The Agony and the Ecstasy

A few weeks ago an artist friend of mine rotated his wrist and made a wincing face after he had finished working on a quick pencil drawing, and it made me realize that drawing isn’t just fun and games. It can cause strain in the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, and back for many artists who work predominately with a drawing pencil. But hope is not lost. There are a few preventative measures I wanted to share with you to keep you in good shape to draw!

Detail of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1611.
Detail of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo,
Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1611.

Make sure you set up your workspace so that if you are sitting, your feet rest flat on the floor with your hips higher than your knees so you keep the natural curve in your spine. Keep your drawing arm supported from elbow to fingertip, and that your arm can move freely without bumping along the edge of your desk. Working on an elevated surface can also help avoid neck strain.

Stretch–and often! That means before you start a drawing and several times during a drawing session if necessary. Take breaks when you feel fatigued–don’t push it, and don’t ignore what your body is telling you. The drawing will always be there waiting for you, right? So there’s no hurry. And if drawing one way causes you pain, look for another way to execute the same stroke. Changing technique isn’t the end of the world and I’ve found purposefully doing that has been rewarding for me. Not necessarily because of joint discomfort, but because it allows me to realize how open-ended my pencil strokes can be.

Hopefully these tips will help stave off any discomfort you have when drawing, allowing you to have enjoyable and productive studio and workshop experiences. And if you just so happen to have a four-footed studio mate keeping you company, you are in great shape to take advantage of the Passion for Pets Ultimate Collection available right now. It includes great colored pencil drawing lessons and info on how to keep your passion for drawing on the right track and making fun portraits of the loyal pets you love. Enjoy!

P.S. If you have any ways of reducing strain in your drawing hand, share them with us by leaving a comment.

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

7 thoughts on “The Agony and the Ecstasy

  1. Worthy topic – thanks, Courtney.
    My 2 cents:
    Set up great ventilation, and work outside whenever possible.
    Follow Monona Rossel’s advice about art material safety (“The Artist’s Complete Health and Safety Guide”)
    Stay well hydrated at all times, and breathe like a singer or wind instrumentalist.
    Fingerless gloves can be a great help and comfort for those with cold hands.
    Don’t overgrip your brushes/tools because loads at the digit tips transfer tenfold to the wrists – one pound of pinch pressure on the thumb pad registers as 10 pounds at the vulnerable basal joint where the thumb joins th wirst bones.
    Use a tiltable/rotating easel to avoid awkward postions – bring the work to the hand – and this includes sculpting in the round with an adjustable height sculpture stand.
    Take your vitamins – and get blood tested for vitamins D, B6, B12 and C if necessary – the prevalence of potentially disabling vitamin D deficiency is rising.
    Take breaks.
    Avoid sustained head-forward, limbs-forward, palms-down positions as much as possible – posture matters greatly.
    Use voice recognition software for as much of your computing as possible.
    Cultivate ambidexterity.

    Best regards to all artists!
    – Bob Markison

  2. To minimize tension in your hand: Stop drawing first, then gently drop your hand down and flutter wrist and fingers from low to high and then across your body. Pretend you have wings. Lastly, turn on music and “play” each finger to one beat at a time up and down in sequence a few times. Following the beat exactly retunes the nerves and your fine control of the individual fingers. Go back to your brush or pen.

  3. I have had two hand surgeries to remove arthritic bones caused by the genetic disease and aggravated by the many hours of drawing, painting and framing.
    The most useful tool to help aggravate a stressed hand is to use a “fat ” tool.
    Use a thick pencil or pen whenever possible. Since most drawing utensils are rather thin then adding a rubber or plastic tubing or commercially available pen/pencil triangles that add depth to the tool is very helpful. Instead of the pressure being against the thumb and index fingers joints only, the pressure is more widely spread throughout the hand when the tool is fatter. This works also for potato and veggie peeler, cutting knives, paint brushes, etc.
    Now I can work for several hours with little recourse.
    Joanne Gervais
    ps. if my descriptions are not clear enough, I can send photos of these adapters in use.

  4. This is a wonderful topic! My workspace is where ever I find myself…But it is important that we take of ourselves in the wonderful pursuit of artistic endeavour….Whether we are in the studio or at our favourite cafe, pub, et cetera……

  5. Courtney—

    This is an excellent blog about something we should about hear much more.

    It is not uncommon for illustrators to work long hours. This can wear on a person. As an illustrator and ad designer my average day was 12 hours. It was not uncommon to work 16 hours and on occasion 24. Short breaks are an absolute necessity.

    I have found it good to keep my working arm as free as possible. This allows for more freedom of movement and less tension. It starts by keeping my shoulder as loose as possible. It should be free of having to support or steady my arm and hand. My hand should have what ever contact is necessary with the drawing surface along with light support from my forearm.

    Also, I always tried to lean toward the drawing board more from the hips than from the waist. I think that has helped me to be free of some of the back problems that can develop over years of work.