It’s hard to get in the habit of doing warmups, and even when you do them, it can be tough to know what exercises to do.
Drawing is an important skill for anyone who wants to be creative, but it’s not something that comes easy for everyone. Just like any other skill, you need to practice regularly if you want to improve. That’s where my drawing warmups come in.
I’ve put together a collection of 16 exercises that will help loosen up your hands, loosen up your mind, and help get you into the right frame of mind for drawing.
I will also cover cooldown activities, which most artists forget to try once they have put in a shift drawing and creating art.
Do you need to warm up for drawing?
Yes, you definitely should warm up for drawing just like you would for any physical activity. It does not have to last a long time, even a few minutes is better than nothing.
Most creative activities need a form of warming up. Just as singers warm up their vocal cords before singing, we artists need to perform our own drawing warmups.
Warming up helps prepare your body and mind for the task at hand and can help prevent injuries. It also helps improve your circulation and flexibility, both of which are important for drawing.
Other benefits to doing drawing warmups are:
- Improves circulation – as mentioned before, improved circulation is important for drawing because it helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
- Warm muscles are less likely to be injured – when your muscles are warm, they are more pliable and less likely to be strained or pulled.
- Reduces risk of injury – just as warming up before physical activity can help reduce your risk of injury, warming up before drawing can help reduce your risk of developing repetitive strain injuries (RSI) such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Increases flexibility – both mental and physical flexibility are important for drawing. By doing some simple warmup exercises, you can help increase both your mental and physical flexibility.
That’s the physical side covered but did you know you should also warm up the artistic side of your brain before you take on a drawing or artistic activity?
The way singers might sing funny words or make crazy sounds we can also do our version of that which is scribbling, random shading, and doodling.
These random small drawings will help get your brain into the drawing mindset.
- Prepare your mind for the task ahead – it can be helpful to think of your mind as a muscle that needs to be warmed up before use. Just as you wouldn’t start lifting heavy weights without first doing some light stretches, you shouldn’t try to tackle a difficult drawing project without first preparing your mind with some simple warmup exercises.
- It can be difficult to get into the “drawing mindset” if you’ve been away from drawing for a while or if you’re feeling stressed out so doing these warmups will help relax your mind and get into the drawing mood.
How long should you perform drawing warm-ups?
There is no hard or fast rule but you should perform drawing warmups for at least 5 to 10 minutes a day. Either spread out during the day or put in a good block of time at the start of the day.
If you can’t do it every day, it is no major drama. Try to do drawing warmups as regularly as you can fit into your busy schedule.
But like anything, the more you do them the better you will become at them and the easier they will be.
So there’s no need to overdo it, just a few minutes each day is all that’s needed to see results.
Warmups are an important part of any activity whether it’s physical or mental and drawing is no different. So get into the habit of performing drawing warmups every day and see your skills improve.
What are some good drawing warmups?
There are several different drawing warmups you can do, and they are not all drawing-based as we tend to forget that we need to take care of our body parts as well as the drawing side of things.
With that in mind, here are some of my favorite drawing warmups that you can do:
- Drawing circles in the air with your hand or fingers – This is a great way to loosen up your arm and get the blood flowing to your hand.
- Shading – Start with a light shading over a large area of your paper. Then, gradually increase the pressure until you are using a heavy hand. Once you’ve reached the heaviest pressure you feel comfortable using, lighten up again and repeat the process
- Draw circles on paper with a pencil – the tactile feedback of a pencil on paper will tell your hand you’re doing something physical which in turn tells your brain to send blood vessels that way and to pay attention to what the hand is doing.
- Drawing spirals on a piece of paper – drawing spirals is another way to get the blood flowing to your hand and improve dexterity.
- Drawing a series of simple shapes on a piece of paper (squares, triangles, circles, etc.)
- Drawing figure eights – drawing figure eights is a great way to loosen up your wrist and prepare it for the rest of the drawing.
- Wrist rolls – rolling your wrists is a great way to loosen up your entire arm and prepare it for drawing.
- Writing the alphabet in block letters on a piece of paper – sounds crazy but it works!
- Shoulder rolls – rolling your shoulders is a great way to loosen up your entire upper body and prepare it for drawing.
- Neck rolls – rolling your neck is a great way to loosen up your entire head and prepare it for drawing. We tend to forget that when we draw we tilt our head down and tense our shoulders at an angle as we draw for a few minutes up to a few hours. This takes its toll on our necks and can lead to headaches.
- Massage your hands, fingers, or palms – this gets the blood flowing and also makes your hands less tense. Over tensing your hands can make drawing painful and can also affect the quality of your linework and shading.
- Learn to not hold pencils too tightly – This is more of a tip than a warmup but it’s still important. Many people hold their pencils way too tightly and this can lead to cramping and again, affect the quality of your drawing. A good rule of thumb is to hold the pencil loosely in your hand with just enough pressure to keep it from falling out.
Warmups are important for getting the blood flowing to your hands and improving dexterity.
Once you’ve completed a few of these drawing warmups, you should feel your hands starting to loosen up and your brain getting into the drawing zone!
Drawing warmups if you suffer from RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis
One problem most websites don’t cover is how to do drawing warmups if you suffer from RSI or arthritis.
I suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and the pain from performing repetitive movements sometimes makes me want to quit being an artist. Thankfully, my love of art is stronger than the pain.
If you have either of these conditions, then you’ll know how painful it can be to use a pencil for even a short period of time.
There are still some drawing warmups you can do, however.
- You can try doing them with your non-dominant hand or using a thicker pencil that will be easier on your hands.
- You can also try doing the exercises without actually drawing, just by moving your hands and fingers in the required motions.
- I like to also run my hands up to my wrist under warm water (not too hot as you do not want to burn yourself), and massage them under the warm water.
- I also like to use a cream such as an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) and rub that in about half an hour before I start drawing.
- Another thing I have to do is when it is cold weather, to have a small heater in my studio or room and ensure the room is not freezing which will make my tendons and joints stiff.
Warmups are an important part of any artist’s routine. They help to get the blood flowing to your hands and improve dexterity.
Drawing cooldown exercises for artists
While everyone talks about drawing warmup activities, not many people talk about cooling down after you finish drawing.
Just like with any other physical activity, it’s important to do some cooldown exercises for your hands and wrists to ensure you don’t have a lactic acid build-up.
Here are a few exercises you can do:
- Shake out your hands and wrists – this will help to loosen up your muscles and tendons.
- Make fists with your hands and then release them – this will help to stretch out your fingers and force blood through your hands.
- Rotate your wrists in both directions – this will help to keep your joints loose and reduce tension.
- Massage your hands and wrists – this will help to increase blood flow and reduce tension as a normal massage would.
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll be sure to improve your drawing skills and avoid any potential injuries. So don’t forget to warm up and cool down the next time you sit down to draw!
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.