The Healthy Painter – my tips and tricks for staying fluid and flexible in the art studio

In My Studio: When you are in need of a break from painting, wrap your arms around and give yourself a hug. A good rule of thumb is 30 minutes up and 30 minutes down, from sitting to standing.

In My Studio: When you are in need of a break from painting, wrap your arms around and give yourself a hug. A good rule of thumb is 30 minutes up and 30 minutes down, from sitting to standing.

I used to roll out of bed, make some coffee, grab a seat and spend an hour answering emails and checking in on social media. I would then stand under the shower head as it poured heat down on my neck and shoulders, while scribbling on steam covered glass over and over until I found my rhythm for the day. Toaster serves up tanned and crispy whole wheat, a little peanut butter spread all over, another cup of Joe and I was ready to go. Flip on a news channel or set the tone with a Sonos playlist for the day. Roll out the easel, fill my paint splattered soup tin with the brushes of the day, and grab a stool in front of the all mighty canvas. My day’s spent painting for six to eight hours, interspersed with dance breaks, strategy sessions on email, phone, text or Facetime. A treadmill session, followed by updates on the web. This used to be a day in my life, and was for about 7 years.

Then I hit a wall, where all the daily repetitive movements and past injuries meet, and your body says, ‘you need to find a new groove.’ My neck was sounding like a branch being cracked over a knee several times a day, my right scapula was on fire with pins and needles, and my shoulder seemed like it was dislocating itself daily. My lower back was yelling at me with every moment spent on a seat. Then there were the eyeballs, waking from my sleep with what felt like grains of sand floating between my eyeball and eyelid, wondering if they would ever float again. Then came the reading glasses, yes the up close and detailed lines were becoming fuzzy without the help of +1.25 specs. Advil had become a friend of mine. What to do? I refuse to continue like this, how do other artists make it through life-long careers? As artists’ we are always talking about what we are working on, sharing pictures of our art exhibits, and news of our accolades or art sales, but I don’t often hear us talking about health.

Year eight began with me searching and my search took me to many doctors and down many paths, including asking artists from many walks, do they have issues with repetitive strain injuries. Add a few athletes in the mix, and the picture began to come into focus. If I wanted to continue painting for the next 40 or so years, I was going to have to take better care and adjust my routine.

I started with visiting a practitioner of chiropractic, who began to re-align my spine and activate my nervous system. A monthly crack is all I need to keep things aligned and flowing, after all if he can keep the local hockey team, golf pros, ballet dancers and Olympic track contenders moving, why not this artist? He was the first person to make it clear to me that I needed to treat my body as the athlete I am, only an athlete of art, versus sport. Next up, TCM or Traditional Chinese medicine. After a short interview we began with an acupuncture treatment, sending sensations and the feeling of release and water trickling from the tiny needle points in my skin. I found the process mostly meditative and if nothing else, giving me a mindful hour of solitary meditation in a dark room.

From this my acupuncturist recommended massage therapy for further muscle, joint and nerve release. I discovered an RMT or Registered Massage Therapist with so much knowledge of muscle, joint and the nervous system that she was contracted to provide relief to the Canadian Olympic Rowing team. Enter the Naturopathic Physician, who in one session recommended natural supplements that have since erased the need for gut killing analgesics. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we really do need that Ibuprofen, but it should not be a daily occurrence. You do not need that pain relieving gel, that over marketed pill, or that pricey prescription. You need to move, and keep moving.

Diet is important too, but I have found the single best thing you can do for flexibility and overall health, physical and mental, is move. Get out and walk, stretch, do yoga, swim and a more healthful life will follow.

I have incorporated things that can be beneficial to not only general daily life, but also have tips and tricks particularly beneficial for artists and more specifically, painters. Here are some of my favourite things that are truly helping me stay fluid.

Just Move

I have made exercise part of my daily life since the age of twelve, when my softball coach encouraged me to start using a rowing machine daily. Every day I take at least an hour to do something that gets my heart racing, outside of my studio. The key is to keep it interesting, try to mix it up and do activities that incorporate natural movements. I walk the beach by my studio for an hour, on the sand, jumping on and off logs. When it’s raining I walk on a treadmill in my home for an hour, and some days I dance for an hour. The ultimate exercise for low impact and optimal range of motion, I believe, is swimming. If you can find a local pool and swim, it is an absolutely great all-over workout as it incorporates stretching and resistance training pulling through the water with your arms. Excellent for back, arms, and shoulders. I also lift light free weights a couple days a week to build lean muscle strength.

stretchinginthestudio

Throughout my day I try and take stretch and breathing breaks several times. For meditation and stress: I lie on my back with palms facing ceiling and close eyes, take deep breathes. Mindful for fifteen minutes. I perform a standing quad stretch for knees and quad muscles that can get tight from sitting. Also, for long periods of sitting, I do the piriformis stretch for glutes and sacroiliac. For my shoulder, scapula, rotator cuff, and neck muscles, which get tight on my right side from painting and mousing, I do several moves. Holding a five pound weight in my hand I let the weight stretch out my arm, on each side. I use a modified yoga child pose, spreading my knees apart and reaching out in front of me pressing hands into the floor.

Lacrosse or a softer tennis ball can be used lying down on floor, on bed ,or against wall for pressure point relief between RMT visits. Press and roll that ball into the muscles to stretch them and release tension. I use ice and heat rather than ibuprofen, and I take a high absorption Turmeric supplement great for inflammation throughout the body. I recommend Natural Factors Theracurmin. I also take Vitamin D and Calcium for the bones, you need the D to help absorb the Calcium. Juicing your turmeric with veggies is also a great way to get it into your blood stream. Since I have been adding Turmeric and a good probiotic to my diet I have not had any colds or flu. This is my current favourite juice recipe that includes Turmeric..

A great group of stretches for neck, back, and major muscles groups, with video links can be found on this chiropractor’s website here: http://www.fracksonhealthcare.com/videos.htm

Change is good, change is great, especially when it comes to your health. Without your health, you are pretty much screwed, so you better take care of yourself! Drink less coffee and alcohol, eat more plant based meals, healthy fats, take the right supplements if recommended by your physician, and get out and move. The single best thing you can do for muscle and joint pain is move. I know, some days you may want to sleep in or hang out on the couch, and that’s good to, but too much of any one thing will never payoff in the end. I am not a physician, nutritionist, or physical therapist; so please seek out professional advice before adopting any new regimen. Keep on moving and making art!