I Think I Pulled a Muscle…Artistically Speaking

Sustain Your Art Business With a Sound Studio Practice, Starting with Warm-Ups

When I think of a warm-up, it is usually a sweaty business in which you raise your heart rate, get your muscles loosened up, and stretch a bit. Warm-up exercises for artists are a little different but not that different, and they can really help us artistic "athletes" get the most of our time in front of the easel, focusing our attention and making sure our hands and eyes are in sync. Warm-ups for artists can last a few minutes or go for lengthier spans of exercises that continue for an hour or so.

Warm-ups for artists often involve being spontaneous, loosening up your
muscles, and letting go. But jogging might work too!
Adapted from an article by Daniel Grant.

For example, in some workshops where students are not professional artists, instructors find it helpful to conduct one-day, seven-hour portraiture and figure-painting sessions that start with two hours of quick drawings on paper before students tackle the canvas. With students who work in a field that has nothing to do with art, this gives them the opportunity to narrow their focus, warm up the eye to what's in front of them, and get the clutter out of their minds.

The process of getting grounded, or being present, involves warming up both the artists' senses (of tone, texture, composition) and their ability to translate what they see to the paper or canvas. Simply making the first mark can be a struggle. But all students need to remember is that there's not a lot invested in these quick studies and that can help us free up our minds and let go.

Debbie Cannatella, a Texas painter and art teacher, tries to break through students' worries about making mistakes and maintaining control with warm-up exercises that treat ordinary household objects (such as a fork or a wrench) as abstract images. "I find that people get hung up if they draw something and it doesn't come out looking like the object," she notes. "If they're not worried about making a carbon copy of that object on the paper, they can let go of their fear of drawing."

According to Robert Burridge, a California painter who teaches numerous workshops, many students are overly focused on the final product. "I tell people that it doesn't have to look like something and be ready to sell," Burridge says. "You can just have fun." He says he hands out 6"-x-9" pieces of paper—"so they don't feel they've wasted a good piece of watercolor paper"—and asks students to paint action words taken from a thesaurus. There may be five or six words, and for each word they get one minute to communicate the concept visually in a painterly or graphic way. Between each one the students show what they did and talk about it. "There's a lot of laughing. I'll be ready to move on, and they'll say, 'Give us more of these,'" the artist points out. He also says his workshop participants cherish these little drawings, and that the exercise adds to the camaraderie of the class.

For Burridge, the warm-ups are an opportunity to be spontaneous and noncerebral. "It quickly gets students into the creative side of their brains," he explains. On the occasions when he hasn't done these exercises, he has found that students are scared of doing something wrong. "I just have a harder time getting them into the painting mode," he says.

Proper warm-up exercises are just one aspect of a healthy, productive studio session. For more guidance on how to hone your skills toward displaying art you are proud of and selling art to a wider audience, zero-in on Workshop for Professional Practices, which is full of resources that will show you where art and business meet and where you stand in relation to both. Enjoy!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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