Author Topic: Why I Drew Page 351 With my Mouth  (Read 3309 times)


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on: September 21, 2020, 02:59:42 PM
This is the first draft of of a write-up that is intended to be included at the end of the Crimson Flag book. I'm not sure if I'm going to actually include it or not, but here it is regardless. Page numbers have been updated to reflect their numbering on the web.


Firstly, I must establish that in no way did I seriously injure my right arm by drawing too much.

That was actually the left.

It started in June 2014. I had just finished page 310 before the trouble began. I noticed an odd twinge in my right elbow (my drawing arm) while mowing the lawn. It wasn't a big deal, and I completed that weekend's commission artwork and various other doodles I had planned.

The pain very quickly grew to alarming levels during the week, and not being a fool, I decided that I had probably injured it by drawing too much and should give it a break.

Luckily, I had a backup.

The artwork I do on the weekends-- commissions, various sub-comics, random doodles-- is optional. But during the week, every evening after my day job is reserved for Crimson Flag. One page per week, no matter what.

I had actually drawn with my left hand a little before. Back on page 197 one might notice the special effects look a little fuzzy-- I completed those with my left. My right arm felt a little funny back then, but it only lasted a few days. Probably a precursor, now that I think about it.

Thus, page 311 and up begin a series of mostly left handed comics. Luckily Paint Tool SAI, my art program of choice, has a line smoothing feature, so while the linework on those pages wasn't that great, it still came out as passable and I was able to continue weekly updates without dipping into my four-comic buffer.

This was great, because I could fully rest my right arm while going about my daily life and not skipping a beat.

There were two problems with my plan:

1) My backup arm was suddenly doing a lot of things that it had never done before very frequently. In addition to drawing, I was also brushing my teeth, chopping vegetables, and lifting heavy vacuum cleaners and dog food bags one-handed.

2) If you are using your backup, you have no backup.

Needless to say, my left arm started hurting significantly after one week.

The pain was opposite to the one on the right-- the outer elbow hurt on my left arm, the inner on my right. I came to the conclusion that I must have developed golfer's elbow (injury to the inner tendon) on the right arm and tennis elbow (injury to the outer tendon) on the left.

By this point I had gotten doctors involved and began physical therapy. But there was another problem-- I have an odd condition in which my radius and ulna are fused in both arms, preventing me from rotating my wrists so the palms of my hands face upwards. Up until this point this had caused me zero problems in life except it made accepting change from cashiers slightly awkward. However, this now meant that I could not complete most of the exercises designed to help treat these conditions.

Back to the comic-- I had reduced my drawing time significantly. Typically I would draw 30, sometimes 40 hours per week. But I cut it back to the bare minimum-- basically just the 12-14 hours required to draw the weekly Crimson Flag page. Split that between two arms taking turns, and you got 6-7 hours per arm. I limped along for a while, switching arms whenever the other gave me trouble, and generally following the given advice to slow down but not stop completely. But as the weeks passed, both arms grew worse. Hence, the three guest artist pages (328-330) I commissioned in October 2014.

Three weeks of total rest seemed to have helped at first, but the pain quickly came back. Around this time I had the results of several expensive tests come back in which I had hoped to find out the exact problem with each arm, but the specialists just sort of shrugged without any clear conclusions. Also my physical therapist suggested a new exercise which seriously injured my right arm again and seemed to undo months of recovery.

At this point I became rather disillusioned. I stopped pursuing medical treatment (the last advice I received was to find someone for pain management vs. suggestions to find the actual problem) and let my physical therapy sessions run out. I knew I had to figure this out on my own.

In December, I decided to full-stop the comic and let the buffer run out in January with page 336.

This begins the phase of my life which I refer to as my "spirit journey."

I had to reset to zero and remove absolutely any activity that involved using my arms as much as feasible. I slowly figured out which daily activities caused problems, and figured out new ways to do them. For example, I had already been using speech recognition software to perform my day job, but added dedicated foot pedals to my computer to avoid painful mouse clicking and discovered a trackball can be operated with my left hand with zero problems provided I keep my arm at a proper ergonomic 90 degree angle. Slowly I figured out the rules: Never twist a doorknob with your right hand. Never pull upwards with your right elbow. Keep your elbow straight when lifting, etc.

And of course, it is toxic for an artist not to draw. So once I had a basis, figuring out how to do that was priority one.

I started out with tiny five minutes sessions per day. With no comic deadline I could take my time. I discovered certain strokes were off limits. Previously I had a very furious scribbling sketching style. I switched to slow deliberate strokes. Stroking inward was off-limits, but if I rotated the canvas 180 degrees, I could stroke outwards instead, which causes zero problems and yields the exact same line.

And thus, in tiny sessions, over the course of several months I produced page 337. It was May 2015.

It was good to move forward, even at a glacial pace. By then I had moved up to 30 minute sessions per day, but needless to say, I had quite a bit of downtime, and it was starting to drive me slightly mad. By then, I had watched every classic Disney cartoon, several animes, and figured out how to play and beat a handful of classic Nintendo games with my feet using the NES Advantage joystick controller (menu-based RPGs like Dragon Warrior III, mind you, nothing skill-based).

And then one day, I got an idea.

Early on I tried grabbing a pen with my foot and scribbling on the tablet. It wasn't a great experience, and crimping my toes like that for 30 minutes seriously hurt after the fact, to the point where I had two bad arms and a bad foot for 24 hours. So had sworn off foot-drawing very early on. I also gave drawing with my mouth a shot before -- But this didn't look great and I thought nothing of it.

But one day in September 2015 when my drawing-limit timer ran out and I wedged the pen in between my teeth and did this:

I had learned quite a bit of about drawing with my off-hand by that point: use the software's stabilization, make slow, deliberate strokes, imagine what the picture looks like and where you want the lines to go. All of this applied to drawing with your mouth as well.

Of course, bending over destroyed my neck.

But what if it didn't have to?

I had a portable laptop stand which could hold a tablet at any angle. I set this to a 90 degree angle, then propped it up so the tablet was inches from my face. No awkward neck bending. No risk of injury to yet another vital body part.

And now, I had *three* ways to draw.

This was huge because my left arm was having a bit of a relapse. By that point I had mostly figured out how to draw with my right arm without hurting it at all, and was very slowly upping the allotted time week by week. Now I could take my left arm out of the rotation, and just casually work on the comic with my mouth after my right arm time limit was up. Meanwhile my left could get a break from drawing, and serve me to do actual daily-life-things.

I didn't have to draw page 351 with my mouth, but I did it anyway just to see how long it would take (10 hours, 18 minutes, not counting breaks) and to test the feasibility of an artistic career if I really did lose all upper limb functionality in the future.

After that page, I began rebuilding my comic buffer in earnest. I started the comic sketches with my right hand, then switched to my mouth after time was up. Because I knew how to draw with my right hand without hurting it, my allotted right-handed drawing time increased steadily. Because I didn't need my left hand for drawing any more, it recovered as well.

Eventually the mouth got delegated to easy stuff only (coloring and shading), and the final page that had mouth involvement was 395 in August 2016. By then the left arm had made significant recovery, and it was a bit more convenient to just switch to my left arm than go over to the dedicated mouth drawing station.

I'm not sure when I stopped using my left arm. It was probably sometime in 2018. I used my right arm for sketching and inking for a long time, then delegated the left arm for coloring and shading. Eventually I used it less and less because I'm faster with my right. I still sign all my pieces with my left hand though, just for fun.

As I write this in 2020, my left arm has made a full recovery. The best I can tell is I developed a severe case of tennis elbow. From what I can find online, a lot of tennis elbow sufferers experience similar situations, including doctor cluelessness (depending on if they get unlucky or not).

My right arm actually never fully recovered. If I make a mistake it can very will hurt for the rest of the day. I really have no idea what is wrong with it. If I had to guess, I would say some sort of nerve issue but then again one of the tests I had done was nerve-related so I'm not sure. But as long as I follow the rules and not make any forbidden pen strokes, pick anything up heavier than a cell phone that requires bending my elbow, or turn any screw drivers, it is relatively pain-free. I draw with it just as frequently as before the incident with no problem at all.

Moral: Always have a backup.

[fox] Virmir