In case you haven’t heard, it’s been…Well, it’s been a year. 

This year, I almost lost my ability to draw completely. It turns out that if you’re an artist who spends every possible hour working for 20+ years and already have hypermobility issues, you destroy the tendons in your arm that make drawing and painting possible. Since surgery is rarely effective for my particular combination of injuries, I spent a year doing physical therapy to regain the use of my drawing arm. I’m back at a point where I can paint regularly, but I’ve had to drastically cut back on how many commissions I accept. Long deadlines are the name of the game right now while I’m learning to manage my pain without triggering a flare-up, which can take weeks to recover from. 

Those first few months were terrible. I was honestly afraid I was going to lose my art for good, that this integral part of my core being would be sheered away. It feels like someone injected ground glass into my joints, and it grinds into my flesh whenever the tendons move through it. I couldn’t lift a glass of water, let alone hold a paintbrush or pencil. I couldn’t knit, or sew, or write in my journals. I couldn’t lift my younger child or pour a mug of coffee. Even typing for more than a few minutes was painful. Twisting a door knob still sends agonizing spasms up my entire arm, and it probably always will.

Despite all this, I’ve found ways to adjust. I’m working on illustrations regularly again. One of the things that’s helped has been switching back to my beloved watercolors and reducing the amount of work I do digitally. Soft brushes on soft paper are much easier on my injury than a hard screen and stylus. I still perfect my sketches in Procreate, but I start them on paper. I’ve been focusing on my kidlit art portfolio because picture book illustrations are much less painful and also less likely to force me into weeks of inactivity.

I’ve been able to complete both a writing mentorship through Write Hive and a portfolio review through We Need Diverse Books. It was probably not the best idea to try, considering, but I made it through the summer and came out the other end with some illustrations I love and a manuscript that’s ready for its next step, whatever that ends up being. 

I still overdo it sometimes. But honestly, just like every other artist trying to scrape out a living in the hellscape we call capitalism, I’ve been overdoing it since the beginning of my career. It was the only way to earn enough to survive. We force young artists to destroy their bodies in order to make rent and buy groceries, and there’s not much left over for preventive healthcare. I’m lucky enough to have a spouse whose job covers our bills, so I  don’t have to worry about that anymore, but the damage was done years ago. The long work hours we put in when we’re young are borrowed from our later years. It may seem okay to draw for ten hours a day, every day, but we’re stealing those hours from our future selves. I’m lucky I lasted as long as I did before everything gave out.

I’m getting better. This is my day job, so I don’t need to balance it with other work. I can’t keep up my old pace, but I’ve found a new balance. I’m working on this website and updating it (again). (Why does WordPress keep breaking my stuff? Ugh…) I’m halfway through my newest book, and I adore it. I’ve got brief outlines for a sequel trilogy for THE SAVAGE WAY, which I’m planning to self-pub if it doesn’t catch an agent in this last round of querying.

I was derailed, but the train is upright and moving even if it’s not completely back on track again. I’ll do the best I can with what I’ve got left.

Rebecca Wilcox is an author and illustrator. Though she loves all forms of science fiction and fantasy, she’s most comfortable where the lines blur between the two.

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