Thursday, January 12, 2012

Varity Is Vital

  One of the things I like to do outside of the realm of visual art involves music. I play with a bass guitar. Notice I didn't say that I'm a bass player? That's because I've only actually learned enough over the years to cause some trouble if the volume's turned up too far; I play with it. It doesn't matter if it's good or bad quality playing to me because how it feels is more important. An added bonus is the emotive quality of the instrument because it can help to clear out a mood. If I'm about to work on a bright happy painting but the day has been gloomy I can dump those blues out with the bass. The fingers and wrists get a powerful change of activity from visual artwork action! I notice that the muscles in my upper arms get stronger too the more I play, which allows for greater endurance and a more steady hand when painting. Much of the same holds true for the legs because just like when working on a larger sized painting Rockin' out happens best when standing. So my entire body gets a kick in a different direction when I'm playing the bass versus when I'm painting, drawing, or sculpting.

  Years ago while working on my first full wall mural I learned the importance of diversifying action... the hard way. The painting was of a near life-sized African Acacia tree; a fairly large project! The branches bent around two walls and onto a high ceiling. Each branch had one or two creatures that might actually be on the savannah; from tiny termites crawling up the trunk to a well fed leopard lounged over a branch all his own. When the entire painting was close to a finish I noticed a smaller off-branch up high offered a perfect spot to add a rich red oxpecker bird, so I grabbed the step ladder and paint pallet. As excitement grew I really got focused on what I was doing; placing tiny little detailed feathers and a few surrounding leaves. Holding my hand as still as possible I repeated the same motion over and over to create consistent paintbrush strokes. Sound nice? I thought it was, but I was wrong.
  After the third day in a row of pecking away at the oxpecker I awoke with a very stiff wrist. By the end of that evening swelling had reached up to the top of my arm, and the pain was rather intense. I went to the emergency room for a shot to decrease that swelling! Eventually a diagnosis of tendinitis was offered, and I was told to stop painting altogether; Of course, that was not going to happen. Since the true culprit had been pointed out as the repetitive action I decided that variation needed to become a hotter spice in my life. I now end each evening with therapeutic stretching exercises. Fitting other types of art and craft activities into my week, rather than only painting or drawing, seems to have been the biggest help of all though. I rarely have an issue with my wrist these days.

  Certainly most any method to vary your own activity is probably good, whatever the motivation, but don't overlook an old band instrument hiding in a closet or attic if you have one. Wait until you're alone, dust it off, and make some noise! You don't have to be good, just have fun. Overall I think that playing with a musical instrument offers the best benefits for a visual artist as an alternative activity because it involves so many of the same fine muscle groups but uses them differently. Plus creativity could be opened, and what artist doesn't want to risk that?

  So, that's one of the ways I get my kicks when I'm not painting. What sort of things do you do when you're not doing your usual thing?


*Original art images ©Tree Pruitt, unless otherwise indicated. Contact the artist prior to ANY use.

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