The Agony and the Ecstasy

5 Apr 2012

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. 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 American Artist wants to help with that. Right now a digital download of The Best of Drawing is being offered to all of our members for only 10 cents! It includes great pencil drawing lessons and info on how to keep your passion for graphite on the right track. 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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samickel wrote
on 6 Apr 2012 8:07 AM

I wear compression gloves when I draw. They fit snugly and help stabilize my thumb. My hands feel much better!

Bob in SF wrote
on 6 Apr 2012 12:57 PM

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

vggundar wrote
on 6 Apr 2012 1:10 PM

Use foam or rubber grips for pens/pencils/brush from the office supply stores (or even foam pipe insulation from the hardware store) to make the diameter of the pencil/pen/brush larger.  The more open you can keep your hand for long periods of time the less pain you will have later.  Here is an example:

on 7 Apr 2012 8:52 AM

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.

joanne121 wrote
on 7 Apr 2012 2:16 PM

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.

anthony1961 wrote
on 13 Jan 2014 1:34 PM

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......

elaineartist wrote
on 13 Jan 2014 2:49 PM

Nice how the link at the end-a digital download of "The Best of Drawing" for only 10 cents doesn't work...