Ted Talk: Embrace the Shake

Phil Hansen, an artist, developed a shake in his hand, which developed from his “single-minded” pursuit to pointillism artwork. He became frustrated by how this shake limited his ability to create the work he wanted to do, and gave up this ambition.

After spending some time in a different profession, he sought medical help to improve the shake, but found out it was permanent nerve damage. His neurologist suggested that he “embrace the shake”, which is exactly what he did.

In reference to my own condition, it takes a long time to come to terms with the limitations a chronic illness has on your life on the whole. It has only been a year since I’ve been formally diagnosed, but in that time, I have learnt that photography wasn’t really something I could continue with, not in the way I wanted to. I have always drawn, ever since I could hold a pencil, and was told I was pretty good at it. I enjoyed it, so started to practice this form more until I felt confident enough that this could be my future. I suppose in this sense, this is me embracing the shake, accepting my limitations and making them work for me.

Hansen talks of how he learnt that his hands wouldn’t hurt if he created on a larger scale. In terms of m work, I’m starting to learn different ways of adapting to my chronic pain. Unfortunately, I get the most of the pain I experience in my hands, not very convenient for an illustrator. Because of this, I struggle with certain surfaces and particular materials. Using rough paper provides a friction that takes its toll on my hands. If I use a pencil that’s too hard or an uncomfortable shape to hold then that also causes the pain to be more intense. Because of this, I have learnt that digital illustration is more my forte. I have always loved working in Photoshop, ever since I started using it in GCSE Art 11 years ago. I am pretty much self taught, but took a short course at PCA last year in Illustration and learnt loads about sing a graphics tablet, and have been working that way since. I find a graphics tablet to be a lot more gentle on my hands, not having too press hard. I have had issues with my pressure sensitivity issues causing not very smooth line gradation, but I am starting to learn to embrace that. Also, I find that I’m starting to be more confident in just getting the lines down and not stressing too much about placement, and can get pieces finished quicker. Because I normally have around a half hour window to draw before the pain is too much, I have adapted my style to fit that time frame.

Embracing a limitation could actually drive creativity

-Phil Hansen, 2013

I related to this in that my illness has been my driving force behind my work ever since I took it up again. I started to create this monster like creatures and now looking at them, I think this was me trying to put a face to the condition. I still do this now. But my illness is now my research project, and how I relate to it and visualise it.

Hansen questions whether you could become more creative by looking for limitations? I feel like this relates well to our workshops on noticing, about how noticing our surroundings and the everyday can influence our creative practice. I suppose this is part of “thinking inside the box”, not trying too hard to come up with extravagant ideas, but sitting back and noticing what is happening around us. In terms of my practice, I am starting to do this by noticing the differences I have made in my routine and daily activities to accommodate my illness, such as: setting alarms 2 hours earlier than I need to be up to allow room for relieving stiffness in my joints, getting off the bus a stop later and walking the longer way to college to avoid a really steep hill that’s painful to walk up etc. This also links to Edgar’s “Illness as Practice”, which is exactly what those examples are. I feel like these are what I should be documenting, as mundane as they are, because this is what it is like living with this illness.

I became aware of this video through a photographer friend I worked with before I was diagnosed. Whilst reading “The expert patient: Illness as Practice” by Andrew Edgar, I remembered this reference and was reminded of its message. This is exactly what I am trying to achieve with my own work. I am a chronically ill person now, there’s nothing yet that can change that, but by embracing how this is limiting my practices and roles, I can become more fluent in conveying this visually.



Hansen, P. (2013) Phil Hansen: Embrace the Shake [online] Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/phil_hansen_embrace_the_shake/transcript#t-574867 (Accessed 25 November 2017)




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