Art and Injuries



  • Hey everyone! So I was just thinking about how artists are like athletes, we get rsi's that can be just as damaging. I'm a bit down right now because I found out I have tennis elbow, I can barely type or make a checkmark, let alone participate in Inktober the first few days.

    I was wondering...how many of you deal with art related injuries? What do you do to heal or cope with the feelings that come with not being able to do your job?



  • I've had a few art related injuries. One time I sliced my hand deep enough to warrant stitches because I was careless with a blade while cutting a mat. That one was really chalked up to being stupid though.

    When I was in school one term I had back to back life drawing and life painting classes where I was essentially painting on an easel for 7 hours straight and would definitely get a lot of tightness and pain in my shoulder. It took being really mindful about my posture and how often I was taking breaks to get past it. I also modified my position from time to time and would abandon the easel and just paint in my lap.


  • Pro

    @lpetiti I have one that's an ongoing problem. Started manifesting about 9 years ago when I took my entrance exam for animation college. The intense drawing practice for weeks beforehand combined with the stress of the exam that made me grip my pen with the energy of despair for 2 hours created a deep pain in my arm that seemed to originate in the shoulder blade, in the middle of my back. Even if I used the tip of my finger to tap the mouse, it would radiate all the way to my back. Thankfully I was young and on summer break - I was able to sleep it off and went away after about 3 weeks.

    I was fine for years after that, until I started working in a studio. Drawing at the tablet 8 hours a day + working on a personal comic after work really overworked me. I started feeling that same pain in my shoulder blade, but this time I was working and couldn't just stop. It was awful! I stopped working on my comic, rested as much as possible and used ice pack on my back after work. But 8 hours a day isn't conducive to healing. This time it lasted about 4 months and was hell. The worst part is, I think it really fragilized this area. Because ever since then, after I work hard I can start feeling pain in my shoulder blade.

    This can be from drawing a few hours without a break or other things like chopping and mixing while cooking, or using a screwdriver for more than 15 minutes. I can feel twinges of pain now as I type this because I've had a long drawing day! I know that I have to be careful with this and when it rears its head, I HAVE to take breaks. It's good that I'm freelance now so I'm able to schedule around this. I have to take care of this and rest it, even if that means telling a client I'll be a couple days late for a deadline. Thankfully it's never yet come to that, but if it does I know what my choice would be. Because if I overwork my arm I know I can end up not being able to draw for months after! It's not worth it. I'll have to be careful with this all my life probably. I know it sucks not to be able to do Inktober or your work 😞 But right now you need to rest as much as possible so you can recover quickly and be able to draw again!



  • @NessIllustration it really helps to be able to hear about others struggling with similar injuries. You're right, its definitely not fun and certainly discouraging.


  • SVS OG

    I'm not sure if this fits but I get a really sore lower back from staying bent as I sit at my dining room table to draw with pencil and paper or to use watercolor. I have to do specific backward stretching exercises to straighten up.
    Can anyone suggest a good adjustable drawing table so I can be at maybe 60-70 degrees instead of what seems like 90 degrees all the time?



  • I probably don't work as much as some of you all, but I do have flare ups every once in a while, it sucks! Besides resting, I think exercise- yoga, weight training, and specific rsi stretches along with being able to shift my sitting/standing position easily while I work has been the most beneficial. I slack off on the exercise sometimes, and getting back into it is what usually seems to help banish the rsi the quickest. Switching to a tablet with a screen has also helped. I also take magnesium supplements and have tried to set up my work station as ergonomically as possible. My arms and legs can rest in a neutral position, my tablet is set at a comfy drawing angle, and my main screen is angled so I can look straight ahead. I have a comfy chair that can swivel, and my whole setup can lift up so I can stand periodically. I also have to remind myself to relax as I draw, as sometimes I tense things unnecessarily. Like sometimes I have a death grip on my stylus, and I really don't need to do that to draw.

    I hope you can figure out some things that work for you!


  • SVS OG

    Back in 2016 when I was just starting out and still using traditional media, I would get terrible hand pain because I was gripping my pencil too hard. I wanted to make very dark lines so I pressed really hard and in turn, my hand would just cramp up until I can't even grip a pencil.

    When I switched to the wacom intuos, I developed carpal syndrome because instead of rotating my canvass, I would contort my hand to unholy angles just to draw. It also didn't help that I also gripped the pen very hard just to control my lines. My hand would tingle and I'd lose sensation. It was different from the pins and needles feeling. If I had pins and needles, I can feel tingling and pain but in this situation, there's only tingling and numbness. My hand felt weak and I can't draw.

    I didn't experience any of these when I switched to an ipad. With an ipad, I didn't have to contort my hand or grip my stylus real hard. it was then that I decided for myself that I'm never going back to a wacom intuos. 😂



  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz well, I'm getting an iPad delivered this week, so I'll be curious to see how much difference it'll make!



  • I was actually thinking about asking for advice today about pain on my shoulder blade after a day's of painting. Right now I am coping with yoga stretching once or twice a day, and considering going up the number of times as my shoulder blade is getting worse.
    I have been my illustrator cave for a month and a half now. It is about 8-10 hours of a workday at this moment. It looks like it is going on for about another 2-3 months.

    Does anyone know a good posture for paiting/drawing while using the cintiq? and a guideline to set up the table height in relation to your body, the tilt angle for the cintiq, etc?


  • Pro

    @xin-li Ooofff... This sounds really familiar. Exactly what I have and I am worried about you. If it is getting worse and you're drawing 8-10 hours a day.. Stop. Contact your client, tell them you have physical injury and need to pause for 1 month. I know this is awful and you don't want to do that. But I was stubborn kept working through it, and I ended up down for 4 months and I STILL now have pain in my shoulder blade almost everyday, need to take constant breaks, etc. Please do not risk it. You can injure yourself FOR LIFE. Ask yourself if what you're working on right now is worth that. I don't thin ANY project is. Please consider seriously what I'm saying and pause the project for one month!

    During that break, yes yoga stretching is great and what helped me as well is wet a hand cloth, put it in sealed a plastic bag or ziploc bag and into the freezer to freeze. Then sit down or lie down on your back, put the frozen cloth on your back and rest your back on the back of your chair or bed to keep the cloth in place. This is the best way I found to ice my shoulder blade in a comfortable way (ice cube are terrible for this spot). I believe the shoulder pain (for me and possibly for you too) is inflammation, because the ice helps +++



  • I used to be an occupational therapist in my former life and I worked in office ergonomics for a while, adjusting workstation setups to reduce injuries. There is lots of information out there on proper workstation set ups. I use an iPad and I admit I have no idea how a cintiq is set up or used. If someone wants to explain that to me, I’m all ears! I could look up a video on it I guess.

    Basic ergonomics link ;
    https://safety.blr.com/workplace-safety-news/employee-health/workplace-ergonomics/How-to-set-up-an-ergonomic-workstation/
    Much of the gist of it is to as much as possible, maintain your head and spine in a neutral position, so you’re not looking up or down for long periods. As well, your feet should be supported on the floor or a little footstool . Hips at 90 degrees. This means you’re sitting up straight and not leaning forward or backwards. Shoulder preferably at 90 degrees and support under the forearms... I think this is where some trouble comes in for artists. If you’re drawing properly and from the shoulder, it’s often not really doable to have a support under there. I guess try to find some situations where you can do this, alternate activities so you’re shoulder is getting a break. If you’re messing around with adjusting hue ,saturation, later modes, that might be a chance to use a regular mouse and use the forearm support on a chair.

    I also found this: fairly similar stuff.
    http://www.automotiveillustrations.com/tutorials/computer-workstation-ergonomics.html

    And this one is about graphic tablets but I don’t know much about cintiq models as I said or how they are used.
    https://www.davidrevoy.com/article30/ergonomics-of-graphics-tablets

    Yoga and stretching are awesome. As is weight training, even a little bit, I don’t go to the gym but sometimes I do free strength training videos with dumbbells at home, they help to keep my spine and joints aligned and proper muscle tone, avoiding injury...Fitness Blender on YouTube is awesome and free. I would do strength videos and occasionally one just related to stretching and flexibility.
    Definitely stretch every 20-30 minutes and give eyes a break by looking far away.out a window if you can’t go for a walk. If you can alternate work between a tablet and a iPad that helps too, just changing positions .

    If grip ona pencil or stylus is a problem, you could try building the grip up so it’s a fatter implement, it makes it easier to grip and there’s less strain on the muscles and tendons. For pencils and brushes you can buy grips specifically for that. Sometimes we used to try out pipe insulation and just cut a piece to fit. I don;t know if any of this would work for a stylus but one could look into it/

    Good luck everyone!

    If anyone has any questions, just let me know.



  • @Coley that's awesome information! I really appreciate it, right now I'm having to take a couple of days off of work because of this injury. Its hard to not feel frustrated about it, so reading about ergonomic stuff is at least an encouragement for later.



  • @lpetiti I feel for you! It's tough 😔. I know some people had some help with the band around the forearm. And ice it every couple hours but never more than 12 minutes or so. Ice is meant to bring swelling down but once you pass 13-15 minutes, your body doesn't want frostbite so it sends more blood which can be counterproductive! I didn't know that years ago when I had shin splints. I learned that afterwards.

    I think the famous illustrator Loish might have had tennis elbow last year. Somehow she got some injury during inktober. So it does get better!



  • @lpetiti oh, also, the bigger grip on the pen or stylus might really help you if sustained gripping is the issue. So maybe check that out!


  • SVS OG

    @lpetiti hi! I can’t say we’ll have the same experience but what I can say is that my ipad helped me a lot with my hand pain. I hope you’ll enjoy it too/



  • @xin-li To take pressure off your shoulders its good to have a chair with adjustable arm rests and set them around the height of your desk. I've got a secretlab chair and its probably the best chair I've ever sat in. Bit like having a great friend that's always there sticking up for you. No more back pain, shoulders nice and relaxed. I can even sit cross legged in it. It was expensive but I think my bones are more valuable in the long run.



  • @Coley thank you so much for the tips. these are helpful.
    I have already started doing switching with Cintiq and ipad for various tasks along the process. I will increase the number of times doing stretching throughout the day.

    @NessIllustration I know what you mean, and I should totally take a pause. But...... it is really really hard to let things go. I know it is probably not worth it long term, but I would feel really bad if I screw up the current projects now. My strategy now is to break the hours down and spread them, so I do not do long hours in one sit. I try to do stretching every hour or so - I basically used up all my breaks for stretching and I am barely on social media and forum these days :-). I have to remind myself to not overbook again. In fact, I should always aim to book about 60-70 percent of my time, rather than 120 percent. This would be my new year resolution for 2021 :-). I think my experience/worries probably matches with a lot of illustrators in the beginning of their career: I am afraid if I say no, the clients will never come back to me. So I say yes to all clients I would like to work with, and ends up with too many projects.

    @sigross thank you for the tip! I never thought of having an arm rests will help with shoudler pain. I will defintely look into the chair you mentioned. BTW do you draw with Cintiq? just wondering if the arm rest would work well with drawing on Cintiq.



  • @lpetiti et. al. Thank you for sharing. I have been struggling with back pain as well and have recently started using one of those "As seen on TV" braces that pull your arms back with velcro (as seen here). It works surprisingly well by keeping me from hunching over while using my drawing tablet.

    I also put my desk chair on its lowest (to the ground) setting, and the drawing tablet at its most vertical angle, so that I'm looking more "straight on" than down.

    Yoga and stretching (even for a few minutes) has also really helped me during the day as well. Hope this helps and thanks for everyone's advice!



  • @xin-li I draw on an ipad. The arm rests help for in between actions to reduce fatigue. Also for resting your spare arm, because without arm rests then it can cause the habit to lean forward, hunch up and rest your non-drawing arm on the desk. Writing that made me remember my Mum teaching me "Elbows off the table!"



  • In the last few months, I've also developed shoulder and upper back pain.

    I recently purchased an upper back support brace like the one @JoshuaDages mentions. I still haven't gotten used to it yet and there's still body aches involved.
    I've also been researching proper postures and ergonomic tips for artists so I'm just posting a few helpful links I came across.

    Wrist issues when drawing cintiq and tablet
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecuv8KG3dg0

    How to Hold a Graphics Tablet Pen Correctly [ ERGOMICS! ]
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwqLzyusElM

    Posture for the Artist: Part 2: How I Sit While Drawing
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSpyhKA-ReE

    I've just ordered a cintiq 16 and though I'm excited to start working on it, I'm also concerned about using it with correct posture and ergonomics.


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