Suffering for art
Working as an artist may seem like a profession with few health risks, but think again.
Creating art may not seem like a dangerous profession compared to, say, dentistry for sharks, or hang gliding into a volcano to collect lava samples. But, like anything that involves repetitive and precise movements, there are hidden dangers that can catch you out.
Gothic art legend Anne Stokes has made a living out of painting images of the undead, but her problems haven’t been the type that can be sorted out with a stake through the heart, or a clove of garlic. “At various times in my career I’ve suffered from sharp pains and pulled muscles in my neck and lower back,” she says. “This can get extremely bad and make it very uncomfortable and difficult to work. At times it’s also affected other aspects of my life and my ability to play sports.”
Some slight modifications to her workspace alleviated Anne’s problems. “You should be sitting comfortably looking level at your monitor, without the need to slump down or look up to see it clearly. Invest in a good chair and make sure your monitor is at a suitable height. The best position will be different for everyone. I have a box underneath my monitor to make it high enough for what suits me.”
Anne’s other solution is to use a pair of furry friends to ensure she’s getting a break every now and then. “I have two lively dogs who need a couple of good walks a day,” she says. “This is very helpful for me, as come rain or shine I get exercise with them and don’t spend all day in front of my computer. I’m not suggesting every artist needs to go get a dog, mind!”
old methods die hard
Of course, it’s not just digital artists who need to keep an eye on which tools they use and how this may affect their health. “I used an airbrush far too much years ago,” explains Hugo award-winning science fiction and fantasy artist Bob Eggleton. “Even though I used organic pigments and nothing bad, I still found myself with a cough and getting between three and six sinus colds a year. Many older airbrush artists come down with COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – a respiratory disease that comes from
Get out, take a walk, loosen up your muscles, and focus your eyes on natural light and far-off objects
smoking or from breathing too many paint particles.”
Bob’s more traditional art used to be created from a seated position, but he’s started standing up to paint, to alleviate back problems. “Standing helped with my back – it was less painful,” he says. And he has some advice for fellow artists: “Get out, take a walk, loosen up the muscles, focus your eyes on natural light and far-off objects. Do hand and elbow exercises. Take breaks. This is really important. It also helps your mental state, too. Also, get out with friends and don’t let things close in on you. It’s all connected.”
All in the mind
As Bob highlights, physical problems are perhaps the most prominent when it comes to creating art, but a lot of psychological baggage can come with the medium that can manifest in an insidious manner. By its very nature artists must focus intently on a particular piece, often losing hours at a time ensuring that a particular element image is just right. It’s the only way to create great art – but it can take its toll.
“When I was working from home I had the tendency to sit down ‘just for ten minutes’ to finish something even late at night and I ended up working for another three or four hours,” says concept artist Mark Molnar. “This really affected my relationship, because I ended up spending much less time with my partner.”
While working from home can sound appealing, especially if you’ve built your own workspace, the lack of delineation between work and rest can become a huge problem. Mark’s solution was to get out. “I rented out an apartment downtown with some of my friends, who are also freelancers and were having the same problem,” he says. “We turned it into a small co-working office and this enabled us to separate our private life from work. It was an effective solution, because I still had the freedom of working to my own schedule, but I also went to my workplace every day, which gave a healthy rhythm to my life.”
Of course, not everyone can afford to rent their own workplace or studio, in which case Mark recommends sticking to a daily routine. “Plan your days, even weeks ahead and then keep to that schedule,” he says. “The more you know what you’re going to do, the more effective you’ll be when you are working.”
I had the tendency to sit down ‘just for ten minutes’ to finish something, and ended up working for hours
Alex Ries experienced chronic pain in his drawing hand that had its origins in his spinal chord. His workstation may have been at fault.
Bob Eggleton believes that spending time out of the studio prevents the onset of physical and mental problems. Mark Molnar reveals that his keenness to finish a painting led him to neglect the company of his partner.