We all know it's important to stretch. But who has the time?? It's hard enough squeezing in work-out time.
We must MAKE the time. Because stretching is important to the balanced interplay between your bones, your tendons and your muscles.
When you have the right balance of tension between these three systems, they all move easily and freely. Each interacts with and supports the others.
Tight muscles tear when you put too much "reach" on them. Bones take too much impact when muscles and tendons aren't working smoothly together. And too much stretch with not enough strength means joints can overextend or overrotate.
Stretching can be part of the body's process of laying down NEW muscle fiber. And stretching helps maintain the body's range of motion as we age.
Best of all (in my mind), stretching connects you to your body. Done correctly, it simply feels good to stretch.
There's a lot of debate over when and how much to stretch. Most experts seem to agree it's best to warm-up gently, then stretch gently, saving the mega-stretches for after your work-out when your muscles are thoroughly warmed and relaxed.
However, whenever you do it, stretching strengthens the "rubber band" in you.
It's the same with our artwork and art biz.
I think of stretching as the things that encourage us to be more flexible, more in balance with ourselves as artists. And the things that force us to lay down more "muscle fiber"--that force us to be better at what we do.
Here are some of those "artistic stretches" I've encountered:
1. Applying for bigger and better shows/events than I thought I was ready to do.
This forced me to speed up my production to increase my inventory. It forced me to figure out display, lighting, booth walls, support materials. It forced me to learn how to sell my work and sell MYSELF as an artist.
In short, it forced me to "grow up"--fast!
2. Applying to juried exhibits.
This forced me to quit messing around photographing my own work and find a professional photographer.
3. Having my work copied.
This made me be proactive in protecting my designs. But it also got me out of my "safe area" and made me rethink how to combat copycats. I had settled into "sure thing" designs. This forced me to kick it up a notch.
4. Taking a class outside my "safe zone". It's good to take a class that's outside your normal field of expertise. For one thing, it can refresh and inform your art. For another, it puts you back in student/learning mode--always a good place for your brain to be!
Caveat: Some people get carried away with this kind of stretch, and remain perpetual students. Too many classes and workhops without doing the work is kinda like too much stretching before your workout--too much demand on your muscles before they're actually at work.
That's okay if you this perpetual learning stage is enough for you--and for many people, it really IS enough. But if you yearn to be a "real artist", you eventually have to do the work(out), too.
Also, using an instructor's designs and patterns is a good way to get your artwork outside its usual box. But you must continue the "stretch". You must find ways to make the TECHNIQUE stretch YOUR artwork, and not simply recreate the instructor's work. (They don't need any help making their artwork, thank you very much.)
5. Thinking outside the box.
Trying different ways of making, marketing and selling your work than "everyone else" is doing. People who were early adapters of selling on the internet, home parties, alternate markets and niche markets refused to accept the status quo of how to sell art and craft. They saw what wasn't working and tried something different.
Again, the work(out) after the stretch is just as important as the actual stretch. These early adaptors and innovators know these weren't easy solutions or short-cuts to success. It took just as much work (if not more) to research these new ways of doing things, and to get them off the ground. But when it worked, it gave them more success and increased flexibility than people who were still stuck with the old ways of doing things.
The last five years have been tough ones for artists and craftspeople. Many gave up and left the industry. Others hung on for dear life. A very, very few took up the mantra "Change or die". (Bruce Baker now opens his seminars with this quote. He attributes it to a show promoter in VT, but I can't find the source for it just now.)
These hardy souls changed their outlook, their attitude, their product, their marketing, their strategies--everything. And they not only hung on, they thrived. They had to stretch, and the process restored balance in their business.
6. Dealing with negative and hostile people.
This is an odd one, but for me, it was a necessary stretch. I learned to stand up for my art in ways I'd never done for myself. When I met a person who was a roadblock to my success, I wouldn't quit and go home. Instead of being reduced to a puddle of self-pity, I learned to flex my newly-discovered professional mettle. They forced me to find ways to go over, under, around and through them.
I learned to not internalize the judgements they passed or the nasty things they said. I learned to set them aside and focus on what REALLY matters--my art and how I intend to bring it into the world.
One of them even forced me to stop hanging out so much at on-line forums and start a blog instead. Which forced me to write every day. Which led to professional writing gigs.
Take stock of where you feel hidebound and muscle bound. Where could YOU use some increased flexibility and suppleness?
Where could a good stretch take YOU?