Dealing with Hand Pain While Drawing

Dealing with Hand Pain While Drawing

Do you experience hand pain while drawing? You’re not alone.

When I work sitting down, I often get a bit of tingling in my right arm. It doesn’t matter whether I’m typing or drawing. I think it’s because my elbow rests against my hip and cuts off circulation.

It’s not major pain. It’s not even really pain at all. But it is a nuisance.

So I’ve found ways to alleviate the problem or avoid it altogether.

Today, I’d like to share a few of them with you.

Dealing with Hand Pain While Drawing

Shorter Working Sessions

Keeping working sessions short (usually 15 or 20 minutes) is the most helpful thing I’ve done. It’s also the most difficult to implement, because it’s so difficult to stop when once I get into the zone!

But limiting drawing sessions to half an hour or less eases the stress on hands and fingers. Even if you don’t actually leave your drawing table when you lay down your pencils.

For example, when I’m writing a tutorial, I work on the drawing long enough to finish a step. Then I describe in writing what I just did. The motions required and the muscles used for those two activities are so different that typing is like taking a break from drawing, and drawing is like taking a break from writing.

Granted, if arthritis or some other physical condition is the cause of your pain, typing or doing something similar will not help.

But short drawing sessions will at least keep you from overworking those hand and finger muscles.

Dealing with Hand Pain While Drawing

Changing the Way You Hold the Pencil

Another easy way to relieve minor hand pain is to change the way you hold the pencil while you draw.

All of us have a “normal” grip. That is, a way to hold the pencil that’s easy, comfortable, and normal. My normal grip is holding the pencil at about 45 degrees to the surface of the paper.

But that does get tiring on my hand, especially if the pencil is very short or if I’m doing detail work.

Changing the way I hold my pencil changes the way I use my hand muscles. For example, a vertical grip (shown below) uses muscles differently than my normal grip. Holding the pencil in a more horizontal position and using the side of the pencil uses those muscles differently.

So rotating through two or three different pencil grips could provide all the relief you need for hand pain or discomfort.

Working at an Easel or Standing Desk

For the type of hand discomfort I sometimes deal with, working standing up is a great help.

For one thing, my arms are extended to one degree or another whether I’m standing at an easel or drafting table.

Working while standing also keeps me a little more active no matter how long I work, because I’m always shifting my feet around or moving from side to side. It’s also easier to walk a few steps to retrieve something (or just walk to a window and look outside) if I’m standing than if I’m sitting. I guess I’m lazier than I thought!

Hand Strengthening Exercises

The root cause of hand pain is sometimes as simple as adjusting to a new activity. If that’s the case, simple exercises to strengthen the hand muscles may be all that’s required.

My favorite is using a small rubber ball just big enough to fit into the palm of your hand. Whenever you have idle time, work the ball by turning it and squeezing it in your hand. It won’t take long before you start to feel the difference in hand strength. When I had cellulitis in both hands a few years ago, I was given a series of exercises to do with something called Thera-Putty. A rubber ball works just as well.

The nice thing about this type of exercise is that you can do it anywhere and at almost any time.

And it won’t be long before you notice improved grip and better muscle stamina in your hands.

For more easy hand and finger exercises, read 10 Ways to Exercises Hands and Fingers from WebMD.

Dealing with Hand Pain While Drawing

If hand pain is persistent or severe, your best bet is to check with your physician. He or she can properly diagnose the problem and provide specific treatments, including hand exercises, to help the specific problem.


  1. Hi Carrie,

    Thank you for your thoughtful advice.

    Although I am right-handed, I have learnt to draw and paint left-handed. This means that I am not using the same dominant hand for all tasks. I have found that spreading out the labour between my hands has saved me from a lot of hand and wrist pain. It did take awhile to learn to draw and paint left-handed. My left-handed work looks quite different to my dominant hand work (it is softer and more organic, vs. my right-handed work which is very tight and controlled), and if I have a tight deadline, I work right-handed as I am slower with my left.

    1. Betty,

      You’re welcome. I’m glad to have been helpful to you.

      I’ve never thought of changing the hand I use. I’ve had to do that once or twice, after injuring my right hand.

      Now that you’ve mentioned it, I did once try drawing left-handed. Just sketching, no detailed work. It was possible, but not comfortable. You are no doubt correct that spreading the work load between both hands would reduce the stress on my dominant hand. That might be worth trying.

      Thank you for reading this post and for commenting.

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