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Protect your Wacom hand! At your peril

Protect your Wacom hand! At your peril

I’ve been using a tablet input device since the early 1990′s. My first one was some sort of light pen for my Amiga 1200 and not only was it wired, it had a huge block at the tip end of the pen making it impossibly inaccurate. Certainly not a technological revolution but it did give me the first experience of drawing on a computer without a mouse or trackball. It wasn’t too many years before I had my first Wacom tablet and pen and by 1999 I was creating all of my digital art with a tablet and would never go back to the mouse. At least not for sculpting and photoshop work that is.

If you’ve spent any extended time using a pen, pencil or graphic tablet stylus you may well be able to relate to this article. I find that if I use any of the aforementioned tools for hours on end I get one of a range of issues with my wrist, hand or fingers. Anything from annoyingly dirty pads on the edge of the hand (more so when using a pencil) to wrist cramp and depressions in the fingers where a tool has been gripped too hard or for too long. None of these have put me in hospital and often they are little more than an annoyance but over the years I managed to eliminate them in a number of ways.

I’ve tried to combat some of these issues with a range of rituals and wacky technology. Possible the worst for me was the gel wrist support that actually seemed to make wrist ache all the more. Whilst there are a range of ergonomic keyboards available you don’t hear about how to protect your drawing hand very often but there are many ways to improve your tablet experience.

Here’s a few items I’ve collected along the way that may be a help to you:

A trip back in time – The Wrist band

Wrist or sweat bands belong firmly in the world of 1980′s tennis adverts and posters (think 118 118 in the UK and you’ll have the vision). However, a wrist band also can be a friend to the artist in a number of ways. I currently switch between an Intuos 4 and a Cintiq 24HD. When using the Intuos or even with the tiny Bamboo I often rest my arm down on the front edge of the tablet. Even though the Wacom design gives is a smooth leading edge it is the height from the desktop  that is the issue Having the wristband on just stops that leading edge of the tablet from putting any pressure on the underside wrist. On the flip side I sometimes find my wrist is really hot when I use the Cintiq and again the wristband helps a little with that too.

I picked up some reasonably cool Pirate wristbands from Ebay. A vain attempt to give the humble sweatband a new lease of life!

The next level up in wrist/hand care is the smudge guard.

Smudgeguard

http://www.smudgeguard.com/

On the very first day I bought my Cintiq (I had the 12WX first before the huge behemoth that is the 24HD) I knew I’d be plagued by the marks my hand let on the screen. An online acquaintance of mine (3DArtist Dave Davidson) suggested I try the Smudgeguard and I promptly ordered one from http://www.smudgeguard.com/

Once I had the smudge guard on I realised it’s something I’d been needing all my life and didn’t know that it had even been invented. I’m a left handed artist and this brings problems that you may not realise. In western writing we generally write from left to write. Right handed people pull a pen along away from the letters that they have just written. Left handers are actually pushing the pen along and passing their hands over the area they’ll just written. Hence, the left handed smudge. This is why you often see left handers curling their wrist wrists around in an awkward looking pose to bring the pen down from the top and keep the hand off the written word. A smudge guard helps stop this for artists as well as writers. With the smudgeguard on you can safely rest your hand on your paper and not have to hold your hand at a an awkward angle.

So what about the Wacom? The Smudgeguard is great at protecting your paper based artwork therefore  it’s equally useful in protecting the Cintiq screen from greasy mark and scratches. I have tried working with and without the glove several times and the difference is amazing. Having the glove on is like drawing with a micro fibre cloth strapped the the pad of your hand and it cleans and protects in equal measures. I personally didn’t like my pinky covered completely so I cut the finger off all together and it works better for me. I believe there is a new one out now with two full fingers but I’m yet to try that.

Get one and try it on the ipad to.

Finger socks

I use a Moleskine and pen as much as I use a Wacom. One issue I get with digital and analogue art is the finger depression spot. The way I hold my pencil or stylus means that after long periods of work I get a small dint in my middle finger. After extended periods with hexagons pencils it gets a lot worse. One way I found to stop this is to wear finger socks. These are little material sleeves that can just slip onto the required finger to protect it. You can find them on ebay for a few pounds (dollars) and you can find them labelled as fingers socks, finger sleeves or finger protectors depending where you are from.

Wacom kit

Tips and tricks

And finally a few tips and pointers you may want to consider.

1. Stop wearing a watch on your drawing hand. Either change it to the other hand or just use your phone for time updates like most people do these days.

2. Take a break regularly. This can be said about your eyes or your back as much as your wrist but it’s very important and none of us do it!

3.Possibly consider  insuring yourself. You may laugh thinking that only sports people and athletes do this but  as a sole trader or freelancer only have to have one injury to your wrist or arm and it’s game over until it’s healed. If you are earning a steady income from your art it could be worth looking into some income protection. A quick fall down the stairs could put you out of action for three months and if you don’t have an employer to fall back on then there’s no company sick pay.  Ask an independent adviser to get you some prices for you first!

Have you got any drawing or wacom user tips and tricks? post them here I’ll keep adding to the  list.

 

  • Henning Sanden

    Excellent tips, Glen. I have one more for you though: You mention that taking breaks regularly is very important, and I’d like to add to that. I started college half a year ago, and as such, I worked my ass off. This was the first time ever that I actually did CG work 7 days a week. In the beginning it was fine, but after only some months, I got terrible pain in my shoulders and arms, despite the fact that I was relatively fit. 

    The solution? Taking breaks and STRETCHING OUT. The last part is really important. I have an application, WorkRave, which reminds me to take regular breaks. Every 25 minutes I stretch my forearms, wrists and hands, and every 45 min, I try to do a full body stretch: Shoulders, back, arms, legs and so on. After I started doing this, I have hardly any pain, despite the fact that I’m working just as hard now as I did before Christmas. It’s such an obvious thing to do, but we forget it. Nobody thinks that you have to stretch out when drawing, but the fact is that if you sit still for 12 hours a day, that will hurt you.

    The beauty of WorkRave is that you will actually remember to take the breaks and it will give you suggestions for small exercises you can do while on a break. Highly recommended.

    http://www.workrave.org/ 

    • http://twitter.com/southerngfx Glen Southern

      Excellent addition. I’m adding it to the list and downloading it now!

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