Preventing hand injuries from digital art
I got a question about drawing injuries, and I typed up a pretty lengthy response so I wanted to share it here as well.
I get asked a lot about hand strains and injuries, and it is something most artists have to face one time or another just because we work so hard for our dreams. I personally don’t get strains or injuries, both for art and for piano playing when I still majored in it, two main creative paths where hand/arm injuries are common. My hands rarely feel tired
and when they do, I stop drawing. So when I get asked, I usually can only offer the fact that you can find a lot of carpal tunnel exercises on google and there’s nothing else I know about relief exercises, other than I find that flinging my
hands also help loosen them up a bit.
The most important thing
about this issue is actually prevention rather than relief. I would like to believe this approach is what prevented me from getting injured–I’ve never really been a push through the pain type person, and glorifying suffering and pain as a sign of hard work is definitely unhealthy, as those are huge signals from your body telling you to stop. There are many
things that I know for sure strains your hands much more than anything else that I will list below, and I believe that, if it is possible for you, the most efficient way to deal with injury is to find out which of
these things is the cause and working around it.
The first big cause is posture; if your
arms have no support points (ie you have to hold your elbow up with your
muscles or tense your wrist to maintain stability) you will strain much
easier, just like how you get tired easier standing at an uncomfortable pose vs a well grounded one. So be sure to seat yourself so that you have somewhere to rest
your arm while drawing, while your body is at a relaxed angle with full support. For a normal tablet, rest your arm and wrist somewhere on the table or the tablet. For a Cintiq or tablet monitor, try having it upright so that your elbow can rest on your desk, and your wrist can rest on the cintiq screen, and you only need to use your fingers to control the pen.
The second cause is your grip on the pen. This can be caused by your need for precision/speed of repetitive movement/pressure. Line art, or cross hatching, or pressing hard to get the darkness of the brush you need, are all high stress activities that strains your hand much more than, say, rendering or putting down a base painting. Knowing that, you can:
- Use a higher brush opacity or turn off pressure sensitivity
for opacity to prevent yourself from having to press really hard to get brush
impact you want.
- Go to your wacom tablet preferences if you have one, and
set the hardness of the brush so that it’s easier to get the brush
opacity/size you want. You want to have the problem of having to try to press lighter for
lighter lines, rather than having to press harder for darker/thicker lines. The latter strains much more than the former.
- If your grip of the pen is too tight purely because the pen is slippery/too small for
you/hard to grip, such as old bamboo tablets, there are rubber tablet
pen paddings that you can buy online, or you can just use a layer of
masking tape all around the grip area to increase friction/grip comfort
and make it easier for yourself to hold your pen. A Cintiq or Intuos Pro pen is ideally what you want your pen to feel like: have friction on the surface so your fingers don’t slip, large enough so it rests and takes up space comfortably between your thumb and index fingers without you tensing and curling your hand inwards really hard, and shaped so that your grip is stopped right before the cone of the tip, preventing slipping.
The third cause is the schedule of your drawing. This may or may not be possible to change because for a lot of us, a deadline is a deadline. But try to space your tasks so that you cycle between intense, detailed, hand-straining work, and relaxing, loose, more brainstorming work. The latter is excellent for hand rest while still being productive creative work. For example, if you are drawing comic pages, it might make sense in terms of efficiency to sketch 10 pages, then ink 10 pages, then tone 10 pages. But when you are inking those 10 pages consecutively, that’s when you give your hands no rest and your hand will start to hurt a lot, while you have no choice but to push through the pain to get the work done. Instead, try to draw these pages one by one, or have a few drawings at various stages of completion to rotate between. eg. you work on inking drawing A, then when you feel your hands are strained, switch to putting down loose underpainting for drawing B, switch back to inking drawing A, then start brainstorming drawing C and think more/draw less. Give your hands some natural times to rest up with less intense work, and you get work done without having to lose time by having to really stop drawing altogether.
As tempting as it is to try to feel like you are working as hard as you can to achieve your dreams and aspirations, while feeling guilty about resting/taking the more relaxing route, remember that your hands make your art possible, so treat them well!