One Artist's Tips for Taking Care of Your Hands in Cold Weather

by Ariela

Chicago seems to have jumped straight from summer to winter, skipping most of fall entirely. Bloody Hands Season is upon us, so here are some of my strategies for taking care of the appendages that let me make art.

Mostly, it boils down to two things:

  1. Don't let your hands stiffen up; and
  2. Moisturize.

Cold hands get stiff and restricted movement interferes with line quality. Dry skin gets paper cuts more easily, in addition to peeling and cracking on its own, hence these steps. This can be harder than it sounds when your office is very cold. In addition to being uncomfortable and distracting, cold makes moisturizer absorb more slowly, even into thirsty skin. Moisturizer residue on hands + paper = sadness. I also have poor circulation in my hands (thanks, genetics!), so my hands get cold and cramp up very easily, even if I am wearing lots of layers on the rest of my body. Doing calligraphy in gloves isn't a practical option, so I have developed some other strategies for coping.

 My ink-stained fingers wrapped around a mug with a tea strainer sticking out. 

My ink-stained fingers wrapped around a mug with a tea strainer sticking out. 

Before I get started on art each day, this is what I do:

  1. Apply a heavy-duty moisturizer all over my hands.
  2. Don rubber gloves and wash dishes in HOT water.
    The motion and the heat help limber up my hands, and the heat also helps the moisturizer absorb into my skin more quickly and thoroughly. Also, this gets the dishes done.
  3. Make a hot beverage in a mug. The mug is important.
  4. Start calligraphy. At the end of every line, put down the pen, wrap both hands around the mug of hot beverage and take a good sip.
    Drinking something hot warms me up, but the key point here is the hand motion. Unlocking my fingers from around the pen stretches them, wrapping them around the mug heats them.
  5. Reheat and refill beverage as necessary.
 Fingerless mitts designed and knit by Terri. Nine years of hard use and still going strong.

Fingerless mitts designed and knit by Terri. Nine years of hard use and still going strong.

When I am working just in pencil, I can wear fingerless mittens, like this pretty purple pair that Terri made for me back in 2008. When I work with ink, though, mittens are a no-go. All it takes is a drop of ink on them, then when I put my hand back to the art it will soak right through my guard sheet and the entire piece is ruined. (A guard sheet is a piece of paper I put on top of the art so that my hand, with its sweat and oils, will not rest directly on the art.)

Hand Stretches

Stretching your hand and arm muscles is something to do year-round, not just when it gets cold, but it's extra important when it's cold and also more difficult - stretching in the cold is more likely to lead to injury. So I try to put on my mittens when I do my stretches, and I try to do some extras when I am in the shower and know that I am adequately warm.

If you don't already have a series of hand stretches you like, these are some good ones to start with.

 

Take care of your hands and happy cold weather!