Stopping the Pain – 8 methods I use to keep drawing through tendonitis/carpal tunnel

Here’s the post on how I got my hand to hurt non-stop. Long story short, I pinched my pen when drawing and messed up my hand/wrist.

I am not giving up! Never!

Now I never wanted to stop drawing. I tried it for a few weeks at a time, without my hand getting better, so I developed coping strategies instead. All of the below tips helped to:

1) keep drawing through the pain

2) stop increasing the damage

The damage reversed from the worst point, but never healed. So this is not a cure for carpal tunnel, this is more “living with” carpal tunnel.

So here’s to soothing my hurting hand…


The wrist band I use is from Futuro, it covers my hand + part of arm and also has a piece of metal in it. You can find version for guys or for the left hand on Amazon.

It’s pricey at around $30, but I can wash it in the laundry & it’s still fine after more than a year.

I’m a huge fan. I tried a bunch of braces, splints, wrist bands and after comparing them: you gotta find a good one. Some braces didn’t have any effect on reducing pain.

You also gotta know how to use it. Put it on at night and sleep with your wrist brace, so your drawing hand recovers overnight.

Do not use it when drawing. That’s what I did at first and my symptoms got worse. Why? When you put a brace on, you’re enabling yourself to keep drawing when your wrist is about to give out. Your wrist doesn’t support itself anymore, so it atrophies. Lastly, you leave bad form unattended.

Sleeping with a wrist band also prevents tendonitis/carpal tunnel. 10/10 good method.

My classmates got familiar with me doing this all the time:


I don’t know why, but shaking my hand like that soothes the pain for 12-15 seconds. I’ll take it. I still do it often and it just feels so good… a bit of relief in my wrist…

I did go to the doctor a few weeks after the pain started. He prescribed me a bunch of pills and creams that had zero effect. I kept struggling, but thanks to having some injuries earlier in life, I knew a remedy.. So I went back and demanded an Ibuprofen prescription. Two weeks of ibuprofen lessened the pain quite a bit. I tried several times to push past the plateau, but it won’t budge. The ibuprofen was good to take me from the peak of a pain level that I’d call “bearable”.

Ibuprofen helps tendonitis, but not carpal tunnel.

That’s why I hit a plateau in recovery. The drugs fixed the tendonitis part, but couldn’t touch the carpal tunnel.

If you’re in the U.S., ibuprofen is an over the counter drug (you can even get it on Amazon, the US is crazy!). In most countries, it’s doctor prescription only. Ibuprofen damages your stomach, so don’t use it as a crutch. Try it for two weeks, see if you get improvement, get off it as soon as your recovery hits a plateau.

So I had a few symptoms, tingling (still have that), throbbing pain, movement pain, blahblahblah, but the really bad ones were these sharp stings that I would get. Suddenly this flash of intense pain shooting through my hand… I winced whenever it happened, but carried on. Then I tried something: whenever I’d feel that zinger of pain, I would literally drop my pen. Sting, stop, drop. Wait a little, maybe do that hand-shake again. Continue.

I don’t know why but the very day I started doing that, my pain was improving.

Okay, I got a string opinion on this. The only time you take pain killers is when you can’t fall asleep due to pain. Eh, and during surgery maybe.

Pain is a warning signal. If you mute the signal, next time you draw beyond the breaking point and mess up everything beyond repair. Byebye drawing career (seriously, the fear of losing my future as an artist was worse than dealing with the pain!).

Keep this in mind when you take ibuprofen – ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory but it’s also a pain killer.

6. USE YOUR NON-DOMINANT HAND for everything else.
Use your other hand for the touchpad, mouse, typing, for using your fork, carrying stuff and opening doors. For brushing your teeth, for opening bottles, for picking your nose. Just don’t wear out your sore hand more than necessary.


Well, as in the picture I showed earlier.


This set-up is so essential that I’ll make a separate post about it. But in short:

– Put paper on the tablet. With the extra grip, you can relax your wrist without the pen slipping.

– (not visible in picture): socks taped around the pen, so I don’t have to bend my fingers all the way.

– bandage tying the pen to my hand, so I don’t have to use force to hold the pen. Also helps keeping my wrist straight.

8. DON’T STRETCH OR EXERCISE (until after it heals)

Holy damn, stretching hurts and knocks my hand out for a while. Stretching is good to prevent carpal tunnel, not heal it. It’s like exercise. Exercise is great to strengthen your muscles and prevent injury, but doing weightlifting with torn shoulder muscles is gonna mess ya up. Let ‘m heal, get back to stretching when you’re better.

How am I doing now? 

It’s the two year anniversary of my wrist pain! 😀

Yup, still got daily pain. It is sooooo much better than the worst period though and I go through daily life without problems.

At this point in time, I still can’t do yoga or push-ups unless I use my fists instead of flat hands. I’m strong enough to starts strengthening my wrist again though, got some advice from a physical therapist and I’m doing targeted exercise occasionally. I do not think my carpal tunnel is gonna heal itself. But I can live with this. The happiness from drawing offsets the pain from my mild carpal tunnel. It offsets any pain, actually. Draw or die. Ha! Jk, but I love drawing.

To close with, here’s two tips that other people use:

1. Heat pads. Keep your wrist warm. I would put my wrist on my laptop charger! Drop the pen replaced this coping method for me.

2. Massages. For me, massages caused more pain, but some folks report improvement. Try it and let me know.

I hope your wrist feels better after reading this!

– Iris 🙂

Stop hurting your hand. Hold your pen gently.

Take-away: Don’t grip your pen tightly. Just don’t.

Reading time: 2 minutes.

Here is the story about how I lost my hand.

It all starts a few years ago, when I was holding my pen like this:

You see how I’m squeezing that thing?!

Oooh, drawing with a deathgrip. Guess what I got out of it? A lifelong injury! Well, maybe it’s still reversible but I don’t want to stop drawing to check. Three-week breaks from drawing have yielded no improvement at all.

Just two weeks after starting Art school, my hand and wrist were hurting. Every day it hurt a little bit more. It became difficult to hold my pen. Quickly, I stopped pinching by myself because it hurt too much. But then it became painful to just hold a pen. Or to hold anything, really.

At the height of my pain, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t bend my fingers.

So like all sane people and aspiring artists, I kept drawing.

I taped socks around my Wacom pen.

First I tried rubber bands to tie my pen to my hand, but they cut off blood flow. I started using tape, sticking the pen through my wrist brace, tying it with scraps of cloth, ….

A few weeks later I found a working technique:

Yup, I used a bandage to wrap my pen onto my hand and that’s how I kept on drawing.

Holy damn, do you need your hand a lot. Losing functionality in my right hand, I had trouble with:
Opening doors, using chopsticks, shuffling cards, carrying anything, opening bottles, writing, using your smartphone, mouse/touchpad,

Some of my homework that had teardrops on it. I learned to hide those stains by scanning, upping contrast and submitting the print.

Here’s my class notes before and after pain in my hand:

Guess which one is before and which one is after hand/wrist pain.

But at least I finished school.

What’s the point of this post? Am I looking for pity for my broken hand? Am I encouraging you to draw through the pain?

Nah, man, that’s silly.

I’m telling you DON’T PINCH YOUR PEN. Just learn to hold your pen correctly. You can avoid all of my pain ’n suffering. If this little story doesn’t convince you it’s important, then I… eh… well, you do you.

Now go draw. Without pinching.



My First Month of Drawing in 2012

Portrait studies three years apart

While procrastinating, I looked at my early work. Here’s my first digital portrait study:

Iris Hopp 09032012 digital

And here’s my latest portrait study:

Iris Hopp 20150205 - portrait study ref 2h

After feeling in a slump for two weeks, I managed to cheer myself up 😀

There’s still room for improvement! Up to the next before&after!

Maybe that’s a trick to remember? Go back & look how for you’ve come – even if it’s been only weeks.

– Iris

The Freedom App: blocking the internet so you can get back to work

Why are you reading this? Are you procrastinating? Please keep reading… It’s a jab at myself, because my favourite online pastime is reading blogs & forums. 🙂

When I’m tired, I have trouble concentrating and “checking my mail” turns into a blog binge. Does that sound familiar? Yes, it’s the “just one more” syndrome.

If you ever had that experience, let me introduce you to Freedom. It’s a little app that blocks your internet connection. Yup, that’s it. Nowadays we really got a program for everything 😉

Do I use it often? No, only when other procrastination-battling techniques fail. I actually like having access to the internet during work. When painting digitally, it happens that I want to find a reference or look up a function of the painting program (for example, drawing a grid). For studying Japanese I often used an online dictionary. Even when I wrote this little article, I checked the internet a few times: I looked up links and pricing.

Still, sometimes I just need the app. Especially when I feel tired… My mind wanders off and I open a browser without thinking… Accidentally procrastinating? Does that even make sense?

At that moment, it’s very handy to just click on Freedom and block the internet for an hour. Then whenever I mindlessly open the browser, I am reminded “Oh right, I was working!” and get back to it.

That sounds a bit weird. I really hope that I’m not the only one…

Can you get around it? Yes, just reboot your computer. Heck, you can even disable it with the task manager. If you don’t want to work, you won’t. This tool helps you to keep working but it won’t force you into it. 😉 A little assistance for when you have concentration difficulties. Which I have way too often!

Let’s look at the practical side:
Freedom gives you a trial of five usages. After that the app costs $10. You can download it here:

There is a similar app, Cold Turkey, which offers a free version. For your web browsers you have site-blocking plugins like Leechblock for Firefox and StayFocusd for Chrome. I tried them all. Why did I choose the paid Freedom app instead? Its simplicity charmed me. A few clicks and the internet is gone. Poof. Just like that. The other apps need you to block individual sites one by one. There was always a new, unblocked blog lurking to take me away.

By the way, did you know that Chrome lets you play a little game when you don’t have internet connection? Check it out!

Iris Hopp - chrome dinosaur no internet connection game
Look, it’s proof of me studying Japanese! Not like I have been playing this game for procrastination purposes… By the way, it keeps track of your high score 😀


Time for some internet-free drawing! Do you get distracted by the internet in general, or by specific sites?

– Iris

Are you scared of drawing? Draw or Sleep!

Procrastination is a biggie. Who doesn’t suffer from that time stealing demon? It’s a challenge for everyone: students, office workers, parents, presidents…

Iris Hopp - I'll get to it (procrastination)
“I’ll get to it…”

Hello, I’m Iris and I’m a recovering procrastinator. 🙂

In my last post on procrastination, I wrote about figuring out whether you are working or fake working.

But sometimes I know that I’m wasting my time. I know that I should be drawing. I know that I’ll feel bad later.

I’ll just eat a little snack… Oh, let’s do this first… one more episode and then I’ll…

There’s this one thing you have to do… You don’t feel at ease, because it’s gnawing in the back of your mind. You haven’t finished your work yet. You should be working. What are you doing? Why aren’t you working? No matter how high you turn up the volume of your music (or video), you cannot drown it out.
You just don’t want to get started.

It took me some years, but I found a solution! A surprisingly simple one…

Draw or sleep.

When you have one big, scary task to do, but you aren’t doing it:
You either do it or you sleep.
Iris Hopp - face construction practice maleDo you have to work on it now? No. But you can’t avoid it either. Until it is finished, you aren’t allowed to do anything else but sleep or work on it. You can’t even eat until you’ve started the task. Okay, a sip of water is fine (don’t want to damage our health here).

Not going to draw? Okay, your only alternative is going to bed. No music, lights out, not even daydreaming. Just concentrate on falling asleep. No, you don’t even get to read a bedtime story (Amazon link).

At times I actually fell asleep. Are you tired? It is possible that you aren’t working hard, because you are actually tired… exhausted… That happens a lot late in the evening or at night. “I’ll start when…” and even if you try, you can’t concentrate so you end up procrastinating. When you go to bed, you fix the cause of your procrastination!

But most of the time you are procrastinating because other stuff is 1) more interesting 2) less scary. Laying in your bed is less scary than working. But since you aren’t allowed to do anything but just laying there – not even fantasizing about unicorns – it is also incredibly boring.

So you’d rather work. Before you starve from not being allowed to eat.

I love the method: either I end up having a well-deserved nap or I end up starting the job!

Next time you find yourself procrastinating – stop everything. Do you have to start working? No, you just have to stop doing anything.

And then you choose:

Draw or sleep?

Iris Hopp - sketchbook page

Tell me how it works for you! 😀
As for me… eh, well… goodnight!

– Iris

Inspiration or procrastination?

Iris Hopp - Inspiration vs Procrastination, angry eyes

It’s a trap! The simple trap I fall in every day: pretending to prepare for action instead of taking action.

Time to draw? Let me check out this video on the anatomy of ears and the new paintings by this amazing artist and this tutorial on correctly holding a pencil and…

I pull this all the time – and I am sure a lot of you recognize the situation…

Studying? Let’s check out this blog post on speed reading, so I can study with more efficiency!

Blogging? Oh, better research the ideal length of a post instead of actually writing one!

Working? Time to write a detailed planning on how to use the time I could spend working instead of planning!

It’s quite dangerous because you feel busy, but you are not doing anything. For an artist, the most common traps are:

  1. Looking for inspiration
  2. Looking for reference

I had to stop myself. It took me a while to distinguish between work and fake work, but I found a trick. If I’m not creating right now, I ask myself:
Am I doing this because it…
“Might be useful” or because it “Answers a problem”?

For example, watching interesting tutorials might be useful.Drawing along with a tutorial on how to draw legs because I’m stuck in my current drawing, that’s an answer to my problem.
Reading Lord of the Rings because it might give me inspiration for a painting? Nah, not so useful. Googling “Devil May Cry castle art” because I want to know how to make a castle look like an evil bastion? That’s more like it!

Devil May Cry - Castle Concept
Seriously, Devil May Cry knows how to give it evil vibes.

Now what can you do when you need inspiration?
Try this little tool :

What if you need a reference?
Google your keyword and don’t allow yourself to scroll down the first page.
Now, of course you can have fun. My problem is that I started lying to myself – I pretended to work when I was goofing off. Afterwards, I felt bad… Now when I goof off, it’s well-earned!
Let’s become more productive! Now tell me, was this post an answer to your problem? 😉

– Iris

How do you become successful thanks to someone saying that you can’t?

When you want to become an artist, plenty of people will say that you can’t. How do they help you become successful? Because they tell you why you fail.

The perfect example is this talk, “Why you will fail to have a great career”.

Just reading the title, doesn’t this feel like a very negative video? When I watch it, I feel energized and motivated.
Say what?
It took a switch in mindset – from feeling afraid to feeling inspired.
When people tell you to give up…

“There’s no future in art.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“You should get a real job.”

Just ask why. I don’t even argue with anyone. I ask why, listen to them with a bit of nodding and then go away or change the subject.


Often you’ll find that they don’t have a reason for saying so, they’re just being negative! But when they do give you a good reason for failure, you will also know what you need to become successful.
What reasons for failure does the video give you? Lack of passion. Not aiming high. Making excuses.
If you turn those around, you have the tools for success: work with passion, aim high and go for it!

“I had a dream once, kid. But… but then you were born.” – Larry Smith

– Iris

Why would I end up an artist? I wanted to be a caveman

Caveman artist

What do you want to be when you grow up? At 23, I finally have an answer. I want to be an artist.

It took me a while to decide. In university I mixed culture and biology. Yes, it was interesting. I dissected a rat and then went to a lecture on Asian art. As a teenager, my dream was opening a pet store. My childhood dream was becoming a caveman. Weird how I went from dreaming of lush, curly hair all over me to plucking of my eyebrows.

Why art?

I have always been scared of art. I couldn’t paint like Rubens. Drawing was nothing but frustration. No talent, no future.

You need to be born with a gift for art.

That’s what I believed.

But a new idea sprang. You could learn. I understood that Rubens didn’t come out of the womb with a pencil in his hand. He practiced. All the great artists practiced. They got better till they became masters. What does this mean? That there is hope.

Current artists show  that you can go from an average doodler to a professional painter. Do you want examples? There’s Algenpfleger (before & after), MindCandyMan (before & after) and Marek Okon (before & after) .

I had to start somewhere.

A lot of art books are step-by-steps or aimed at artists with experience, but luckily some people recommended me books to get started. Books like “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (Amazon link) assume that you have zero experience and teach you drawing methods instead of only showing you steps.
I started drawing just one hour a day.

I saw my art improving every day! This was my progress in one week:

Ivy leaf - first drawings by Iris Hopp

I passed the first stage. I went from being an “absolute beginner” to being just a  beginner. There is much more to learn… (wait for it, I’ll show you my level of car drawing in just a second). I want to be a good artist. That will take time and effort. That will take an awful lot of drawing practice!

My plan is to create a portfolio and go to art school. This means self-studying art for half a year. Isn’t it contradictory to first study art and then go to art school? There are two reasons for this. First of all, I will know whether I have the drive to buckle down and study art. Doodling is fun. Measuring perspective and analyzing anatomy… well, that’s not as fun as doodling.

The better my portfolio, the higher my chance of getting into a good art school. I have a lot of stuff to learn.

For example, drawing cars. Don’t laugh, but this is my attempt at drawing cars:

car sketches sketchbook

See? I am nowhere yet. The good side of sucking really bad is that there will be improvement. Even if I don’t get on Rubens’ level, hard work will get me beyond where I am now.

It takes some courage to acknowledge failure. I have a Tumblr to showcase my “happy accidents”. Those paintings made me go “Ooh, maybe I do stand a chance”, but I was hiding the bad work. Even worse, there were weeks of not painting at all.

“Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.”

I have to draw every day. I don’t want to be a caveman, I want to be an artist. A pretty good one.

– Iris