting the easel surface, the teacher or aide can adjust it to the ideal drawing angle for the client. There is a latching mechanism to hold it at an appropriate angle. This consists of a wooden post that is hinged to the center of the backing, and it fits into one of 6 slots on the base, allowing for 6 different angle adjustments.

The drawing surface has two large clips on the left and right sides to hold the paper, notebook, or pad in place.

The marker holder allows the client to independently access any one of eight markers. Initially, the teacher or aide loads the markers, with the caps removed. The client can remove and replace the markers at any time. The holder is an enclosed box made of acrylic. The top plate has eight holes, spaced one inch apart and in a single row. On the inside of the box, the bottom plate is covered with a layer of Spenco (Spenco Medical Corporation, Waco, TX) to keep the marker tips from drying out.

When placing a marker in the holder, the client has a difficult time letting go of the marker. As a result, some resistance is needed to keep the marker in place as she tries to release it from her hand. This is accomplished by putting a layer of foam material underneath the top plate of the holder. The foam has holes that are slightly smaller than those of the acrylic, providing a snug fit for the markers. This resistance is great enough to help her let go of the markers when replacing them, but not so great that it is difficult for her to remove them from the holder when desired.

For the client to access the marker holder, the ideal location is directly in front of the easel. However, it is then in the way of her drawing. Therefore, we developed a mechanism for the client to slide it out of the way. The marker holder connects to custom wood mount in the shape of an elongated letter “C”. This attaches to a drawer slide that is connected to the base of the easel. There is a handle on the end of the wood mount, and the client can grab this handle and move the marker holder left and right as necessary.

The total cost of the device is $83.

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