Making a living drawing doesn’t require the same levels of physical labor many jobs do, but that doesn’t mean it won’t take its toll on a body.
Drawing for a living absolutely can break you down. It’s important as a storyboard artist– or any kind of artist, really– to look after yourself.
There will be times when you need to push yourself to get through whatever work it is you need to get through. If you’re smart about how you treat your body overall, though, it might be less damaging on the occasions when you have to put yourself through the paces to nail a deadline.
If you’re smart about how you treat yourself, you can probably storyboard for a very long time.
Storyboarding Wrong Can Hurt You In A Lot Of Ways
Work of any sort comes with associated aches and ailments. If you're journeying toward being a storyboard artist, you’re absolutely going to spend a lot of time at the drawing board. It is largely a sedentary occupation, and that means there’s potential for:
- Eye strain and migraines
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Elbow pain
- Wrist, hand, and finger pain, or hand and finger numbness
- Upper or lower back pain
- Leg pain, or leg numbness
- Cardiovascular issues
There is probably more that belongs on the list, but, basically, storyboarding the wrong way can potentially cause an artist problems from top-of-body to bottom.
A Quick Note From StoryboardArt
It probably goes without saying, but we’ll take a moment to say it anyway: We are not doctors, nurses, or physiotherapists. We are not medical or health-care professionals of any kind. We're artists and art tutors, and as such, we absolutely cannot provide you with any sort of significant advice about your well-being.
If you're suffering from physical ailments you believe have been caused or made worse by artistic activities, you should seek out assistance from the appropriate professionals. Start with a local general practitioner– they can treat you or refer you as needed.
What we can offer here is basic, common-sense advice:
General Tips and Tricks
A job drawing is a lot like an office job. It comes with a lot of the same health risks and also a lot of the same solutions.
So let's start there:
Set Up A Comfortable Workspace
Whether working at a studio or at home, make your workspace as comfortable as possible.
Use a chair that has the seating/support necessary for lengthy drawing sessions. Use surfaces (flat tables, drafting tables, desks, etc.) that are the proper heights and alignments. Keep tools, whether they be traditional or digital, within easy reach. And, when selecting tools, opt for things that feel good in your hand even after long periods.
Also make sure your workspace is lit well enough that staring at a project all day won’t strain your eyes any more than is necessary.
Use Your Workspace and Tools Properly
It’s easy to undo the benefits of every investment in a comfortable workspace with poor working habits.
That chair won't do you much good if you tend to sit cross-legged for hours, leaned forward with your elbows propped on your knees and the full weight of your body pushing down. You'll cut off circulation to your legs, strain your back, and impact nerves from your elbows all the way to your fingertips.
Try to sit with good posture, or consider surface options that will allow you to stand, if you would like to.
Be OK With Walking Away
Take short breaks at regular intervals. This can be as simple as walking around a bit to stretch your legs for a few minutes every hour or so. You can keep thinking about whatever it is you’ve been working on, but take physical time away to give your body a breather.
It’s also OK to let yourself focus on something else entirely for a bit, if your brain needs a break as well.
This also applies regardless of whether you're working traditionally or digitally– your eyes need rest regardless of whether you stare at sheets of paper or a computer screen all day.
Get Active When and Where You Can
When you’re taking a break, consider that there are stretches that can help prevent repetitive strain injuries or ease existing ones.
A quick floor workout or a walk, jog, or sprint around the block could all also be options to get active at lunchtime.
What exactly you should do, we'll leave up to your own research and, if needed, checking with your local general practitioner– it’s going to be at least a little bit different for everyone.
Specific Tips and Tricks For Artists
Here are a couple of things to consider that are more specific to an artist's life and livelihood:
You might find your hand cramps up or gets sore during lengthy drawing sessions, or even shorter ones. If so, it might be worth looking at how tightly you hold your pencils, pens, styluses, or whatever your tool of choice is.
We develop physical habits as we learn how to draw, and gripping our drawing tools too tightly is a common one. It's usually because we feel doing this gives us greater control. And sure, choking your pencil right above the lead and using short, sharp motions produces fine, detailed lines. But it can also be rough on your wrist, hand, and fingers.
Storyboarding very rarely requires this level of intricacy in the work anyway.
Pressing onto the paper or screen too hard or drawing with a "heavy hand" is another common physical habit that can take a toll.
Try holding your drawing tools a little looser and a little higher up from the lead, and try using a lighter touch against the paper or screen. It might take practice, but you'll find you can still produce most of the lines you need to. You will also find this is much easier on your wrist, hand, and fingers.
If you do need a few finer strokes (and really, it'll only ever be a few), you can always go in and add those after, rather than working that way from start to finish.
It also might be worth looking at how you "throw lines."
Another one of those common physical habits we develop as we learn to draw is to produce many or most of our drawing motions from our wrist, hand, and fingers. Much like the above point on grip, this is usually because we feel we have greater control when we do so. And also much like the above point on grip, this can be damaging and often completely unnecessary for storyboards.
Try locking your fingers, hand, and wrist, and drawing from the elbow or shoulder instead. This will produce broader, smoother strokes more in line with what's actually needed for storyboarding, and should let you work for longer with less discomfort. Again, if you do need a few tighter strokes, you can always go in and add those after.
There are two reasons why drawing tables, drawing boards you set up on your lap or a flat surface, and drawing tablets either come adjustable, or can be easily accessorized to be made adjustable.
The first is because a drawing not angled up toward you is going to be distorted in your field of vision, which will make it harder to properly draw proportion, perspective, etc.
The second is because if a drawing isn't angled up toward you, you’re probably going to angle yourself down toward that drawing, and hunching over your work all the time can be very hard on your back.
Sit up straight and set your surface up in a way that brings the work to you, rather than the other way around.
Consider this point as well if you work with a standing setup– make sure you're not leaning over all the time.
Everybody is different. What hurts you might not hurt somebody else, and vice versa. And, if you're already injured, what helped somebody else might not help you, and vice versa. Learn to listen to your body, and if something is wrong, make sure you don't put off that visit to your local general practitioner.
Leave a comment if you’ve found ways of working that help you to keep your body together.