Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Keeping your drawing hand healthy - by Ana Aranda

Our hands are very precious as visual creators and it can be very frustrating when they are injured. I’d like to share with you some of the things I learnt about keeping your hands healthy if you work in the illustration/creative field. 

If you have ever felt pain in your hand or if you would like to avoid this from happening here are some recommendations:

  • If you have pain in your hand, go to the doctor right away. Only a doctor can accurately tell you what is happening and how to treat it. If you have to go unto any treatment it is best to see the doctor as soon as possible so that your treatment starts as soon as possible.
  • Before drawing, do warm up exercises. Think about it as if you were a dancer, using your body for your work but on a smaller scale- you would need to do warming up, and then cooling down exercises. Here is a quick and simple routine to do before you start drawing:

Use both of your hands:

  • Additional stretching exercises and resources:
-5 exercises to improve hand mobility- Harvard Health Publishing -Tennis Elbow Stretches & Exercises - Ask Doctor Jo -Rice bucket exercise for climbers -Book - Draw Stronger: Self-Care For Cartoonists and Other Visual Artists

  • Take breaks, even if you are deep in the zone. Use a timer -I like using a kitchen timer to be independent from my phone or computer. You can do 30 or 40 mins work, 5 mins break and after 4 cycles a 10 min break or longer. You can also use the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5 minutes break. There are several apps that you can download for this, such as Focus Keeper or websites such as Tomato Timers. Taking breaks will give your body and mind some space to breathe after a high concentration period of time. You can take the breaks to drink water, walk around, do anything but use your hand.
"Hibiscus and Friends" by Ana Aranda for Nucleus Gallery
  • Workstation ready. Make sure that your desk is in the right position which won’t injure your hands, neck and back. You can have your desk at the height of your elbows and draw on an angled surface. A drafting table works great or if you work while traveling you can take a thick binder, have non slippery plastic and draw there so you have an angle.

  • Posture. Your spine should be aligned and not curved. If you like to get very close to your paper, then bend one of your feet backwards, with your other foot forward and use your left hand (if you are right-handed) to hold your head while still keeping your spine straight. Ideally your paper/surface can be closer to the level of your eyes.

  • Create a bigger grip on your pencils/brushes. You can do this with microfoam tape, buy a spongy grip that you can reuse for several materials or buy mechanical pencils that already have a big grip.

    Also check out this blog post by Susie Ghahremani about this topic!
    From Susie Ghahremani's blog post Get a grip
  • Work out. Some recommended sports are the ones that strengthen your upper extremities and muscles, such as swimming.
"Fish Frolic" by Ana Aranda for Tr!kster Gallery
  • Eat and sleep well. 
  • Keep calm and do whatever you can to stay in peace. If you are injured and in the middle of a process of getting better sometimes the part of your body that you need to take most care of is not your hand, but actually your mind. Some things that you can try are meditation, acupuncture, massages, or any relaxation/healing techniques.
    Here is an interesting book about pain and how our mind can affect our body: “Explain Pain”
  • Fuel your mind with inspiration & experiences during the times that you have to rest your hand. Go to museums, galleries, concerts, read books, meet with interesting people, experience and say yes!  You can also work in parts of the creative process that don't require drawing, such as research.
  • Teach yourself to be ambidextrous. As my amazing art director Cecilia Yung told me: your creativity not only comes from your hand. There are plenty of ways to be creative, and also to create art and to draw. During the time that I had to rest and heal my right hand after an injury, my mind was so restless that I had to draw somehow. I started using my left hand and taught myself to draw with it. I even opened an Instagram account for it.

 Left handed drawings by Ana Aranda

Now that my right hand is recovered and healthy, I try to incorporate my left hand for backgrounds and things where I want a more spontaneous feel and then create the details with my right hand.
Illustration for SCBWI's Spring Bulletin, 2019 For this illustration I used my left hand for the backgrounds and parts of the drawing, and the right hand for the more detailed work.
Nowadays what I do is have two sides in my sketchbooks. One end for right hand drawings and the other end for the left hand drawings. 
  • Try not to press too hard when drawing. This might seem very obvious, but when pressing too hard, your hand accumulates a lot of tension. After a few hours of drawing you can start feeling it. Try drawing softer or use a pencil that is more greasy (I personally love the Palomino Blackwing) or you can draw with brush pens instead.

Palomino Blackwing pencil

Zebra Brushpen

Have you ever had a hand injury or ever felt pain while drawing? Feel free to share your experiences and share this blog post if you find it helpful!

Thanks for stopping by!

*Please note that I am not a certified doctor and these are recommendations based on my own experience after recovering from a hand injury and recommendations from doctors, physical therapists, friends and fellow artists -thanks so much to everyone who helped with info and resources for this post! Also remember that each body is different, and what works for one person might not work for another. Listen to your body and find a method/workout that you feel most comfortable with. 

Ana Aranda writes/illustrates for children. Some of her illustration titles include "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, "Plus Fort Que Le Vent", written by Julia Billet, Éditions du Jasmin and "Our Celebración!", written by Susan Middleton Elya, Lee & Low Books.
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Instagram: @AnarandaillustrationTwitter: @anaranda2

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