Only FIVE?!?!? Actually there are more, but in order for self-care and injury prevention to be a successful part of your drawing practice, a good plan is to start with easy tasks. Good habits shouldn’t be a pain in the butt. Incorporate these 5 Things into your daily routine. When they stop feeling like chores that must be done, add a couple more healthy changes. Self-care should be easy and eventually feel like a natural part of your drawing/writing practice. It should be something you want to do, not have to do.
#1 – Stop strangling your stylus.
Look at the way you’re holding your drawing implement. Are your knuckles turning red? Are your fingers blanching? Are any of your joints hyperextending (bending backwards)? Do you have huge calluses on your finger? If the answer is yes to any of these questions you are probably gripping your stylus too tightly.
Keep your hand relaxed as you draw. Some of the muscles that grip your pen attach to the bones of your fingers and run up the forearm to the elbow. Tension in the fingers can contribute to repetitive stress injuries in the hand, wrist, forearm, and elbow. A relaxed grip will reduce stress to your joints and tendons and help to reduce tension in your arm, shoulder, and neck.
#2 – Warm up!
Prepare your body to draw with a physical warm-up. Perform easy stress free movements to lubricate joints, and prepare muscles and tendons for drawing. A full body warm-up is ideal. Take 5 minutes to do something that will literally warm you: go on a walk; march in place; or dance around your favorite music. Hate all those ideas? Come up with something else! Follow up whole body movements with easy movements targeting your hands arms neck and shoulders. 5 to 15 minutes of prep time, and you will feel better as you draw!
#3 – Sit up straight.
Good posture helps to reduce stress on the neck, shoulders, and back. Sit forward in your chair. Put both feet on the floor. Your knees and your hips should be bent to 90°. Try not to use the backrest of your chair while you draw. An angled drawing surface, good lighting, and/or positioning your screen at eye level could help you keep from hunching over your work. Look at your workspace. What can you do with it to help you improve your posture?
#4 – Breathe!
Slow, deep breaths can be very relaxing and help us reduce feelings of stress. For you trivia buffs, a research article investigating physical and emotional responses to deep slow breathing said, “Feelings of tension, depression, and anger were significantly reduced after attentive and relaxed breathing exercises…” and “a significant increase of pain thresholds in our subjects… after [deep slow breathing with relaxation]… indicat[es] an attenuation of pain perception (becoming less sensitive).” When pain thresholds go up, pain perception goes down. Deep slow breathing practiced regularly can help you emotionally and physically!
#5 – Take breaks.
Taking a break is the easiest thing (and the hardest thing) you can do to help prevent injury. The interval between breaks can be every 30 minutes to one an hour. Your break can last anywhere from 5-15 minutes. You will have to experiment to determine how often your breaks should be. When you take a break stand up! Move away from the computer or desk! Do not text or do any activity that involves close work with the hands or eyes! Play with the cat. Get a drink of water. Do some gentle stretching. Put on some music and dance around the house. Get away from your desk. You will enjoy drawing more when you get back to it.
In my opinion taking regular breaks is the most important activity of the 5 Things listed above! You are not just resting your body you are resting your brain. I know it isn’t easy to interrupt your flow because your hour is up, but do it! It’s much easier to just keep your butt in your chair. It takes a lot of commitment discipline to rest. I promise you, it will pay off!
Now get out there and stay healthy!
Want more tips for keeping your drawing hand happy and healthy? Check out the Get a Grip archive!
Kriota Willberg uses her experiences as an artist, massage therapist, and health science educator to create comics and teach artists about self-care. But even she will tell you not to use her work as a substitute for medical care (go see a doctor). Her injury prevention book, Draw Stronger, will be out April 2018 from Uncivilized Books. Willberg is the inaugural Artist In Residence at the New York Academy of Medicine Library. For more: KriotaWelt.blogspot.com