Using your Wrist vs. Arm in Lettering

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What do you use when you are lettering? When you write something on paper, the default is to use your fingers. Since you've been doing it for years and maybe even decades, most likely, you don't notice at all.

Lettering is essentially drawing, and the principles for effective pen control are the same. Different people have different ways of holding the pen, and that's fine. However, here are some general points to take note of.

What are you drawing?

On a normal day, you will likely be drawing on a smaller surface - in your pocket notebook, or a small piece of paper. In this case, you don't necessarily need to consciously think about how you are holding the pen or how the strokes are done from your hand.

Occasionally, you may create bigger drawings or sketches that accompany your work. When you do this, you begin to notice the differences when you hold the pen differently or when you use different parts of your hand and arm to put the marks on paper. Suddenly, those curves don't seem to be what you imagined. Your straight lines become wobbly and curved to a side.

Here are some pointers to help you.

Drawing small details

Small details and accents require precise and controlled strokes. Moving the pen using your fingers and holding it closer to the tip will be your best bet. You will feel more pressure to control the direction of each line. The range of motion is limited.

Drawing generally

When drawing normally or when doing quick sketches, having a loose yet stable anchor on the surface is important. This is where you should mostly rely on your wrist.

Drawing large shapes

Use your arms to push and pull the pen for larger drawings or sketches that require more fluidity. For this, hold your pen a little farther from the tip and lock your wrist and fingers in a fixed position. This way, the strokes are more relaxed and easy for you. There is a full range of motion that allows you to smoothly push or pull the pen in any direction.

Larger Muscles, Less Stress

These will be helpful if you draw for extended periods of time. In general, it is better to draw using looser strokes when you can. Drawing using your fingers puts a lot of strain on your hand and the muscles right below your wrist.

Most of the time, you'll find yourself combining using your arm and wrist, and it is important to find a comfortable balance that gives you a consistent result. Take your time to practice consciously and deliberately.

The first time, it may feel weird. It's like going to the gym - you will realize that there are muscles that you haven't used before, and you'll see that it feels more comfortable using larger muscles to move for you.