"Art is pain" shouldn't be so literal.
June 15, 2009 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Joint pain while drawing--what to do?

I've always had a love-hate relationship with drawing. I enjoy drawing and hope to work in a creative field as a career. However, I have a big problem with illustration work. When I draw for more than an hour or so, the joints of my ring finger start to hurt (both the joint in the finger and the joint between the finger and the hand). I've seen a doctor about this pain, but they found nothing "wrong" with the area.

I do hold my pencil wrong, so I know that my grip has contributed to the pain. (I hold the pencil so that it rests on my ring finger.) However, it hurts the same area when I use the standard tripod grip. In addition, the tripod grip tires out the rest of my hand. I've tried to train myself to be ambidextrous to no avail.

It's very frustrating! In order to improve my art, I must sketch. But sketching just hurts my hand. I was lucky to have a sympathetic art professor who let me skip a day of class in order to recover from the pain resulting from a rather large pastel assignment.

This problem has impacted more than my art life: too much writing also causes the pain, albeit more slowly. The pain is always in the same joints.

Can anyone explain to me some more ergonomic ways to draw? Maybe give me some massage techniques or stretches? I've used Biofreeze in the past to numb the pain. When the pain hits really bad, I try to avoid all writing/drawing for a day or two. If it helps, I'm right-handed.

posted by omoikkiri to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you already taking breaks every ten minutes or so?

Also, are you gripping tightly? As a kid, the joint of my middle finger (I used the traditional tripod grip) would hurt while I drew. This because I had a death grip on the pencil. Once I learned to loosen up, the pain went away.
posted by ignignokt at 7:02 AM on June 15, 2009

Seconding frequent breaks. I do not draw so often anymore, but I have been writing more lately. I find breaks and simple stretches focusing on the arm and wrist help me. For instance, the ones in this video - they are for percussionists with carpal tunnel syndrome, but those stretches are good for most people, I would guess (IANAD).

Also seconding the advice about taking a look at your grip. Some scribble and doodling from time to time help to relax and find a loose grip.

Since you don't like the tripod grip, you could try the between-the-fingers pen hold (see the illustration right below the scribbles from G.S. Briem's site - he is a calligrapher). It gets some time getting used to, but you find it helpful to switch to from time to time.
posted by natalinha at 7:32 AM on June 15, 2009

Can you use one of those things that slides around your pencil and makes it fatter? That might make it easier to grip.
posted by sully75 at 8:00 AM on June 15, 2009

I hold my pencil the same way when writing. Hand cramps ensue after an extended period of time, and those tripody things my teachers forced on me in elementary school never helped. An art teacher in high school taught me to hold my pencil this way while sketching and only use my awkward grip while doing finishing work. It's a godsend. Bonus: this will also loosen up your sketches and so that they'll look better!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:08 AM on June 15, 2009

Sounds to me like you're holding the pencil in a death grip. Too tightly. That and/or you're drawing far too intricately. Lots of fine, tight detail that you are concentrating hard on being exact with, causing a lot of tightness in your hand.

Anyway, those are the two mian culprits I've encountered over the years when it comes to hand pain from drawing.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2009

Many artists hold the drawing or painting implement between the thumb and forefinger and draw by rotating the hand and arm rather than the writing position. Take a look at Glenn Vilppu's position during his drawing videos to see. He has a whole series of anatomy videos drawing in a Classical academic style.

I draw constantly and the computer keyboard and mouse pains me much more.
posted by effluvia at 6:25 PM on June 15, 2009

I have the same problem. These two things help me the most:

Using larger, more ergonomic-shaped drawing implements. For pen and ink, I ordered some 40-year-old pens that have a nice bulky grip. For pencil, I either use a large clutch pencil or a regular pencil with a rubber grip shoved onto it. Things like pastels and crayons are still difficult - although I think you can get pencil holders that would work for those.

Use a different angle between implement and paper (leading to a different grip). For example, fountain pens require a much lower angle so I hold them differently, and they bother me less.

Good luck!
posted by mmoncur at 9:46 PM on June 15, 2009

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