Artists need to be in shape

Artists need to be in shape. This is not one of those annual missives that occur around the New Year, exhorting people to improve their physical health. Artists certainly don’t need to be athletes, but art making is a physical activity, and thus taking care of your body is extremely important.

The studio is an inherently physical place.

All it takes is one twinge

I have been working out at an exercise studio almost daily since August. I started this regime for stress relief and distraction, but I do find that I feel more fit and strong. Yet all of this bodywork could not save me from injuring myself while lifting the heavy block for Emancipation of the Sun. It is 25 x 40 inches and weighs about ten pounds. As I tried to lift it up and over the rollers and gears on my press, I felt something give in my shoulder. This led to two weeks of complete incapacity, ibuprofen and heating pads. Finally, my GP sent me to physical therapy.

Posture is everything

In my two weeks of agony, I discovered that if I stood with rigid military posture, the muscle spasms and tingling in my left shoulder blade would subside. My physical therapist confirmed that my tendency to slump my shoulders and lean forward, plus my weak shoulder muscles, were the problem. Exercises with colorful bands were prescribed, plus a way to stretch out the front of my shoulders which get tight when leaning forward.

I purchased a three foot firm foam roller, and now use it frequently to open up my chest. It is hard to keep perfect posture when I am carving, or rolling out ink, and taking a break each hour to stretch is very helpful. Most things we do — whether at a desk, looking at our electronics or working in the studio — encourage us to lean forward and slump our shoulders, so I highly recommend the foam roller.

Getting support for standing

On printing days, I can stand for hours. I find that two things help keep my legs and feet in good condition. Compression calf sleeves — sold to runners who suffer from shin splints — keep the blood flowing up from my feet and ankles and make me feel less tired. Plus they come in super neon colors.

I haven’t been brave enough to wear my calf sleeves with shorts yet.

The floor in my studio is a cement slab which can be hard on the feet, even when I am wearing good shoes or clogs. I purchased two anti-fatigue mats for my studio that I can move around depending on my activity.

Do not forget your hands

The length of  time I can spend in the studio is often governed by how my hands are feeling. I can only carve for a few hours, and need to take lots of breaks, especially when I am using my Foredom drill. I found these gloves meant for knitters help support my hands and keep them warm in the winter.

Pushing too hard for productivity

The biggest danger to my artistic practice is my impatience. I wish I could carve or print for hours upon hours, but I know that my productivity in the coming days will only suffer if I push too hard. Stopping before things hurt, stretching, going for a power walk and switching activities are just some of my artistic training strategies.

What secrets do you have for keeping your creative self in the best physical shape?

6 Replies to “Artists need to be in shape”

  1. Good for you for taking care of yourself! I’m working on the same, though my art involves no lifting. Just leaning over. PT is coming next for me — hope yours is super helpful! Enjoy reading your posts and seeing your art —

    1. Thanks Julia. I think the hardest part of PT is making yourself do the exercises after the PT is through. Good luck!

  2. Elisabeth I was just reading your report on some of the demos you attended at the SGC conference – very helpful – thank you

    I have to admit that photo of you doing your exercising on the floor with that cat of yours, nudging you at the shoulder – really made me smile !!
    How Lovely

    keep up the good work and wonderful blog
    Did you know that artists blogs are thee best reading matter on the internet – its true !!!

    1. I so agree Aine. Especially for those of us in the United States, artist blogs are a tonic in what is otherwise a tremendously charged existence.

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