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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Use your OTHER hand!!!

This was getting a bit of action in the comments, so I figured I'd write this up as a proper entry, just in case some people aren't obsessively digging through the comments, or have this blog on RSS feed...

When I started art school (Illustration) in September 2005 my wrist suddenly began hurting like HELL. Drawing all day at school (sometimes for 6 hour stretches at a time) and then coming HOME and trying to draw comics all night finally did me in. My wrist would just SCREAM with pain and I found that I had to take more and more breaks to try and "protect" my wrist.

I've also had a bad back for YEARS, and for Xmas that year my mom got me a book on alleviating back pain. One of the key ideas in that book was that PAIN IS YOUR BODY'S WAY OF TELLING YOU SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT!!!

So back in February of 2005 I had the epiphany that I actually have TWO hands and it is ridiculous to have ONE hand (my DRAWING hand no less!) doing 99% of all my tasks. So I started paying attention to when my drawing hand hurt the most...

1) I noticed that after using the computer my hand hurt A LOT, so I switched my computer mouse to my non-drawing hand. It took about two days to get used to it (surprisingly fast!) and was surprised to see that it helped a TON. I think there is something about that clicking motion which is very similar to the fine motor skills involved in weilding a drawing stylus (using the same muscles/bones) and switching that over to my other hand helped a lot!

2) For me, this goes without saying, but if people are dealing with sore wrists and fingers, YOU SHOULD REALLY BE TYPING DVORK, it helps more than you can imagine!

3) I also noticed that after brushing my teeth my wrist hurt a lot (all of that violent back-and-forth action) so I also switched that over. It took about 2 weeks before I could really do it at full speed, without getting toothpaste all over my face, but it was worth the investment in time!

4) I write a lot of letters and obviously that hurt too, since it was basically the same motions as drawing (though more tight and frantic which hurt even more!) So for a long time there I also switched my HANDWRITING to my left hand. That was pretty "hardcore" and since my pain went away I don't really do this any more, but it's on standby if my hand ever starts to hurt again (maybe when school starts back up again?)

5) Even the smaller stuff can really help! When your drawing hand is in pain, try to keep it loose at your side when you are not drawing and FOCUS on using your non-drawing hand for all other tasks: erasing, opening doors, spreading peanut butter, washing your hair, etc. etc. You have TWO hands! Use them both!!!

Like Liz mentioned, one of my greatest fears is that my drawing hand will "give out," ESPECIALLY since I am investing a lot of time and money into training myself to be a person who's livelyhood will depend on my ability to draw! We are human beings and are therefore incredibly adept at ADAPTING. Sure, it is hard to learn to write with your non-drawing hand, but you CAN do it if you are just patient and stick with it. Go ambidextrous!!!


At 11:21 AM, Blogger Liz (Baillie) said...

I took your advice from the previous post and switched the mouse at my job to my left side and try to do simple keyboard stuff, like when I just hit return over and over, with my left hand, and it has helped tremendously. Also, erasing with the left hand is relatively simple and helps, too. To anyone reading this, I can't recommend this strategy enough. It really only took a day or two for me to get used to the switch. I'm still working on the toothbrush thing, though (it kind of feels like I'm stabbing myself in the face).

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Colin Tedford said...

I've switched my mouse at & will be growing ever more ambi in the coming days. And I'm gonna try me some Dvorak for sure. Thanks, Alec!

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Colin Tedford said...

Also, regardless of what hand you're using, pay attention to how you use it; this can make a big difference in the amount of strain your joints have to suffer. The two main points that stick with me are "keep wrists straight" and "take frequent small breaks". There is more you can do regarding posture and such.

Remember, too, that much of this applies to drawing: take frequent small breaks to rest your eyes and hands; pay attention to any strain signals your body sends and change accordingly.

The links at the bottom of this Wikipedia article seem like a good start. This BBC article looks like a decent primer, and this covers some of the basics (though the unlabeled picture seems to demonstrate poor technique).

Lastly, here is a (hopefully) useful block of text (excerpted from here:

"# Posture, posture posture! Good posture is the basis of good workstation ergonomics. Good posture is the best way to avoid a computer-related injury. To ensure good user posture:

* Watch the user's posture!
o Make sure that the user can reach the keyboard keys with their wrists as flat as possible (not bent up or down) and straight (not bent left or right).
o Make sure that the user's elbow angle (the angle between the inner surface of the upper arm and the forearm) is at or greater than 90 degrees to avoid nerve compression at the elbow.
o Make sure that the upper arm and elbow are as close to the body and as relaxed as possible for mouse use - avoid overreaching. Also make sure that the wrist is as straight as possible when the mouse is being used.
o Make sure the user sits back in the chair and has good back support. Also check that the feet can be placed flat on the floor or on a footrest.
o Make sure the head and neck are as straight as possible .
o Make sure the posture feels relaxed for the user.


Take a break! All Ergonomists agree that it's a good idea to take frequent, brief rest breaks: Practice the following:

* Eye breaks - looking at a computer screen for a while causes some changes in how the eyes work, causes you to blink less often, and exposes more of the eye surface to the air. Every 15 minutes you should briefly look away from the screen for a minute or two to a more distant scene, preferably something more that 20 feet away. This lets the muscles inside the eye relax. Also, blink your eyes rapidly for a few seconds. This refreshes the tear film and clears dust from the eye surface.
* Micro-breaks - most typing is done in bursts rather than continuously. Between these bursts of activity you should rest your hands in a relaxed, flat, straight posture. During a micro-break (< 2minutes) you can briefly stretch, stand up, move around, or do a different work task e.g. make a phone call). A micro-break isn't necessarily a break from work, but it's a break from the use of a particular set of muscles that's doing most of the work (e.g. the finger flexors if you're doing a lot of typing).
* Rest breaks - every 30 to 60 minutes you should take a brief rest break. During this break stand up, move around and do something else. Go and get a drink of water, soda, tea, coffee or whatever. This allows you to rest and exercise different muscles and you'll feel less tired.
* Exercise breaks - there are many stretching and gentle exercises that you can do to help relieve muscle fatigue. You should do these every 1-2 hours.
* Ergonomic software - working at a computer can be hypnotic, and often you don't realize how long you've been working and how much you've been typing and mousing. You can get excellent ergonomic software that you can install on your computer (free download available at The best software will run in the background and it will monitor how much you've been using the computer. It will prompt you to take a rest break at appropriate intervals, and it will suggest simple exercises."

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Liz (Baillie) said...

That is a wealth of information, Colin. Thank you!

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Marcos Perez said...

a wrist brace really helps too,
i wear it for anything on the computer . a couple years ago both of my hands were on fire from computer work and my doc said to get braces. The ones I wear are called cock-up wrist braces.

I dont wear them for drawing though and they still get sore from time to time, but in the 3 years i've worn them they've never hurt as much as they did before i went to the doc.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger Antonius said...

This is what you broads and lesbos and geeks have turned into...? Posts about your hands hurting like effeminate little bitches ...? Hell, Michaelangelo just to get sepia tempara paint in his fucking eyes, and had to tie a brush to his hands, cartoon colorama twerps...there are men out there sweating at training camps and in the heat lifting wheights and sacks of shit, god damn it, what a bunch of fairies...This, This shit is okay, and posts of half finshied half naked braods isnt...what a fairy world. Oh, The guy I sent here saw my work and liked it, and is publsihing it any way, sorry Liz.

You sissies.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Alec said...


At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Karen Croaker said...

I have arthritis in my drawing arm from an old car accident that smashed my elbow 14 years ago. Doctors told me I would have a problem with arthritis years later and they were right. So, I learned Dvorak, now wear a wrist brace when I'm not drawing, and mouse with my left hand. My friend who knows a lot of herbal medicine stuff told me a way to get rid of arthritis pain is to drink a shot of apple cider vinegar first thing in the morning which helps to flush away the uric acid or whatever the hell it is that causes it. Maybe that's a bunch of bull but hey- the price is right, so I'm gonna try it.

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Liz (Baillie) said...

huh? did he think I was a publisher or something? weird.

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous The Masked Retriever said...

Just switched to dvorak and it's very weird *now* but I'm already getting better at an alarming rate since dvorak is so much more ergonomic.

We'll see if I can get good fast enough to do this at work without people pointing and laughing. XD

At 3:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basic Hand wrist exercises are a must for artists. Few simple exercises will help to aliviate some of the pressure.

Wrist curls take a weight that you can comfortably preform 15-20 repitions with. Grasp the wight palm facing up, rest your elbow on a surface parrallel to the floor the seat of a chair works fine if you do not have access to a bench. your hand hanging off the chair, lower your hand, curl up. Do both hands.

Preform another set by facing your palm down. You may have to lower the weight.

Both weight sets should be preformed once a week

Wrist rotations. Your arms at your side and fingers pointingto the floor palms facing your thighs, raise your arms until hands are at should level. Arms held straight out and moving only your wrist point fingers to the sky. Then point fingers to the floor. Then point fingers inwaards towards the chest. Then point fingers to the sides, ie. your right hands points far right, left hand points far left. All this is focused on the wrist you arms remain held straight out in front of you, and each position is held for a count of five-ten.

Preform 3-5 sets daily

fist clenching. Arms held out at sholder hieght straigth in front of you with palms facing and parrallel to the floor.Fingers first point forward. Slowly focus and bend each joint inwards making a fist with your thumb resting on the middle and poiner finger. Do this ten times. Do another ten at a moderate pace. Finally do another ten a fast pace.

Preform every one to two days.

I feel the need at this point to explain a little bit about myself. My two loves in life have always been art and the martial arts. From the first moment I picked up a pencil, to the first brick I broke with my fist, two lessons were ingrained from martial practice. Many of the martail arts masters practiced various forms of art, be it in painting or caligraphy, or playing a flute or lute. They needed ways of obtaining a hardened fist yet still be able to retain the use of their appendages.

I myself having smashed my fist repeatedly on the conditioning bag need a way to ensure the use of my fingers. These exercises I have learned were a god send. The first is from weightlifting principles learned in the gym.The muscles in the forearm act to control both the wrist and finger movement. But brute strength is not enough, for those who need to the repetitive use of the wrist, there must exist a suppleness. Borrowed from a wing chun exercise in the Sui Lum Tao I took the wrist strengthening exersizes learned from my friend and rival. The third was taken from my own school BeiSuiLum, But has been come to be recognised across many martial arts.

These are not the only exersices I have done for my wrist, but I find that these exercises maintain my wrist strength quite sufficiently. I am an advid wieghtlifter as well, but when I hit my lazy periods of being a lump I maintain these basic exercieses.

It is a great fear among artists to lose the abilities of the hand. These small exersises may take up only fifteen minutes of your time and can be preformed through out the day or in conjunction. They are ment to be only guildlines do not push yourself to the point of extreme pain. Rather think in terms of building your strengths gradually. If you can do only five wrist curls do the five, but if pain follows stop (LACTIC ACID DOES NOT COUNT). If you feel you should do more do more.


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