Pedes' cave of something

J.Piechowiak - (+Web)comic artist & writer, illustrator, ethnolinguist, chocolate addict, pervert. Thinks in pencil, sings when nobody seems to be around.
Author of the webcomic More Than a Hunch.

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This is a tutorial I’ve written two years ago. I still see a lot of people having problems with hand pains while using a tablet so I thought I might post in on tumblr where it should get to more people than on my LJ. If you use tablet you might want to look at it, if your friends use tablet you might want to show it to them.

Protect your hands and back before it’s too late~!!

Original text starts here:

I realized, that I’ve encountered many professional artists online that have problems with wrist that are caused by using tablet. No wonder: you can find tons of tutorials on graphic software, but you won’t find any on actual USING the tablet. Well, it is simple: you install the drivers, plug the tablet in, personalize the buttons, if you have any, and start drawing the same way as you did with the pencil, right?
Well… NO!

That is why I decided to write this entry tutorial. Please, read if whether you’re just a beginner, or a professional that has been painting for longer than I have lived; the issue is much too grave for people living of making art to simply be ignored.

Let me start with a simple story:
I’ve had an injury in my arm (that also affected the wrist a bit; I can’t use nibs because the tension necessary to get a good lineweight makes my wrist and arm hurt) long before I’ve even gotten a tablet, and when I started using it I had some problems, as the arm was much more stressed than while drawing traditionally and I got pains in wrist very often (this was no different to situations where i had to write a lot by hand, fastly or for a long time). Then I’ve read a lot about how professional artists have problems with carpal tunnel and got scared; I already had problems and didn’t want to be out of the game before I even got in. So I started gathering information and seeking for the cause of the problem.

I found that there are 3 important factors in drawing with a tablet (2 are revelant to drawing in general) that may cause serious health problems:

1. Posture - This is the most obvious issue of all desk-bound people, yet it seems to be ignored too often. There are numerous publications considering posture behind the desk, so I’ll only point out a few things:
Hunched posture not only puts stress on the upper back (neck pains, back pains, headaches, problems with spine and even deterioration of eyesight) but also squeezes the digestion system and lungs (less oxygen = worse body and brain operating). Prolonged hunched posture causes pains of the upper back, neck and arms and that is really unhelpful while drawing. Getting rid of bad hunching habit and getting used to upright position takes less than two weeks, as you need to get used to flexing different muscles (that might have gotten used to not working) but it really pays in the end and you’ll find hunching is in reality less comfortable. I know, I’ve checked it myself. If you can’t sit in a correct position because of some workplace problems (chair/table/computer screen too low/high) use any means necessary to make it right; if you don’t have money to replace something you can use a pillow, and encyclopaedia or anything that helps.

2. Drawing technique - A very common mistake that both amateurs and professionals do is using mostly fingers and wrist movement to control their drawing tools. This seemingly allows for the better control of the drawing tool, but in the long run has disastrous effect, as this is the main reason for wrist pains and carpal tunnel syndrome en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpal_Tunnel_syndrome. As the the fingers and wrist are the places where the movements come from, they are tense all the time and the wrist is under constant stress. Also, this way of drawing requires the hand to be stable, therefore the arm is tense all the time and this leads to the mysterious pains of the left shoulder (or right shoulder for left-handed).
The way to avoid those problems is to draw in a way where the movement comes from the arm and the elbow, and the wrist only adjusts the movement. This not only takes most of the pressure from the wrists, as it’s not the one that has to bear most of the movement force, but also helps with the arm tension, as it has to be more relaxed for the movements to be precise and smooth. Alas, even though I’ve switched myself I cannot estimate how long switching and getting used to it takes, but even if you’ve been drawing for a long time it is worth the effort no matter whether you draw traditionally of use a tablet.

Still, there are many professionals that, even though they draw from the arm, still have problems when using the tablet. That is caused by:

3. Tablet pen grip - Last but not least. The issue is tightly connected to number two and the reason it exist is: the mechanics of tablet pen are different from normal drawing tools! (the exception being en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_pen ). While drawing traditionally the pressure you put on your drawing tool is the pressure you get on the paper. But in a tablet pen (the standard kind, not the ones that recognize tilt, angle and air humidity) the only pressure the tablet recognizes is the one that makes the tip go inside the pen. Most artists, especially the ones that started out traditionally, are used to having 30-60 degrees angle between pen and paper while drawing - having the angle bigger (holding the pen more vertically) is awkward and makes the hand obscure the view of what you are actually drawing. When they move to tablet they use the same grip and techinique, yet they are unaware, that the actual strain on the hand is different.

Just for the sake of this presentation let’s pretend this looks like a pencil and a tablet pen:



When you hold a pencil the pressure you put is partly the weight of your hand that gets transfered to the pencil (or any similar tool) tip. When you use a tablet and hold it with the smaller angle to have pressure detected you need to press the tip inside the pen = press the pen forward, into the tablet. Here, instead of using the weight of your hand you’re using your fingers and wrist!! So the effect is similar as the one mentioned in point 2 (and if you’re both drawing from your wrist and under that angle that is really REALLY bad).

That is why the way that you should hold tablet pen is as vertical as possible!!!

OK that is easy to say but how to do it? I’ve seen people drawing with simply shifting the pen into vertical position, but that did not work for me and, unless it’s natural for you, it still puts a stress on your wrist and arm.

So no we’ve come that far with all the reasons, let’s present a solution:

Finding your ideal healthy way to use a tablet.
First we’ve learned to keep a good position and make our movement from arm and elbow; this is CRUCIAL here as without it you won’t be able to draw at all. Now sit comfortably in front of the screen and let your drawing hand rest somewhere before you, in the most comfortable place on the desk, in the most comfortable position. This is where your tablet should more-less be while drawing. For me it’s a place slightly right from the screen (so the keyboard is moved to the left) but I guess it varies from person to person so it might as well be somewhere in the middle or on your knees.
Now, for this relaxed hand try to find a way of putting the tablet pen in most vertical setting into that hand while changing the position of the hand as little as possible.
This will probably be slightly different for different people; I’m going to explain how it looks for me, so you know what is important here and what to pay attention to when looking for your own way (I’m sorry for the quality of the photo, my cellphone camera is not too good):



I was actually drawing a line while taking the photo!
The way I hold the tablet pen might seem to be a bit strange at first; I’d like to note that I normally hold pen with middle finger with a little help of index and the angle to the paper is about 45 degrees; for tablet I hold it (or rather: it rests) between middle and ring finger (if you ever used chopsticks think of the one that doesn’t move; the base is similar) and the angle is from 60 to 90). I learned that I have better control of pressure that way too; the pen is resting on my fingers and the hand is resting on it’s edge. When I want the tip of the pen to touch the tablet I just shift the position slightly and let it brush the surface; when I want the pressure to be stronger I don’t have to stress the muscles, just rotate the hand some more and let more weight of my hand to rest on the pen. Note that I don’t actually hold it with a thumb, it only blocks the tablet in position.
The main point here is that while drawing you don’t control the pressure by using force, but simply by shifting the weight from where your hand lies on the tablet to the pen and that means no additional strain on the wrist and arm. Because, yes, you don’t need to put force while drawing with the tablet (if you do, you might want to adjust the tablet pressure settings!). And yes, it works both for painting and drawing lineart.
I admit, it was awkward at first and took over a week to get used to, but now my hand is more rested after using a tablet than drawing traditionally. Actually, last summer I had a biking accident and hurt both my writs. I could not draw traditionally at all for almost a month, due to the pain and limited movement of the thumb, but after only a week I could use the tablet normally for painting (it took a longer while to do lineart though); I think that is good enough recommendation.


I understand that changing the way you sit or draw may be a bit annoying, but I think it is worth it. In the short run it really allows you to work for hours and the only parts that get tired are eyes and butt; in the long run it might be matter of your health and your whole career!! If you already have wrist problems then it’s even more the reason do change the habits NOW!


I hope this will help as many people as possible. Please, if you know people who use tablet, let them know! There is not enough information on this topic available. Also, if by any means you see some mistake here or want to add something important, please comment here!

And since It took so much effort and a few takes to write it all, I may as well advertise
my webcomic: Seclusion Inn  http://morethanahunch.smackjeeves.com/ 
Please visit and say hi! I don’t bite! (although the squirrel does…)

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