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.

Overcoming New Artist Fears

Overcoming New Artist Fears

I want to thank the reader who asked the question for today’s post. She wants to know about overcoming new artist fears. Something all of us deal with at one time or another. Here’s her question.

I’m a beginner colored pencil artist stuck in beginner mode mostly due to “beginner fear”. I LOVE horses and landscapes, so I have enjoyed your blog very much.

After many years of owning horses, my body no longer lets me do that kind of activity, so I’ve turned to art. I even purchased your black horse tutorial but I’m terrified to try it. So I practice on things I’m less interested in, if that makes any sense.

I would love to hear from you and learn how to draw horses as well as you. Can you please offer your expertise on learning to draw horses in colored pencil? Did you have this kind of paralyzing fear when you first started? Thanks for any help.

Celeste

Overcoming New Artist Fears

First of all, thank you for your question, Celeste. I understand completely what you’re experiencing. The fact of the matter is that I chuckled out loud when I got to your last question. I STILL sometimes deal with this kind of paralyzing fear!

I actually think this difficulty could more accurately be called “new project fear.” Every artist experiences this moment of doubt or hesitation at least once. Some of us experience more than just once in a while.

Overcoming New Artist Fears

I understand working on “unimportant projects” before doing what I really want to do. Believe it or not, that’s a good way to get started.

You can consider those projects to be basic training if you like. You can also consider them warm-up exercises.

When you do projects like this, you’re getting more familiar with the pencils and paper, you’re learning what layering is all about, and you’re probably even learning what works and what doesn’t work.

After you’ve done a few of these, you’ll find the “real projects” far less scary.

A Personal Example

I recently finished a portrait that took a long time to do. Part of the reason for that was that I was using Pastelmat for the first time for a paid portrait. I didn’t know what to expect.

So I started a second portrait, which was my “test portrait.” Before trying any new technique on the paid portrait, I tried it first on the test portrait. Then, after I gained confidence, I worked on the paid portrait.

When I finished and delivered the paid portrait, I repurposed the test portrait. It will eventually become a landscape.

So keep doing those sorts of projects until you’re comfortable with using colored pencils.

Transitioning to Tutorials

Once you’ve gained confidence with the pencils, transition into that tutorial by practicing parts of it. I like drawing manes and forelocks, so that’s often what I’d practice. But there is no forelock and not much mane on this tutorial, so you might try some other part of the horse. One of the ears, maybe, or the eye.

That blue ribbon under the head would also be a great practice piece.

If you decide to do practice pieces from the tutorial, do them small. 4×6 inches is a great size for studies. You can finish them more quickly than larger pieces. They’re also easier to let go of if they don’t turn out.

And if they do turn out, you’ve gained confidence!

Learning to Draw Horses & Landscapes

As for learning to draw horses and landscapes like I do, that’s no more complicated than making lots of drawings. My art didn’t always look like it looks now. It took lots of drawings, some of which were downright ugly!

Don’t be afraid to make ugly art. Every piece you finish (whether it turns out or not) helps you improve.

Overcoming Those New Artist Fears

Uncertainty is normal whenever you start something new. Making the first mark on a new piece of paper seems intimidating at first. You will get past that.

Start drawing, then keep drawing. Studies, full images, everything.

When you get ready, you can also study with someone whose work you admire, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. I give one-to-one classes by email (you can learn more about them here.)

A couple of my favorite horse artists teach on Patreon. Bonny Snowdon and Lisa Ann Watkins are excellent horse artists and both teach on Patreon.

The most important part is making the start and you’ve already done that. So sit back and enjoy the process!

You won’t be sorry.

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

Sometime ago, I wrote a post sharing 8 things I wished I’d known when I started as an artist. Those tips apply to all forms of art, so today, I want to share specific colored pencil tips for new artists.

As with most things, when you first begin, the world is at your feet. The sky’s the limit! Colored pencils are the best art medium ever and you’re going to create great art from the start.

Then reality hits.

You’re much better equipped for that reality if you remember these eight things.

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

1. Colored Pencils are S-L-O-W!!!

New products are being developed all the time that can speed up the drawing process for colored pencil artists. Watercolor pencils. Sanded art papers. Great new blending tools.

But colored pencils are still a naturally slow medium, and if you prefer traditional colored pencils on traditional papers, expect to spend hours and hours on each piece.

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

Especially if you prefer producing realistic work. Take your time and enjoy the process.

2. Not All Colored Pencils are the Same

Aside from variations in labeling and exterior treatment, most colored pencils look the same. Yes, some are round and some are octagonal. Most are wood-encased, and others have no casing at all. And they all look like pencils!

But they don’t all perform the same way. A set of cheap pencils purchased at the local craft store do not perform the same as a set of high quality pencils purchase from a dedicated art supply store.

To keep frustration levels to a minimum, start with the best pencils you can afford.

3. You Don’t Need a Full Set of Pencils

Despite all those lovely, beautiful, enticing colors, you can make a good start with just a few colors. Small sets force you to learn how to layer colors to mix new colors. You may not like all the new colors you make. I can just about guarantee you’ll hate a lot of them.

But that’s all right. Most artists learn more from their mistakes, than from the things that go right.

Smaller sets are also less expensive. If you make a few drawings, then decide you prefer another medium, you can give that small set away without guilt. Or regret!

4. Sharp is Good, but Not Always Best

You won’t have to watch many videos or do many tutorials to start hearing how important sharp pencils are. For many applications, that is true.

But dull and even blunt pencils are also useful in some applications. Try them for putting thin, nearly transparent color into larger areas.

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

5. You Don’t Need Solvents to Get Smooth Color

For years, colored pencil artists created wonderful works of art using nothing but pencils and paper.

Then someone discovered colored pencil layers could be dissolved and blended with solvents. Solvents allowed color to “soak” into the paper and fill in the tooth of the paper without damaging the tooth.

That meant artists could add more layers, get smoother color, finish faster, and even work larger.

That doesn’t mean you have to solvents. A lot of artists prefer the way their work looks if they don’t use solvents.

So if you don’t like the look of solvent-blended color, or are allergic to solvents, don’t worry! You can still make great art the old-fashioned way.

6. You Don’t Need Fancy Tools

There are a lot of new tools, gadgets, devices, and other accessories for the colored pencil artist in today’s market. All of them are useful to someone.

Most of them are fun to try.

Some of them may even help you.

But beginners don’t really need them. As a matter of fact, adding tools to your toolbox before you know how to make the pencils and paper work together causes confusion and maybe frustration.

7. Experiment!

Don’t be afraid to make bad art. All of us have done it!

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

When you wonder if two colors work together, the best way to find out is to try them together. If they do, great!

If they don’t, then you’ve learned something not to do.

8. Have fun.

I can’t mention this often enough.

That’s because it’s so easy to get caught up in the creative process that you forget to have fun. Especially after you’ve been drawing for a while and you really want to improve.

The best way to improve is to do a lot of drawings. The best way to do a lot of drawings is to have fun with every drawing.

Those are My Tips Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

Keep them in mind as you begin exploring your colored pencils and your art journey will get off to a much better start.

They also work for those of us who have been making art for a while.

Sometimes we forget!

Is Using Only One Art Medium Limiting?

Today’s post is the result of one of those reader questions that’s too good not to publish. Chris wrote to me and asked a couple of excellent questions, including is using only one art medium limiting for the artist.

Hi Carrie,

I’m an artist who mostly works on realism with ballpoint pen on paper.  I’ve seen you’ve worked with oils alongside your colored-pencils. Do you see a bias towards your oil work versus your colored-pencil work? Do your clients prefer works on canvas as opposed to your works on paper?

I’ve been thinking about establishing myself as a portrait artist and wonder if I should be taking on a different medium (oil painting?) instead of sticking to pen on paper. Am I limiting myself? Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Chris

Chris,

Thank you for your email and for your question. You presented more than one good question, so I’m going to answer them individually.

Is Using Only One Art Medium Limiting

Is Using Only One Art Medium Limiting?

A lot of artists work their entire in one medium and/or one subject. A lot of other artists work in a lot of different mediums and paint whatever draws their attention.

There are “limitations” to both choices.

The artist who works in only one medium is limited in that he or she has decided not to take advantage of some of the benefits of other mediums. However, there’s lots of time learn everything there is to learn about their chosen medium and to get the most out of it.

The artist who works in more than one medium has the opportunity to learn about more than one medium and to take advantage of the benefits of each medium, but they may not have the time to explore each medium to it’s fullest.

In other words, there is no right or wrong answer to your question.

How you decide the answer to this question for yourself is by finding the things you most enjoy drawing and the medium that gives you the most satisfaction.

Image by ch1310 from Pixabay

If you enjoy drawing portraits with pen and ink, then that’s what you should do. Explore the medium as much as you can and find out what’s possible with it. Look for pen-and-ink artists on YouTube and see what they’re doing that could improve your work.

The only thing I suggest is that if you’re planning to sell your work, find inks that are archival. I don’t honestly know how long-lasting the inks used in ball point pens are. My gut reaction is that they’re not archival, so that’s something you’d need to find out.

Also use the best paper you can afford. Using an archival medium on paper that yellows over time is also damaging to your work.

Bias Between Oils and Colored Pencils

You also asked about biases toward one medium or the other.

Some of my portrait clients liked oil portraits better and some liked colored pencil portraits. The bulk of portrait work was in oils, but I used oils exclusively for twenty years. Once I added colored pencil work, I did a lot of portraits both mediums.

Whenever you decide to use two or more mediums, it’s inevitable that you’ll gain fans of each medium. Most of them appreciate all of your work, but when it comes time to buy, most people have favorites.

The most obvious bias was either internal (I considered my colored pencil work to be less valuable than my oil paintings) or in the art world. Some galleries still will not accept colored pencil artwork under any circumstances, but I believe they are getting fewer and fewer in number.

I hope that answers your questions. Thank you again for writing, and for your great questions!

Art Selling Myths (And Why not to Believe Them)

Time to talk about a few art selling myths, and why you shouldn’t believe them.

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me about selling art. She wanted to know specifically if I’d noticed oil paintings selling better than colored pencil pieces or vice versa.

That post got me thinking about some of the common myths we artists tend to believe about selling art. Since understanding what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work, sharing a few art selling myths is a great place to begin a discussion on selling art.

And before you start thinking this is an academic discussion, let me assure you I’ve wrestled will each one of these myths for years. Some of them are still a struggle. So I speak from personal experience.

Why You Shouldn't Believe These Art Selling Myths

There are a lot of art selling myths in circulation, so I’m going to focus on the five that gave me the most trouble.

I’ll also offer a suggestion or two to help you overcome each one.

Art Selling Myths

Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it.

This is the field of dreams syndrome. Remember that movie? Throughout the story, the lead character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) was told all he had to do was build a baseball field, and players would come.

He did and they did, stepping out from rows of corn like magic.

A lot of artists seem to be of the same mindset. I know I thought that way for years. All I had to do was make art and people would flock to buy it.

The problem is, it never worked. It didn’t matter how many paintings I painted, most of them languished in the studio (or under the bed, since I painted in a corner of my bedroom for years.)

It still doesn’t work. In most cases, art does not sell itself.

Not even if you put it on social media.

Art Selling Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it. Otherwise known as the Field of Dreams mindset.
Image by WhiskerFlowers from Pixabay

What to Do

This is a mindset problem, so the only way to deal with it is changing your mindset.

How do you do that?

Experience changed my mindset. Years of painting without marketing or selling eventually taught me the importance of marketing. That time wasn’t wasted because I continued making art and my art improved.

But if you can sit yourself down and reason out the link between marketing and selling, you’ll be yards ahead of the game. Hopefully a lot sooner than I was!

Myth #2: If my art isn’t selling, it’s because it’s not good enough.

I suppose it’s natural to reach this conclusion if you believe the first myth. After all, if art sells itself and your art isn’t selling, it must be because it isn’t good enough.

It makes sense, but it isn’t true. All you have to do is look at the sales records for places like Christy’s to see that art that looks bad to you (meaning you don’t like it,) sells all the time. Sometimes for a ton of money.

Even art that’s technically bad—that is, poorly drawn, poorly rendered, created with non-archival materials and so on—can and does often sell. Sometime for a lot of money.

What’s my point? You may not think your artwork is good enough, but someone else will. All you have to do is find them and that’s called marketing!

What to Do

This, too, is a mindset problem. Every artist I know has moments of thinking their work isn’t good enough. Some of us (yes, me) never think our work is good enough.

But we are usually our own worst critic, and the solution is the same as the solution to Myth #1.

Just.

Stop it.

The fact of the matter is that your art IS good enough to sell to someone somewhere.

Myth #3: If I follow the trends, I’ll sell art.

No, no, no, no, a thousand times, no.

Unless you can create complete works of art in a day (or perhaps several of them a day,) you’ll never be able to take advantage of trends. You just won’t be fast enough.

Sure, you’ll gain skills you wouldn’t have otherwise gained, but you’ll also gain a ton of art that can’t be given away.

What’s worse, you’ll end up with a collection of art that fits no particular style. Your work will not have a common thread. It will be all over the place.

And that makes marketing very difficult.

What to Do

If you tend to chase trends in art, the first thing to do is stop it!

Figure out what you’re most interested in drawing, how you most enjoy drawing, and what motivates you most.

Then draw those subjects in those ways and have fun. People who see your work will come to recognize it, and sooner or later your work will begin to attract people who like the same type of work.

And if you must dabble with trends, make sure to incorporate something recognizable into the trend-following artwork. Something that connects it to the other pieces.

In other words, stop following the herd.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Myth #4: Marketing takes only a few minutes a day.

Oh, how I wish this was true!

Do you know, when I’m doing marketing right, I spend at least half of my day marketing?

The percentage is actually higher, because there’s a lot more to marketing than just, well, marketing. There’s all the business administration that goes with it.

So when I consider bookkeeping, order fulfillment, correspondence, inventory control (someone has to buy art supplies,) and all the rest, 80-90% of my time is spent on marketing or marketing-related things.

Granted, not all those things are directly related to marketing, and you might not consider some of them “business” because they’re fun. But they still factor into the equation on some level, so must be considered.

What to Do

The best remedy for this myth is intentionally setting aside time to market every week. It doesn’t matter whether you market day-by-day or week-by-week. It is important to get into the marketing habit early.

Also pay attention to the types of marketing that work best for you and spend most of your marketing time there. Take email lists, for example. It’s a proven fact that the people on your mailing list are far more likely to buy from you than almost any other group you might imagine. It makes more sense to work on building your mailing list then your Facebook following.

Know which marketing activities yield the best results, then make those activities priority.

Image by annca from Pixabay

Myth #5: I can market without spending money.

Isn’t that what social media is for? Free marketing?

Well, yes.

Sort of.

You can promote your work on social media and get sales. But if your percentages are the same as general percentages, you won’t make many sales.

According to the studies I’ve read, only about 1% of your social media followers actually buy something from you. Of the people who make purchases through social media, they appear to be more likely to buy small things or services. Things like coloring pages, collectibles, or courses.

There are also services you can use with a blog or website that allow you to sell without spending money. I use Easy Digital Downloads to sell and deliver tutorials, for example. It does what I need it to do.

For now.

But it does take money to make money, and if you really want to do marketing right, you will need to spend money sooner or later.

What to Do

If you’re like 99.9% of artists, you’ll be working on a shoestring budget when you begin marketing. That’s normal!

So make use of those “free” marketing tools like social media and word of mouth.

But get rid of the notion that you can market forever without spending money by starting to set aside money for paid marketing opportunities. Start now.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money either. A few pennies set aside out of every dollar accumulate faster than you might think.

Art Selling Myth #5
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

There’s nothing quite so liberating as finding a paid marketing opportunity for which you already have money set aside. Money that doesn’t have to come out of the household budget.

5 Art Selling Myths that Don’t Have to Hold You Captive

Which of those art selling myths is holding you back? Identify it, then overcome it. Start with the solutions I suggested, but don’t stop there.

Work at changing how you deal with any of these problems or any of the many other marketing myths currently in circulation. Yes, it’s hard work, but you won’t be sorry.

Reasons to Watch Videos of New Art Mediums

Today, I want to go off topic just a little bit and share a few reasons why every artist should watch videos of new art mediums once in a while.

As some of you know, I write freelance as well as draw and sometimes paint. I write about colored pencil topics (usually the business side of things) for Ann Kullberg’s COLOR Magazine. I also write about a variety of more general art topics for EmptyEasel and occassionally contribute to Colored Pencil Magazine.

Most often, I come up with my own topics, but I also “write to order” when an editor has a particular topic they want an article about or when a reader asks a question.

That’s how I came to watch painting and drawing videos on different mediums last month.

Reasons to Watch Videos of New Art Mediums

The editor of EmptyEasel suggested some time ago that I write a couple of link articles, one on 50 great painting videos and another on 50 great drawing videos. When I endured a bout of problems with my right wrist and drawing or painting was off limits, it seemed like a good idea to watch videos. (I could not only “work,” I could ice my wrist, too. Win-win!)

I saw a lot of wonderful artists creating wonderful art in a wide range of different mediums; some familiar, some previously unknown. It was such an informative time that I had to share some of what I learned with you!

Why You Should Watch Videos of New Art Mediums

You Discover New Mediums

The best reason to watch videos that are not about colored pencil is that you learn about new art mediums.

You may love your colored pencils and not currently be thinking about trying a different medium, but seeing what else is available is still helpful. If for no other reason, it broadens your horizons. (Did you know there was such a thing as resin painting? Neither did I!)

Those broader horizons may lead you to try something new, or may help you improve your colored pencil work.

Maybe both!

You Learn New Methods

Even if you don’t ever try a new medium, seeing how artists use those mediums can provide keys to using your own medium.

For example, I’ve seen oil painters, gouache painters, and watercolor painters applying paint in what appears to be haphazard strokes. When they zoom in on their brush work, the image doesn’t look like much.

But take a look at the entire painting, and all of a sudden those “random” strokes look very much like trees on a distant hill or variations in color in a wave.

Here’s something else I’ve picked up that applies to colored pencil: Most of those artists make very deliberate strokes. Strokes that are short, purposeful, and often follow long pauses to reload brushes AND consider the next stroke.

How does that affect me (and maybe you, too?) It shows me that my sometimes rushed manner of making marks on paper may actually hinder me in some cases. Yes. There is a time for quick washes of color, but there are also times to slow down and be very deliberate in applying color.

You May Find a Medium You Want to Try

That’s been my experience.

Of course, you have to remember that part of me wants to try every medium I see when I see someone doing wonderful things with it. The day I watched egg tempera painting videos, I wanted to start cracking eggs and making paint.

The day I watched gouache artists, I wanted to try that medium, and so on down the list through acrylics, watercolor, casein and even resin painting.

That may be your experience too.

But there are a few of those mediums that intrigue me beyond mere whim. Mediums like gouache and egg tempera might work as under paintings for colored pencil work. Who wouldn’t enjoy experimenting with that?

Get Inspired!

Even if none of the other reasons to watch videos in other mediums happens to you, what about the sheer inspiration of seeing artists create?

When you find yourself in the creative doldrums, try watching videos of other mediums. They can give you a fresh look at art and, if you watch long enough, a fresh look at your art.

Those are just a few reasons you should watch videos in other mediums.

There are more. In fact, the reasons are as varied as all of you. Each of you will find other reasons after you take the time to explore new mediums by video.

Would you like to see the best videos I watched? Read Learn to Paint with 50+ Free Painting Videos on YouTube! and Learn to Draw with 50+ Free Drawing Videos on YouTube. Both articles include videos for artists at all levels of expertise.

Yes, even you.

I guarantee it.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress

Today, I want to address a topic that’s near and dear to all artists, regardless of age, or type of art: our hands and ways to minimize hand stress. The article is prompted by the following question.

Carrie,
Boy, do I love coloring with my pencils…but I can get a sore right hand. Especially since I have Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome. Besides setting myself time limits, what else helps, in your experience?
Thanks Much, Denise

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress

Denise asks a great question. Even if you don’t have Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome, there will be times when the repetitive nature of drawing causes hand and wrist fatigue, discomfort or pain.

But there are ways to manage those symptoms and possibly prevent them altogether.

Drawing Tips to Help Minimize Hand Stress

The best way to minimize hand stress is to take breaks. If you can draw comfortably for half an hour, then start to feel stress or discomfort, take a break from drawing every 25 minutes. It’s best if you leave your drawing table or easel and walk or do something else for five or ten minutes because that gives the rest of you a break, as well as your hands.

But just putting down the pencils and doing some simple hand exercises at your drawing table or easel helps strengthen your hands, improves flexibility, and relieves fatigue.

Beyond that, here are some drawing tips that may also help.

Solvent Blending

Using solvent to blend colored pencil allows you to continue drawing with colored pencil, but reduces the amount of time you need to spend on each drawing, and reduces the number of strokes.

If you blend by burnishing, you’re exerting a lot of pressure on the pencil. That usually also means you’re holding the pencil more tightly. Both things cause stress to the muscles of your hands and fingers. Solvent blending eliminates much of that pressure.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Blend with Solvent

Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Try using water soluble and traditional colored pencils together. Draw with them dry or use them like watercolor to do as much of the work as possible, then add details with traditional colored pencils.

You won’t need to work as long on a drawing, and can cover more area more easily with a brush than with individual strokes no matter how you use water soluble colored pencils.

Mixed Media

Watercolors, inks, markers, and even acrylic paints make great under drawings for colored pencils. Just make sure to use them for the first portion of the work, then add traditional colored pencil over them (none of these mediums stick very well to colored pencils because of the wax or oil binders in colored pencils.)

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Watercolor Pencils

Art Products that Help Minimize Hand Stress

Sanded Pastel Paper

I know what you’re thinking: Sanded pastel paper will make drawing more difficult.

That’s what I used to think, too, but it isn’t true. Believe it or not, the drawings I’ve completed on sanded pastel paper have been finished more quickly and with less stress than similar drawings on regular drawing paper.

I’ve also observed (in hindsight,) that I don’t notice my hand aching as much. The fact is that my brain and eyes tire faster than my hands when drawing on sanded pastel paper.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Use Sanded Art Paper

The reason is that sanded pastel paper produces an almost pastel-like powder that you can blend into the paper with a paper blending stump or bristle brush. This blending method extends the use of the pencils, and reduces the amount of pressure required to fill the tooth. That reduces the number of pencil strokes you need to finish a drawing and that reduces overall stress to hands and fingers.

Woodless Colored Pencils

Woodless colored pencils are solid sticks of color. There is no wood casing. They can be used and sharpened just the same as regular colored pencils, but you can also use them like pastels and draw with the sides. They’re great for laying down large “washes” of color on sanded pastel paper, and then blending either dry (with a bristle brush) or with a solvent.

Need a fine line? Sharpen the stick with a knife for a chiseled edge.

I use Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils because most of them are light fast, but Prismacolor also makes a line of woodless pencils called Art Stix.

Brush & Pencil Powder Blender

Brush & Pencil makes an excellent blending product called powder blender. Powder blender blends colored pencil more quickly and completely than anything else I’ve ever seen. You can use it alone, or in combination with Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative.

Products can be purchased individually or as part of a kit from Brush & Pencil. Some of the individual products are also available through Dick Blick.

I have not yet tried either of these products, but have seen them demonstrated and am very impressed. They are definitely on my wish list!

Other Ideas That Might Help

These simple changes in method and technique can also help minimize hand stress, pain, fatigue, and discomfort.

Use Different Types of Strokes

Change up the type of strokes you use. Work with circular strokes for a while, then switch to directional strokes. You’ll still need to take breaks, but changing the type of stroke changes the motions you make with your hand. This simple change in routine helps avoid discomfort.

Also, if you usually stroke with the pencil moving away from you, try stroking with the pencil moving toward you.

Change the Way You Hold the Pencil

Most of us hold the pencil in a normal hand writing position most of the time.

But you can also hold the pencil nearly vertical and make most of the same types of strokes. You’ll also have more control.

Or you can hold the pencil in a more horizontal position and draw with the side of the pencil. This is especially useful if you need to use very light pressure for part of the drawing.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Change How You Hold the Pencil

Change the Angle of Your Desk, Easel, or Drawing Board

If you work at a drawing table, change the angle of the table top if you can. If you work on a drawing board, put it in a different position. You might even try working with a drawing board in your lap.

Work Standing

Working standing up puts you at a different level relative to your drawing table or easel. Consequently, your hands and arms are at a different angle, too.

A standing desk, a drafting table, or an easel are great ways to work on art and stay on your feet.

Bonus: You keep the rest of you in better shape, too, since you move around more when standing. At least I do!

Conclusion

We all need to be more mindful in how we draw. The best way to avoid hand and wrist pain is to find ways to prevent it.

There are many reasons you might be dealing with hand and wrist pain. The best first step is consulting your doctor to find out why, then treating that underlying problem.

I make no claims on medical knowledge. I’m not doctor! These are just a few things I’ve found myself doing to get through long work sessions.

Tips for New Artists: 8 Things to Get You Started

Tips for New Artists - Develop a Thick Skin

I know from reading emails and answering your questions that there are a lot of new artists in my audience. So I thought it would be a good idea to share a few basic tips for new artists; the sort of things I wish someone had told me decades ago!

Tips for New Artists

This is a post filled with technical colored pencil tips like how to blend and how to layer, or what paper is best. Instead of that, I want to share tips for successfully living the artist’s life. You know, those things that artists talk about once in a while, but that most beginners don’t immediately discover for themselves. You know; life stuff.

Tips for New Artists

1. Be prepared to persevere.

The real secret to success is getting up one more time than you’re knocked down, plain and simple. What works in life works in art, too. When a drawing doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, don’t give up. Get a new sheet of paper, more pencils, and make another drawing. The more you draw, the better you’ll get.

I guarantee it.

2. Develop a thick skin.

From the first piece of art you make to the last, there will be critics.

Learn to deal with people who criticize your work, your methods, your marketing… probably even you. They are as much a fact of life as the sun rising in the east. Learn not to internalize it.

Tips for New Artists - Develop a Thick Skin

3. Learn to learn from criticism.

Some of the criticism may be warranted, so you can’t automatically discard it all, but learn to be gracious.

Analyze criticism at face value and glean the comments that will improve your skills as an artist, and in dealing with people (and let’s face it, most of us like nothing better than to shut ourselves up and make art!)

4. Draw (or paint) every day.

Don’t fall into the habit of thinking you need to wait for inspiration to strike before you make art.

Don’t accept the lie that you need large chunks of time, either.

I’ve lived both and know they are not true.

The best way to be an artist is to make art as often as you can. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you have the time or not. Even if it’s just a few minutes to doodle on a napkin, make use of it. Nothing is more discouraging than waking up one morning and realizing it’s been a year since the last time you made art.

5. Set goals.

You’re probably as tired of hearing this as I used to be. Get over it. I had to and when I did, I learned just how valuable goals can be. And easy.

Start small. A sketch a day, maybe.

If a time goal works better, set a time goal. Just make sure you’re drawing for that five or ten or 60 minutes each day and not doing Facebook or the on-line crossword puzzle. They DO NOT count as making art.

I’m sorry to report that one of my favorite activities (browsing Pixabay) also doesn’t count as making art!

Tips for New Artists - Set Goals

6. Develop a system to monitor goals.

Try a calendar with big squares. Jot a few words about what you did each day.

Or try a white board list, or even a text document or piece of paper.

Decide on your goal for the week or month, then decide what you need to do each day to reach that goal. For each day you make art, record the amount of time you spent or what you drew. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.

7. Don’t let your goals rule you.

You may be thinking this is a contradiction. It’s not. Life happens. There will be some days when, despite your best planning and intentions, you just can’t draw or paint. Don’t let it stress you out.

That’s part of the reason I like weekly and monthly goals in addition to daily goals. If you miss a day, you can make it up somewhere else and the weekly or monthly goals provide the incentive to do so.

8. Have fun.

Whether you make art for personal pleasure or as a livelihood, have fun.

For some, making art will become like a job that requires you to treat it like a job, maintaining regular hours and behaving like your own employee. Try not to lose sight of the joy of art. The reason it drew you in the first place. Take time to nurture that, to grow it as you grow your career or hobby.

You won’t regret it.

There are Eight Life Tips for New Artists.

They work for those of us who have been making art for a while, too, because sometimes we forget them.

If you’d like more tips like these, you might be interested in reading 5 Tips for New & Emerging Artists, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Finding Your Artistic Style

Let’s talk about style today. More specifically, finding your artistic style.

Have you ever wondered how to find your artistic style? Maybe the following reader question echoes your own.

I am 67 and my life became so much more adventurous due to colored pencils.

I would very much like to develop my own style, but I hope I am not too old to do so, because I think it needs a lot of time and patience to develop a personal style. What are your thoughts about developing your own style?

Finding Your Artistic Style

This reader is right in one respect. It does take time.

But I would replace the word “develop” with the word “find,” because I think that’s how most artists come by their style. They find it.

Or have it pointed out to them by other people.

What is Artistic Style, Anyway?

An artistic style is the style of an artist’s body of work. There are literally hundreds of different things that go into an artist’s style, but the main ones may include the subjects they prefer, the colors they use (also known as their “palette”,) how they combine the colors, the drawing methods they use, and even their favorite drawing sizes.

All of those things and more contribute to the overall look of each piece.

Style happens when a large collection of pieces all look similar, even if the subjects are different.

Most artists don’t deliberately set out to develop a style. It just happens as they create. Given enough time and enough artworks, style emerges.

How I Found My Artistic Style

I know from personal experience this is true.

After years of painting horses and showing art at local county fairs, I missed a year. Later, a neighbor asked why I didn’t have anything at the fair. I asked how she knew I didn’t and she said, “I didn’t see anything that was your style.”

Up to that point, I hadn’t thought about style and didn’t know I had one. I just liked painting horses.

So it’s likely that your style has already begun taking shape, and you just don’t realize it.

Finding Your Artistic Style

Yes, it will take time and probably dozens of finished pieces.

But it will happen.

When you create consistently and over time, people will recognize your art without having to see your name on it.

And it’s quite likely that other people can already see it.

Is It Ever Too Late to Find Your Artistic Style?

No! So long as you have breath in you and the desire to make art, you will develop an artistic style. It’s bound to happen. In fact, you won’t be able to keep it from happening!

Unless, of course, you focus so much on style that you don’t draw.

How to Draw Like an Expert

Welcome to May, and another May Question-and-Answer month! Today’s question is from a reader who wants to know how to draw like an expert.

That’s a good question, and one we all want the answer to, right?

How to Draw Like an Expert

We’re all also looking for an easy way to draw like an expert. Don’t deny it; I know it’s true because I still look for shortcuts!

I have bad news.

Drawing is like running a marathon. You don’t get out of bed on Monday, decide you’re going to run a marathon on Saturday. Even if you do buy the proper equipment, you won’t do very well when Saturday comes and the race begins. It takes training, discipline, and time to prepare. That’s just the way it works.

How to Draw Like an Expert

The same holds true for drawing. It takes time, training, and practice. Lots of practice!

In other words, there are no shortcuts. None.

But there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of finishing the race (or improving your artwork.) Here are a few that helped me.

How to Draw Like an Expert - Old Drawing
Drawn in 1968

Training is important in marathon running and colored pencil drawing.

The only way to draw like an expert is to train for it.

That begins with the proper tools (artist-quality pencils, good supports, and a comfortable and functional drawing set up) is only the first step.

No, you don’t have to run out and buy the best of everything. You don’t even need to buy full sets of pencils, or a lot of expensive paper. A handful of good quality colors and a pad of good drawing paper gets you started.

In fact, unless you’re absolutely certain from the start that colored pencil is what you want to do, you can learn quite well with good pencils on newsprint. You probably shouldn’t buy those scholastic pencils because they don’t perform the same as better pencils; but you don’t need to buy top-of-the-line, either.

How to Draw Like an Expert - 1990
Drawn in 1990

A regular routine is important in developing drawing skills (and running marathons.)

The next step is a regular drawing routine, and the discipline to maintain that routine.

If all you can do is draw for an hour or two each week, do it. Mark that time in your weekly schedule, then guard it carefully.

Obviously the more you draw, the more quickly you’ll be drawing like an expert, but every drawing gets you closer to your goal.

So find a regular time that works for you, and draw, draw, draw.

How to Draw Like an Expert - Bottoms Up 1994
Drawn in 1994

Finding a good teacher (or trainer) helps you avoid a lot of pitfalls.

You can learn on your own—I did—but you can learn more quickly by finding a teacher to guide you. Look for a teacher who:

Is creating the kind of artwork you want to create (representational, abstract, etc.)

Works in the medium you want to learn

Knows the subject you want to learn (if you want to learn a specific subject such as flowers or horses)

Teaches in a way that makes sense to you

Is more interested in students becoming well-rounded artists, rather than carbon copies of the teacher.

Beginning artists today have a world of options available online. Tutorial videos offer a variety of instructors unheard of when I was getting started (I didn’t even have the internet!)

Make use of those resources, but don’t try to learn from everyone. At least at the beginning, focus your attention on one or two artists who fit the guidelines above, then learn everything you can from them.

How to Draw Like an Expert - 2002
Drawn in 2002

Focus, focus, focus.

You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you’re just getting started, it’s probably best to pick one and focus your attention on that medium. At least until you learn enough to know whether or not it’s for you.

The illustrations in this post document my journey as a colored pencil artist, beginning with the earliest pencil drawing I have in my possession. I was 7-1/2 years-old when I made that drawing in 1968.

This drawing is my most recent horse drawing. I’ve made a lot of progress in 50 years.

How to Draw Like an Expert - 2017
Drawn in 2017

I would have made progress a lot faster had I focused on colored pencil from the start. Instead, my primary medium was oil painting until 2014. I began “serious dabbling” with colored pencil in the 1990s, and didn’t switch entirely until 2017.

The lesson for you? You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you really want to learn how to draw like an expert as quickly as possible, focus on one medium.

Have I mentioned practice?

Oh. I did?

Well, it bears repeating here. The more you practice anything, the better you get at it.

The only caveat I’d offer is that you practice the right way. If you practice drawing, but you’re only repeating drawing errors, then you’re cementing those areas into all future drawings.

And that will only hinder your efforts to reach expert status.

So draw often, but also draw smart!

How do you do that?

Work from good reference photos

Draw what you see in those reference photos every time you draw (even if you draw from the same photo over and over again)

Practice drawing from life, even you do quick sketches or 5-minute studies

Master these three things and practice all the rest, and your drawings will improve! You won’t be an overnight expert, but you may very well be surprised how quickly you reach that goal.