this is what i do when my arms get tired

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! 

Couples who can see each other every single day take that shit for granted. I would give up everything I had to see my girl every day or just whenever I chose to. I wouldn’t have to plan trips and make it these big deals. It’s not fair that I see couples constantly who don’t give a shit about each other and then I see long-distance couples who would do anything just to get 10 minutes with their boyfriend/girlfriend. I’ve never done anything like this and the ONLY reason why I wish I didn’t was to avoid going home. The going home is going to kill me tomorrow. I’m hoping I’ll be too tired to even register what’s going on. I feel like I’m home when I’m in her arms and now I have to leave that home. I’m happy to see my family again, but if I could stay longer I would. Planning future trips makes everything better and easier on us. So if you right now you’re with someone who you can just drive over and see in under a half an hour then don’t take that shit for granted.

How much longer will we wait.
My heart has grown cold in my hands.
It’s going to stop beating
If I don’t give it to you
How much longer will it take
For you to realize that I’m the one you need
To understand that you should be with me
To figure out that I don’t plan on hurting you
How much longer will I suffer
Wondering if you’re interested in me
Wondering if you love me too
Wondering if I’m wasting my time
How many more times
Do I have to pick you up from the ground
Clean you off
And send you out again
Before I’m appreciated for what I truly am
When will you get it?
I’ve been the one you’ve been dreaming about for a while now
My love is more than enough for us
You’re so caught up in wishing
That you don’t even see it’s been granted for you
I’ve been standing in front of you while you overlook me waiting on someone else to love you back.
My arms are tired
Of lifting you over my head
And treading through your wild rivers
You sleep soundly in my arms every night while I protect you.
But nothing I do is enough for you
So how much longer will you keep me here unwanted?
—  Farsighted love.
4 am knows your name,
and all the things i adore about you,
and all the poetry i’ve whispered into the darkness that surrounds me here
(although i wish your arms did, instead).
i leave the tv on sometimes
so i can maybe sleep
instead of think too much,
(i always think too much).
but i do wish i could listen to you talk
and fall asleep to the timbre of tired
that raspy voices get at 4 am.
i stack pillows in the empty space on my bed,
(where i imagine you would lay)
and it’s less lonely
to fill the gaps,
and ignore the inconsistencies that feel too much like fragments in a story.
i wonder what your eyes look like
when 4 am finds them,
and your dreams hang
daintily above you
(caught in between sleeping and awake)
and you’re quite unaware of the world outside your window,
and of the little house where i try to sleep
in an empty bed
(with too many pillows),
my face lit by the blue tint of a tv screen,
and eyes red and dull from the hours
that have rolled past them.
4 am knows about the love i have for you;
(it’s far too big to be carried in small hands like mine)
and the darkness has memorized the syllables in your name,
and how they can lull me to sleep
if only night waits long enough for me
to truly fall:
fall in love or fall asleep,
4 am has seen both.
—  “insomnia” by chloe roberts

After reading @brbimstudying ’s post, I decided to show my side of the story as well.

What you see here are only the pictures. You don’t see how my hand gets frequent spams and how my right arm is hurting because of how much I’m writing. You don’t see the migraines I get practically every single day because of stress and exhaustion, to the point when I’m actually having to go to a neurologist.

You don’t see how many mental breakdowns I’ve had over a grade. You don’t see how many hours I’ve spent just lying in my bed because I’ve been studying for too long and now I’m too dizzy to get up. You don’t see all the times I cried and “gave up”.

I don’t know why, but I don’t really give up. I keep coming back to it.

Yesterday, I had a free afternoon and got home around 6pm. I studied until 10pm and had to listen to my parents go on and on about how irresponsible I was, just “throwing away study hours like that”. Had to listen about my math grade. I know about the math grade.

I am human. I am not motivated 24/7, or happy to study all the time. Sometimes I sit and stay there because I HAVE to, because I feel a terrible guilt when I stop. I fight my back, arm ,and hand pains and I keep going.

That’s what you don’t see.