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.

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.

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!


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.