Drawing Pains

Do you ever draw to the point where your hand feels like it wants to completely fall off? Till your wrist is nearly broken, or your knuckles are about to bleed? I think pretty much everyone who draws daily is destined for this kind privileged pain. For me, I get this strange shooting pain that starts at the tip of my thumb and goes halfway up my arm. It’s like a jolt of lightning.

Lousy nerves.

Even though I’m right handed, I draw more like a lefty. I use four fingers to hold my drawing/inking tool and I sometimes bend my wrist funny. Parents and teachers used to criticize me for this, but they didn’t really make any efforts to encourage me to hold my pencil the correct way. To make things worse, I grip my pencil way too tight. This is what leads to the shooting pain. As soon as that pain starts to set it, I know it’s time to quit drawing for the day or else things will only get worse. When I force myself to continue, I find myself spending more time erasing the countless mistakes I make than anything else. It’s pretty frustrating when the pain sets in when I’m on a deadline or when I’m really immersed in my work.


I also have two small black dots that are tattooed into the sides of my fingers where I accidentally stabbed myself with Microns. But I kinda like them. It’s sort of the equivalent of an oil painter having a paint splotches on their pants. Except these things are permanent; and I didn’t even have to shell out a bunch of cash at a tattoo parlor to get them!

But these things come with the territory. Until I can cut off my hand and trade it in for a cybernetic replacement like Luke Skywalker, I welcome the discomfort so long as it doesn’t overtake me. Every line of work has its complications. And yes, drawing comics IS work. Fun work, though. So I learn to live with the pain and allow it to serve as a sign that it’s ok to take a break every once in awhile. That, or fight through it like a warrior! In any case, it’s a small price to pay for doing something you love.

Written by Michael Yakutis, Making Comics (dotCom) Community Liaison. 


18 Responses to “Drawing Pains”

  1. Charlie

    Amen, brother. Great post.
    I accidentally jammed a rapidograph into my right forefinger just up from the nail, and I’ve carried a black ink spot under the skin for over 30 years. And a pencil lead in my right forearm.
    For me, it’s the pain in my back, just to the left of my right shoulder blade. That’s the signal to put down the pencil.
    I was riding on the ferry with Donna Barr one time, and I complained that I couldn’t turn my head very far because of the pain. She dug her fingers into the spot and when I yelped, said: “Yep, you’re a real comic artist now.”

    • Michael Yakutis

      Thanks, Mr. Charlie! Very nice of you to say.
      Yeah, I feel that the pain is just part of the job. I remember meeting Jeff Smith (Bone) at APE a few years back and his drawing hand was wrapped in an arm brace. Of course I felt/feel bad for him, but at the same time, I know that HE knows that its an earned pain. Just look at the size and majesty Bone. It’s only natural that some pain was born from that.
      Also…the fingernail thing disturbs me greatly. I have a thing about fingernails….

  2. Gioseppe Custodio

    my drawing pain happens on my stomach… i dunno why, maybe cause of the way i seat… whenever i feel those stomach pains, i’d do a couple of stretches then rest for a few hours to get back to drawing….

    awesome how u got those 2 dots tattoo.. hopefully i’d experience that… something to remind me of the effort i put into drawing…

    i love how the pain i get from drawing reminds me i’m alive and such…

    • Michael Yakutis

      Well Gioseppe, fear not. You, too can have pen tattoos all the same. Here’s what you do – dip a Crow Quill pen into a bottle of India ink. Actually, I prefer 102 pen nibs. Super fine tip on those guys. Then, using all your upper body strength, plunge the tip of the nib into the back of your hand as deep as it will go. Don’t let the gushing blood scare you. It will eventually mix and coagulate with the excess ink. Remove the nib from your hand (hopefully the tip of the nib won’t break off when it hits bone), and dab the wound with a used, ink-absorbed paper towel. After the wound heals, you should have a genuine inking tattoo. I advise that you are up-to-date with tetanus shots.


      Don’t do that, haha.

      I get stomach pains sometimes, too. I never thought it could be drawing-related though. I always just thought it was stress related. Perhaps both?

  3. Charlie

    I’m having so much trouble drawing these days that I welcome the back pain. It lets me know that I’m really working, instead of taking too many breaks.

  4. melaredblu

    There’s nothing like suffering for your art, I guess.

    The first time I tried making a comic book by hand, I got a horrible blister that eventually emerged from its cocoon as a bona fide artist’s callus. Since then, I’ve powered through stiff knuckles, raw fingertips, eyestrain, aching necks, and sore wrists. None of it has yet come close to the pain from developing that one callus.

    • Michael Yakutis

      Ick! Never got an actual blister or callus from drawing (maybe someday :)). That’s a good one.

  5. Jessie w Craig

    I have a pencil lead in my leg, a scar on my wrist from a metal square, and a few Indian ink dots. The back pain is there and getting worse everyday. The real pain comes from the spot on my middle finger where it contacts pencils and pens while drawing. I like to keep a guitar next to the drawing table. When I start to feel the fatigue in my hand, I switch to playing the guitar for 10-15 mins. That seems to work out the muscle stress iny hand.

    • Michael Yakutis

      Switching to the guitar is a very good strategy.

      Btw, what the heck were you doing with a metal square that resulted in scaring your wrist?? It’s not a ninja star, lol!

      • Jessie w Craig

        I reached into a bag looking for something. I guess it was a fluke thing. My choice of weapon when it comes to art supplies is a old German WWII cartography kit I picked up at an antique shop. That thing has all kinds of sharp point things in it.

  6. SplitOpenSeams

    I think one of the most common things they should teach you in elementary school should be proper posture for writing, (which could also apply to drawing). I mean, think about it, we’re taught to write on flat desks with our backs hunched over in our little chairs. And then we go through years of schooling doing the same thing. Hell, I even went to a college that used flat desks in the drawing classrooms! I spent years having sharp wrist pains, and would have back aches at night from spending all day drawing or being in school.

    This was until this Christmas when I bought myself a present… Which turned out to be one of my best investments I ever made. I bought a cheap artist’s desk with an inclinable top for about $60 (on sale). It can go from 90 degrees (flat) to about 165 degrees (just abit less than straight up.)
    Using this desk has increased how long I can draw before I feel back / arm pain, and is a lot easier due to an increased view of what I’m drawing on. Maybe it’s common sense, but I never realized how great these desks were until half a year ago.

    • Michael Yakutis

      Good point. They tell you to sit up straight, but it’s kind of unrealistic for artists to do this when working on a flat surface all day long. It’s even more unrealistic when you get into high school (or in your case – college) art classes. It’s art class! Why not have adjustable table tops? I still keep my art table flat, but that’s mainly because I like to keep my pen holder at the corner of my desk (I have very limited space in my work area). This is something I am working on changing though. I think it is about time for a re-arrange so that I can raise my table top. Also I need a lamp that wont fall in my face like my mounted desk lamp does…

  7. blackmudpuppy

    I’ve experienced a lot of this, but also happen to be a hypochondriac. Kinda comforting I’m not the only one suffering weird pains and stuff when I draw.

  8. Egypt Urnash

    One of the things I learnt early on in my short career in the animation industry was THE RIGHT WAY TO HOLD A PENCIL.

    1. If you’re using a mechanical pencil, put it down. Get a wooden one. Or a lead holder can work too, I think. Those damn mechanicals gouge deep, hard-to-erase trenches in your paper, anyway.

    2. Hold the pencil such that you can press the SIDE of the point to the paper, rather than the tip of the point. You’ll draw with a wide, light line.

    3. Draw with your arm while doing this, not with your wrist and fingers. Your wrist and fingers should be fairly static.

    4. When you have a drawing mostly roughed out, you can shift to addressing the paper with the tip of the point to quickly nail down final lines and little details.

    4a. When you’re addressing the paper with the tip of the point, your grip should be just enough to control the tool. Someone should be able to lean over your shoulder and pluck your pencil from your hand with no trouble. (Or your pen or brush.)

    This helps keep the carpal tunnel fairy at bay, and encourages livelier, more kinetic drawing.

    I’m primarily a digital artist nowadays, but several years of learning to draw this way means that my hand glides easily across the tablet!

    This is a little video I recorded to demonstrate this way of drawing. Fullscreen it so you can read what I write.

    • Michael Yakutis

      All great tips, for sure. I remember learning this stuff in art class, but I didn’t keep up with it. I will have to try to get back into it, though. However, I really like my mechanical pencils!! Cool video, btw. Thanks for sharing!

    • blackmudpuppy

      All good. Especially drawing from the elbow/shoulder. I see so much tiny cramped linework out there and it makes my wrist hurt just looking at it. This is the main reason why I bought the 24.5″ x 18″ tablet.

  9. NikolaiMcFist

    The only pain I’ve really ever had to deal with is rarely when I get a really sore wrist after drawing for a while, or when my hands get really sweaty from working for a long time and the pencil/pen or whatever begins to slip out of my fingers, kind of screwing everything up.


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