/ hobby

Take care of your hands (2)

So, you read yesterday's post and you're still here. That's good.

Let's go back in time, to the day GW announced their new painting handle.

If you were tweeting that evening, you will remember the thread that gave birth to this series of posts about hand care. Yep, this little black thing was the responsible for a lot of interactions, and made me realize how important this subject was for most of you. It's the kind of thing I take for granted because it's my work, but I forget how the most of you sometimes struggle with handling a model (for a lot of reasons).

So, here we are, after some free GW publicity (Disclaimer: I don't get paid or receive any "presents" from model companies -or any companies).

The first thing someone asked me was:

  • Is it good for our hands?
  • Well, it depends...

There are so many factors involved, I thought, that Twitter would be the worst platform to talk about it.

What takes us to our first stop:

The Myth of Ergonomics.

As me and most of my colleagues know now, a big part of all the gadgets, splints, braces and orthoses we see every day on TV, just don't work.

And that's a big deal, because I build my own splints for my patients, and it's easy to spot when something it's just too generic: One size fits all it's never true in healthcare. That's important, so you don't waste money and time in some "smart solutions" that are only smart for the seller (oh, and don't worry, we'll talk about sitting and that forward head posture in the future).

But returning to the subject: The goal of a painting handle isn't to prevent a cramp, but to keep your dirty fingers off your model. And I would say most of the available handles do that.

So, now that your fingers are away from the wet paint, Are they comfortable enough? I would say there are 3 things to consider:

First: Balance.

Do you feel the model is balanced in your hand?

Try to move it so you can see all the angles of the model. Given all your fingers are now gripping the handle, you will notice you're only moving your wrist and forearm. Wrist flexion and extension, and radial and ulnar deviation, will couple with forearm pronation/ supination in order to face the model the way you need.

This is ok unless you keep your hand in the same position for a long period (see below, mine is wrist flexion + radial deviation).

Look at my fingers: They are relaxed (in an intrinsic grip position, we'll talk about this later), to counter the wrist flexion: Our flexor tendons crossing the wrist aren't in a nice angle when you stay in that position, so your body will make the math and lessen the pressure in a smart way. Trying to grip the whole handle (or the cork, for this case), with all your 4 long fingers would increase the pressure and strain those tendons and a little buddy who accompanies them: The Median Nerve. You don't want to mess with your Median Nerve if you want to paint. Period.

radial deviation
The second pic shows how I keep the ulnar side of the hand away from the table (although I rest it against the table often, so my muscles can take a break).

TL;DR: Don't make a fist when gripping a handle. Use 3rd and 4th fingers to hold it against your thumb, and use the 2nd (the index finger) to spin the model as you need. Then, hold it using fingers 2-3 against the thumb if the model isn't too big, and add the 4th if it is.
3 finger pinch

Second: Grip & pinch strength.

As I said, you should feel your fingers are relaxed: Just enough pressure to be sure that expensive Magos won't fall.

I'm sure you're familiar with this: When you hold a new model, or it's just full of tiny details that break easily (Hi there, Mr. Cawl), you found yourself gripping harder than usual. That's a natural reaction, and happens because (this is important, I'll press ctrl+B) The strength your muscles generate depends not on the weight of the model, but in the friction coefficient between your fingers and the surface of that model. That surface being the base, the handle, or the model itself.

This means you will pull more with your tendons if the handle is slippery (watch out, sweaty hands), or if it's too smooth. Even if the object you're holding is very light, that precision pinch or grip will generate huge forces crossing your finger & wrist joints (specially the thumb; things can skyrocket there, with forces above 130 Kg in the trapezometacarpal joint).

That's why rock climbers use anything they can to make the surfaces less slippery (and why their bodies will react and create callosities in their palm and finger skin).

The same applies to the brush hand: You're trying to touch the model with a precision that puts hundreds of Kg through your joints, no matter how light the brush is (though some companies try to lessen them by selling brushes with wider handles). Think about that not-too-old brush (maybe 8 months of use) with some paint in its handle: It's easier to hold it. Why? Because its surface is less smooth than a new one (but hasn't enough dry paint in it to be uncomfortable to your fingers)

So, pro-tip here: Keep your hands dry. Keep your brush handle dry. You will save energy and your muscles will work in a comfortable way.

And don't worry about what I said about your joint pressures: Your body has evolved to do that kind of things. It adapts very well in the most of the situations and it's harder than you think to develop a disease. More often than not, hobbyists tell us about symptoms related to their work that appear when they painting, but they are surely not caused by painting. Don't let the doctors tell you it's your fault. It's probably not.

Third: Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic muscles.

What I'm about to say is my opinion (an educated one, but an opinion nonetheless); it's not science. But here it is: If you're in doubt, I'll recommend an intrinsic plus position for holding models in your non-dominant hand (that's left for me).

Wait, an intrinsic what?
Or, in a more relaxed manner:

The intrinsic muscles are the smallest, but strongest muscles in the hand. They are hidden between your metacarpals, and get some help from the lumbricals (these are even weirder muscles). The thing is, they are key for the precise movements of your fingers.

Using this kind of grip, gives you control, and frees your long flexor muscles (A.K.A.: extrinsic muscles) so they can help moving your wrist with ease. Maybe the contrary is easier to understand: If you grip something strongly (with your extrinsic muscles, like the picture below) and then try to bend the wrist, two things will happen: Your wrist will hurt or you will lose grip strength.

gripping with wrist flexion

But must say one last thing before you go: There are as many grips as painters, and all may be correct, it will always depend on your hand shape, how long your fingers are, the time you spend without breaks, etc.

So, don't get to conclusions to early. Read the post twice, think about how you handle your models, ask me if you want clarification, and we'll keep talking about this in some days.

PS: @Mr_Whateley is a private account this days, but you I don't mind adding you as long as you are a fellow hobbyist.