Drawing can cause a repetitive strain injury (RSI), but with a few precautions and the right equipment, this risk can be minimized.by Edith ZimmermanDrawing is not usually thought of as a high-risk occupation. Calluses, dirty fingernails, stained clothes, and the occasional paper cut are usually the worst that can happen. But for many artists, particularly those who have been drawing for years, the simple act of making a pencil line drawing can yield painful and devastating results over time.
|Median Nerveby Leslie Arwin, 2006,colored pencil, 10 x 8.Collection the artist.|
Blame it on devotion, but many artists—chiefly those for whom pencils are the instruments of choice—experience a repetitive strain injury (RSI) at some point in their careers. Repetitive strain injuries, as the name suggests, come from repeated stressing and flexing of certain muscles and joints. For most, pain associated with RSI is located in the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulders, neck, or even the lower back. The bad news: for many, the pain is chronic and often interferes severely with their passion for drawing. The good news: everyone can benefit easily from learning how to draw with a few preventative and restorative measures. We consider working this way one of the drawing basics.Tennis Elbow & ErgonomicsTennis elbow—or, as Allison Fagan, a signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA), calls it, “pencil elbow”—is a common complaint among those who spend long hours drawing. Says colored pencil artist Helen Passey, “My tennis elbow is definitely a direct result of colored pencil work on a show deadline.” Leslie Arwin, a doctor who practices occupational medicine and a member of the CPSA, says her struggle with both tennis and golfer’s elbow (lateral and medial epicondylitis, respectively) has been frustrating and has also forced her to re-evaluate the way she draws. “It is important to have an ergonomic evaluation of your work space,” says Arwin. “For artists, that isn’t always easy.” If you don’t have an ergonomic evaluator at your disposal, here are some basic improvements you can make on your own.
|Wrist Flexors WithExtension Stretchby Leslie Arwin, 2006,colored pencil 8 x 10.Collection the artist.|
Setting Up Your WorkspaceMake sure your chair is giving you the best support possible. Deborah Quilter, the author of The Repetitive Strain Injury Recovery Book (Walker & Company, New York, New York) and creator of an RSI website (www.rsihelp.com), recommends that artists “adjust the height of the chair so that your feet are resting flat on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor, use a footrest.” Moreover, “You need a chair with pelvic tilt. That means it allows you to have your hips higher than your knees,” she advises. “That’s really important, because otherwise you lose the natural curve in the spine, which leads to back pain and other problems.” Several such chairs are on the market, including the Martin Universal Vesuvio Series drafting stool, which is available through vendors such as Blick Art Materials. But Quilter asserts, “You can get a wonderful chair, but you should really spend as little time as possible sitting in it.”[fw-capture-inline campaign=”RCLP-confirmation-how-to-draw” thanks=”Thanks for downloading!” interest=”Art” offer=”/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/0213_LearnHowtoDraw.pdf”]Make sure there is ample support for your drawing arm. “Setting up your work space so that your forearm is supported is the most important thing,” Arwin explains. Linda Wesner, a signature member of the CPSA, agrees. “If my forearm is supported by the desktop while I’m drawing it really helps,” she says. “Whenever I let my elbow hang over the edge of the desk for extended periods of time, I feel pain.” Quilter concurs, “You don’t want the arm to be pressing into the hard edge of the table. You don’t want to lean on your elbow—both these things can give you nerve damage. Make sure you have an elevated, slanted surface so you’re not craning your neck to see your work and so your arm can move freely without being pinched by the edge of your desk.”
|Wrist Extensor WithFlexion Stretchby Leslie Arwin, 2006,colored pencil, 8 x 10.Collection the artist.|
Changing the angle of the drawing board can also make a workstation more ergonomically sound. “I had an ergonomic assessment of my work space shortly after the problem arose,” says Fagan, “and as a result changed the angle of my drafting table so that it is almost perpendicular to the floor.” CPSA member Linda Koffenberger adds, “I don’t have any discomfort when drawing because I use a drafting board set at a 20- to 30-degree angle.” Fagan also recommends using “a small footrest so that my legs are bent at a 90-degree angle, and I’m not tempted to lean forward when I draw.” Stretching, Posture, BreaksSome of the simplest solutions to the pain associated with repetitive stress are based on common sense—stretch, take breaks, and maintain good posture. “Sit up straight, stretch frequently, and pace yourself,” says Quilter. Explains Fagan, “Most important to maintaining a healthy status is stretching for five to 10 minutes before I work. I extend my wrist up and down with my arm bent and my elbow straight.” Koffenberger also suggests a particular stretch that works for her: “Sit up straight in a chair next to a low table (the surface of the table flush with the seat of the chair). Place your hand, palm down, on the table. With your arm straight over your hand (your wrist forms a 90-degree angle with your palm), lean into your hand. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then relax. Do this five times. It helps to loosen up the tendon in your wrist and relieve pressure on the median nerve. Or at least it works for me!” Colored pencil artist Laurene Puls says that for every muscular action, she makes an equal and opposite muscular reaction to keep pain at bay. “In other words, if I’m going to make a clockwise circle a dozen times, I need to go counterclockwise a dozen times.”Another factor that contributes to the development of an RSI is poor posture. “No ergonomics will solve poor posture,” says Quilter. Good posture—holding the spine erect, standing tall—is important to maintain not only while standing but also while sitting. “You want to sit up straight when you’re drawing,” advises Quilter, “because when you slouch, you’re compressing your diaphragm, your spine isn’t supported, and you’ll get back pain.” Working for prolonged periods in a seated position can cause people to slump, to assume the position of their chair, and to hang their heads. “I try to keep my ears aligned over my shoulders when I work, so I am not leaning forward,” says Fagan. Extending the arms for long periods of time—as one often does while drawing—can exacerbate the problems caused by poor posture. Says Quilter, “Proper posture is crucial to preventing myriad ailments, including repetitive strain injury and back pain. No state-of-the-art workstation compensates for the risks introduced by slouching.”The importance of taking breaks can’t be overemphasized. “I take a break from drawing every 30 minutes,” Koffenberger says. “Just a short, one-minute break is enough. It keeps my mind more creative and my work more fluid.” Quilter agrees. As she states in her book, “Frequent, regular breaks are critical to preventing reinjury. Do not allow yourself to work to the point of pain. Take a break as often as you need to, but certainly well before you feel any symptoms of strain, such as fatigue, soreness, tingling, or even hyperawareness of your hands. If you wait—or work in pain—you will be causing damage to the soft tissue.” Unfortunately, as many artists know, remembering to take breaks can be challenging. “When lost in the process, our brains override pain,” Puls explains. To correct this, she developed a creative reminder: “I work for one CD’s worth of music then stop for a break to assess how my arm is feeling.”[fw-capture-inline campaign=”RCLP-confirmation-how-to-draw” thanks=”Thanks for downloading!” interest=”Art” offer=”/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/0213_LearnHowtoDraw.pdf”]Modifying Art Supplies/Developing Creative SolutionsChanging or modifying art supplies may also be necessary. “Making tools fatter is a key element,” says Arwin. “Wrap the pencils in foam and tape to reduce the pinch motion of the grip.” For another inexpensive fix, Quilter recommends putting hair rollers around pencils. Specially designed rubber grips—not unlike the ones popular in first grade—accomplish this as well. They make pencils easier to grip and require less clenching force. For paper, Wesner recommends a type with less tooth. “Artists should use a paper surface that has just enough tooth to accept the pencil’s wax pigment; too much texture means many more strokes are required to ‘fill in’ with pigment. Also, a softer touch, with not so much burnishing, helps.” Triangular pencils, such as those made by Staedtler or Faber-Castell, and especially the large pencils manufactured by Koh-I-Noor, are easier to grip and more ergonomically sound than their round, traditional counterparts.Solutions can often be found by simply changing technique. If something hurts, find another way to do it. “Consider adapting your technique to your physical abilities,” recommends Passey. “There’s usually more than one way to do this, and some are easier on the body than others.” Says Arwin, “I am trying to draw more with line, less with shade, and smaller to protect my elbows and wrists.” For those whose computer work exacerbates the problem, Arwin recommends a less obvious measure to alleviate the pain: “I use Dragon voice-recognition software to reduce the amount of typing that I do at work,” she says. Quilter also recommends Dragon, as it reduces work-time muscle and joint stress.Many artists weave RSI-preventative/protective measures into their creative routines in clever and unusual ways. “Because I am sharpening my pencils all day long,” says Fagan, “I have placed my electric sharpener behind my working chair on a box on the floor so that I am forced to stretch my arm down to reach it.” Suggests Quilter, “Put the phone across the room so you have to get up when it rings.”
Motion and How to Hold Your Pencil
Let Scott guide you about how to stand, hold your pencil and how to find the expressive gesture that can inspire every drawing you create.
Splints, Bands…and SurgeryFor many sufferers of RSI, devices such as wrist braces and elbow bands are invaluable. It is important, however, to remember that splints are serious medical implements that may be harmful if used incorrectly. Quilter warns that using a splint while working can actually be counterproductive: “People can get addicted to splints,” she cautions. “By not moving, they’re not causing themselves pain. But if a resting splint is worn during activity, further injury may be produced in the injured or adjacent tissue, such as disuse atrophy or contracture of immobilized tissues.” It’s not so much that splints should be avoided, she says, as it is that splints should be worn only at the right time. Most splints are intended to stabilize the body and facilitate healing during a time of rest—not of work. The problem is, she says, that many artists do wear their splints while working, and this can potentially impede the healing process. “It feels good short-term,” she says, “like slouching feels good short-term. But long term it’s injurious.”On the other hand, “If you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, wrist braces are the best investments you can make,” says Koffenberger. “It makes a big difference to put them on and rest your wrists when you finish drawing, even if you don’t think you’re having any symptoms,” says Passey. The bottom line: When considering a splint, use discretion. Wear a splint only if recommended by a doctor. Carefully follow your doctor’s instructions to ensure that wearing it yields the most beneficial results.Braces can also be effective when worn at night. Intriguingly, sleep may be partially to blame for the pain associated with RSI. Many people flex their wrists intensely and repeatedly during sleep, and this can become a serious problem. Sleep-flexing, coupled with daytime pressure, could very well cause and exacerbate many of these disorders. People who suspect this might be a factor should consult a doctor about wearing a brace at night. Says Koffenberger, “The best thing I have found to prevent or overcome Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is to wear a wrist brace at night. The metal plate keeps me from bending my wrist while sleeping.”For severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other forms of RSI, many doctors prescribe steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, or advise corrective surgery. Many chronic pain sufferers, however, are wary of these measures: “Just because steroid treatments or anti-inflammatory medications mask the pain doesn’t mean they are helping the problem. It is only through rest and appropriate exercises that the source of the pain heals,” says Puls. Surgery, steroids, and anti-inflammatory medication are options that should be carefully considered and evaluated by a trusted doctor.Although the last thing we want to do is discourage anyone from drawing, we hope this serves as a reminder for all artists to continue paying close attention to the signs their bodies are giving them. It is far easier to prevent than to cure a repetitive strain injury, so it’s essential for artists to take care of their most vital tools: their bodies. So sit up straight, stretch out, support your arms, and keep drawing.
How do you stop the pain when drawing? ›
With your arm straight over your hand (your wrist forms a 90-degree angle with your palm), lean into your hand. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then relax. Do this five times. It helps to loosen up the tendon in your wrist and relieve pressure on the median nerve.How can artists avoid RSI? ›
Probably the most important thing is to take regular breaks.
Stopping what you do and the way you work and giving your body a rest is the most important contribution you can make. Using your arms and hands for different activities also helps.
- stopping any activity which is causing the hands to cramp.
- stretching muscles.
- massaging or rubbing the muscles.
- applying heat or cold.
- taking certain vitamins and supplements may be helpful, although this will depend on the cause and a person's medical history.
- increasing fluid intake.
Take a break. Sometimes the best thing to do is to take a break from your drawing. Frustration can build up momentum that can be difficult to escape, and a way to slow it down is to shift your attention to something else entirely.Why is drawing so mentally draining? ›
Drawing is tiring because it requires intense levels of focused concentration. Each drawing is a puzzle. It involves extreme hand and eye coordination, advanced spatial awareness, and the ability to see and render fine detail. The process exhausts the mind.How do artists protect their wrists? ›
Use Splints or Bands
Wearing a splint or band can make a significant difference after you finish drawing, even if you do not feel any discomfort. Wearing it at night may also help because it will prevent you from bending or flexing your wrist while you sleep.
Causes of repetitive strain injury (RSI)
you do repetitive activities like hairdressing, decorating, typing or working on an assembly line. you play sports like golf or tennis that involve lots of repetitive movements. you have poor posture when sitting or standing at work. you use hand-held power tools regularly.
- maintaining good posture at work.
- taking regular breaks from long or repetitive tasks – it's better to take smaller, more frequent breaks than one long lunch break.
- trying breathing exercises if you're stressed.
- take a stretch break multiple times throughout the day.
The damage to your body usually isn't permanent and will heal over time. You should be able to treat your symptoms at home by following R.I.C.E.: Rest: Avoid the activity that caused your injury. Don't overuse the injured part of your body while it heals.Is it OK to take a break from drawing? ›
The whole “artists have to draw everyday” is a myth that can actually be counterproductive. While you may feel rusty after a break, there's no such thing as losing your skills. Taking a break is important for both your physical and mental health. Without physical breaks you can risk injuring yourself.
Why do my fingers hurt after drawing? ›
Sometimes holding a pen or pencil too tightly can cause the muscles in your fingers or forearms to spasm after you've been writing for a long time in one sitting. This would be a painful overuse problem.How do artists take care of their hands? ›
- Take frequent breaks! Try not to work for more than an hour at a shot. ...
- Adjust your tools. If you're having trouble with your hands, a thicker grip on your pen or pencil may help. ...
- STRETCH!!! There are exercises you can do to help.
Creative burnout is the feeling that you've drained all of your creativity, and there is nothing left. If you're dreading to start work, feel tired and stressed all the time and suspect you'll never be able to create something good ever again, you might be experiencing a creative burnout.Why do I feel like I'm getting worse at drawing? ›
If for example you've gone from drawing in great detail to very loose or you've changed your style, your work may look worse because you haven't yet mastered that look. It's important to keep stretching yourself in this way otherwise in the long term your work will remain stagnant.Why do I struggle with drawing? ›
Reason 1 – You Need More Practice
This is probably the most common reason why people struggle with drawing. They simply need more practice to get better. Drawing is a skill and like with any other skill, you can't expect to get better without practicing it.
Study Shows That Drawing Is Good for Your Brain
This cognitive research study concluded that “making art could delay or even negate age-related decline of certain brain functions.” For anyone interested in brain health, and in boosting their creativity, now you have an even better reason to draw.
Studies suggest that art therapy can be very valuable in treating issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even some phobias. It is a great way to express your emotions without words, process complex feelings and find relief.Why do I get anxiety when I draw? ›
Some people may feel anxious about drawing. They may feel they have no artistic skills and that what they produce would disappoint. However, the focus is on the process of drawing, not the result. If people feel intimidated by a blank canvas, they may find it helpful to research pictures they can draw from.Why do artists hold out their thumb? ›
Artists hold up their thumbs, two fingers and a pencil/paintbrush to use as a sighting tool. Using the thumb or fingers, or other implements helps gauge size, positioning, proportions, line, direction of line, angles, to measure and more. It is used to help us see and observe more accurately.How do I strengthen my hands for drawing? ›
Place your hand flat on your desk, palm down. Now, gently lift one finger at a time and then lower it. If you prefer, you can also lift all fingers at the same time and then lower then, it works all the same. This exercise you can go for a few more repetitions, 8 times is a good number to go for!
When should you not use wrist wraps? ›
As a general guideline, for pure strength work, don't wear wrist wraps with anything under 50% of 1RM. The exception being if you have a wrist injury that would get aggravated were you not wearing wrist wraps. At the same time, this doesn't mean you should always wear wrist wraps when ever you go over 50% of 1RM.What are three symptoms of RSI? ›
Other common RSI symptoms include:
- reduced movement in your joints.
Anti-inflammatories can be taken for pain relief. Heat packs can also help to relax all the muscles, and restore blood flow to the area to aid in the healing process.
Repetitive Strain Injury stretching exercises can help relieve pain and soreness throughout your body. Setting aside 15 minutes per day for the stretches in this article will help reduce your RSI tension, soreness, and pain.Which profession has the highest rate of RSI? ›
Manufacturing workers, in fact, make up the lion's share of RSI or "repeated trauma" cases reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.How do I know if I have RSI in my wrist? ›
tenderness or pain in the affected muscle or joint. a throbbing or pulsating sensation in the affected area. tingling, especially the hand or arm. loss of sensation.Are there exercises for RSI? ›
Start to roll your inner hands into your outer hands creating a circle toward, and then away from, your body. Your inner wrists will touch and then your outer wrists will touch while your fingers follow the movement. Repeat 10 times.Can you reverse RSI? ›
A: Repetitive strain injury can be cured with appropriate treatment, which may range from rest to surgery. Some severe cases may not be entirely cured. Effective treatment should be complemented by changing the activity that caused the injury.How do I smooth my RSI? ›
Raising overbought to 80 or lowering oversold to 20 will reduce the number of overbought/oversold readings. Short-term traders sometimes use 2-period RSI to look for overbought readings above 80 and oversold readings below 20.What should I avoid with RSI? ›
It's in the wrist action
To prevent RSI, keep wrists straight and flat when typing. Sit with thighs level, feet flat on floor (or on footrest), sit up straight, shoulders relaxed, upper arms at sides, not splayed out, forearms horizontal or tilted slightly downwards, so knees and elbows are at a right angle.
How many hours a day should I spend drawing? ›
It's possible to see improvements by drawing only 1-2 hours per day. But if you want to see significant improvements you should be aiming for 5-6 hours per day, or more if possible. Starting anywhere is better than never starting.When should I give up drawing? ›
If you're asking yourself if you should stop drawing, the first thing you should consider is whether you enjoy it or not, regardless of your drawing skills. Don't get caught up in whether you believe you're a good artist or not. As long as you enjoy drawing, it's a hobby that's worth continuing.What are disadvantages of drawing? ›
- Drawing is generally slower than most other mediums. You can't easily do a wash of value or color like you can with oils or watercolors.
- You can't layer colors with pencils like you can with oils or acrylics.
- It's difficult to correct mistakes.
Frequency & Duration of Breaks
On average, during solo practice, we might pause for 5 minutes after playing or singing for 25 minutes, or mix in more frequent short breathers. In non-strenuous ensemble rehearsals, though, we could work for 50 minutes before taking a 10-minute timeout.
Do not keep your wrist on the desk or drawing surface. Instead, you want to move both your hand and forearm when you draw as this will give you control without grounding you which leads to more unplanned curves in your lines and details. Let the knuckles on your pinky barely touch or glide along the paper as you draw.What happens if you write too much? ›
People tend to drag on when they're speaking and when they're writing. Excessive length makes an argument less focused, more repetitive, and ultimately less persuasive. All authors will tell you that: “cut unnecessary words!” And yet very few of us wordsmiths are capable of doing it with our own prose.Why do artists wear drawing gloves? ›
Your drawing glove prevents unwanted interaction with the screen, reducing smudge marks (This is known as palm rejection). It also prevents your hand from sticking to the surface of your tablet, which causes other control problems.Can drawing be self-care? ›
If your mind needs a practical reason to engage in drawing and painting, thinking of them as self-care might be the way to go. Drawing and painting can be fun, sometimes soothing and rewarding, either by yourself or in community with others (the social connection is part of self-care too).Why do artists get carpal tunnel? ›
Repetitive movements strain tendons. It's how you get repetitive stress injury. And it's also one of the major ways to invite carpal tunnel syndrome. So avoiding repetitive movements of your hand is the best preventative measure.How do you stop your neck from hurting when drawing? ›
- Be aware of your work environment and pay attention to pain. ...
- Sit up straight. ...
- Wear your complete prescription when working (distance plus reading correction) ...
- Finally, use proper lighting.
How should you sit comfortably when drawing? ›
Sitting While Drawing & Writing
feet are flat on the floor (or a step stool or a stack of books) knees are at the same level as the hips. arms, bent at the elbow, rest on the table top. shoulders are relaxed, not scrunched up toward the ears.
We're also afraid of success. This may seem counterintuitive but one of the biggest fears we all have is a fear of success. You might think to yourself, “I am not scared of success.” You might not have those exact thoughts, but if you look deep enough, you can find signs of it everywhere.Is there a phobia of drawing? ›
Adumbrarephobia or sketchpphobia is the fear of sketches for drawings.What should you not do when drawing? ›
- Using a pencil that's too hard. ...
- Skewing proportions. ...
- Using hard lines for grass and hair. ...
- Hands and feet. ...
- Ignoring the background. ...
- Limiting yourself. ...
- Trying to imitate others. ...
- Being a perfectionist.
Draw with your whole arm instead of just your wrist. Do not keep your wrist on the desk or drawing surface. Instead, you want to move both your hand and forearm when you draw as this will give you control without grounding you which leads to more unplanned curves in your lines and details.How do artists take care of their backs? ›
Stretch It Out
Hunched on a stool or bending over a table, no matter what position you take to create your art, most likely you are putting strain on your back. Keep the pain away by stretching out your back regularly, before and after studio time.
"Let the vibration and the feeling come first, and any word and action that is inspired come second." As would most experienced drawing artists say, always make your pencil strokes with your arm preferable to the wrist. As it allows for greater movement in drawing straighter lines and more accurate curves.Is it better to draw standing up? ›
Learning how to draw standing up can make you a better artist in addition to multiplying your drawing opportunities! Here, I describe several mistakes you are probably making right now and how to avoid them. I also provide several keys to this essential drawing skill.Can an artist forget to draw? ›
Yes, drawing skills can weaken over time if they aren't practiced. Any physical task relies a lot on muscle memory. If you aren't practicing something regularly, that muscle memory will gradually decrease.How Long Does It Take to Get OK at drawing? ›
What is the average time it takes someone to learn to draw? In general, it takes between 2-3 years to become proficient in most areas of art like drawing or painting (this is without any formal instruction.).
Can you lose your art skill? ›
Well, technically it is possible. Though I think that if you were really good at it at one point and enjoyed it you can easily master it once you get back to it.