Wellness for Makers
As an artist, you have likely shared a conversation on the worst injuries you’ve seen or personally sustained throughout your studio practice. For me, I once caught my hair in the bottom roller of a Vandercook Press. Thankfully, I was not hurt, I just spent the afternoon with mineral spirits in my hair to remove the teal, oil-based ink. We’ve all heard these stories and understand the importance of studio health and safety, but repetitive strain injuries are often left out of the conversation.
Penland School of Crafts is what brought wellness and movement to the forefront of my arts practice. During two-weeks of intense making, it was incredibly important to attend movement classes and rest to reset. Since that experience, Wellness for Makers has been an incredible resource and daily reminder to set goals to sustain my creative practice long term. I now own most of the tools Wellness for Makers offers: rist roller, neck massager, harmony roller, and healthy hands kit. I struggle with pain in my right hand, forearm, and shoulders. I have a tendency to move my head and roll my shoulders forward, creating tightness and pain in my upper-back and shoulders. This year I am working on my posture, taking breaks from scrolling on my computer and phone, and taking time in my studio to stretch and acknowledge areas of pain. I wanted to hear more from Missy about why she founded Wellness for Makers.
The mission of Wellness for Makers™ is to motivate and empower artists through education, mindful living, and movement. Wellness for Makers™ was created to make self-care, stretching, and massage techniques more accessible to artists everywhere. They strive to make it easy to find good resources, including interviews, articles, videos, and links to valuable organizations. Their workshops provide hands-on training in stretching, strengthening, and massage techniques that are easy to incorporate into an artist’s daily studio routine. These techniques are designed to help boost energy levels, alleviate pain, reduce the risk of injury, and improve posture. They collaborate with artists who have professional backgrounds in yoga, ergonomics, massage therapy, occupational therapy, and more, to provide a range of perspectives. They believe that by working together as a community, they can create more productive and sustainable studio practices that improve the longevity of our hands and bodies.
Missy Graff Ballone is the founder of Wellness for Makers™ LLC. Missy graduated with her MFA in Metals from the State University of New York at New Paltz. Her work has been exhibited internationally at The Pinakotech Der Moderne in Munich Germany, Alliages in Lille France, the Heidi Lowe Gallery, Brooklyn Metal Works, the Woman Made Gallery, and more. She is a RYT-500hr Alignment based Yoga Teacher and she has been a Licensed Massage Therapist for over 10 years. She created Wellness for Makers™ to make it easier for artists everywhere to locate and share wellness resources.
Is Wellness for Makers a side-hustle for you? What is your full time work?
Wellness for Makers is my full time hustle! It wasn’t always that way. I spent the first 2.5 years building Wellness for Makers from scratch while working multiple jobs in the arts. I used to try and do all of it at once (adjunct instructor, gallery assistant, jewelry assistant, yoga instructor, artist, and Wellness for Makers). I was getting really burnt out. I was longing to spend more time on Wellness for Makers. Slowly, I began letting go of one opportunity at a time, and the more time I spent on Wellness for Makers, more doors opened and new possibilities appeared. I decided to only accept gigs that fuel my passions.
What prompted you to create Wellness for Makers?
I have always had an interest in the body. A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a group of artists about the pain that they were experiencing in their hands as a result of their studio practices. One of them said, “We are all going to end up with arthritis, so we might as well just suck it up and deal with it.” That was an important moment for me. It was very alarming to hear my peers expressing that pain and repetitive strain injuries are just something that artists should accept. I don’t believe that artists need to sacrifice their health in order to make their work. So, that night I went back to my room and started looking for resources. I couldn’t find a central resource for artists about these topics, so I decided to create one. Wellness for Makers is constantly evolving and I love the process of finding new ways to serve the community.
How did you become familiar with the wellness tools that you offer through Wellness for Makers? What is your favorite tool?
All of the tools are carefully selected to meet the needs of our community of makers. I collaborate with other small businesses to showcase really great products. I only carry tools that I use in my studio practice, tools that I can stand behind and be proud of. My favorite tool is probably the Rist Roller. It’s a mini-foam roller. I love using it on my hands, wrists, and forearms. I even use it on my feet!
Mini foam rolling is an offshoot of traditional foam rolling, which is widely practiced in athletic, rehabilitative, and home settings to improve range of motion, decrease soreness, increase blood flow and circulation, and relieve pain. Simple exercises with this tool allow for self-myofascial release at your home, studio, or office.
For artists struggling with pain and discomfort in their practice, what do you see as some of the easiest adjustments to implement ?
It’s no secret that engaging in the same action over and over again makes it more likely that you will develop a repetitive strain injury. The good news is that this outcome is not inevitable. Learning more about your most important tool, your body, can be incredibly empowering.
Are you still making your own work?
Yes. For the first 4 years after graduate school, I rented a beautiful studio in a community space. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by other dedicated artists who get it. In 2017, I gave up my studio because my husband and I purchased our first home. We thought at the time that I would create my studio right away but because of multiple big life events and changes, I wasn’t able to get my studio up and running right away. Not having a studio really affected me. Not being able to make consistently or be surrounded by other artists regularly in that way was a huge life change.
For me, continuing to make and learn new techniques is critical. I believe that the Wellness for Makers community respects my voice because I not only have a background in wellness, but I am also a fellow artist. Making is a part of my wellbeing. So I continue to make room and time for my making process, whether it is in my personal studio or someone else’s. This spring I am participating in two residency programs; Arrowmont’s Pentaculum and Getaway House’s Artist Fellowship Program. I am really excited to create a new series through these experiences.
What prompted your interest in fascia and the body in your personal artistic practice? When did this interest begin, before or after Wellness for Makers?
My work is influenced by my tactile understanding of the body. My interest in the body all started when I injured my knee and tore my ACL during a gymnastics practice in my senior year of high school. I had to undergo reconstructive surgery and months of physical therapy to recover. During my physical therapy sessions, I developed an interest in the interior structures of the body, our muscles, injury, and how we heal. Soon after these sessions were over, I began practicing yoga to maintain strength and flexibility. It was around this time that I spent a few months traveling throughout California. While I was there, I developed an interest in holistic health care. I wanted to work with like-minded people and I loved the idea of having a job that I could be passionate about while I worked my way through art school, so I enrolled in a trade school to become a Licensed Massage Therapist.
I combine my perspective of the body as an art jeweler with my understanding of the human form as a massage therapist. My pieces relate to the physical forms of bodily structures, interior and exterior, and investigate the body’s strengths and limitations through adornment. I use materials that can mimic the connective tissues that binds the body’s internal structures together. I want the viewer to feel compelled to interact with my work by stretching or compressing the material, so I use a skin-safe silicone rubber that can be stretched to two or three times its normal length. The purpose of this type of interaction is to prompt the viewer to think about their own strengths and limitations and their relationship to the body. I primarily make necklaces because the neck is the most common area in which people recognize that they have tension.
When were you first introduced to wellness practices in the studio?
The studio programs I went through didn’t really talk about health and wellness in the studio. I get it, we’re in art school to study art not physical therapy. But I think encouraging education surrounding the topic should become a priority. If it isn’t talked about in the studio programs, how are we supposed to prepare for a lifetime of making? How can we reduce our risk of developing a repetitive strain injury or chronic pain if we’re not taught how to stand well, how to hold our tools correctly, when to switch tasks, or how to build the strength we need to build momentum for the tasks at hand? If we’re never taught how to move well in the studio, chances are we'll just implement the strategies and habits taught to us by our instructors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked an artist why they do something a specific way in the studio and their response is usually, “that’s the way I was taught.”
Speaking from personal experience, I can say with confidence that it’s not easy to unlearn patterns and habits that our bodies have adapted to. The good news is that your body is capable of developing new patterns that are more sustainable. Your body is worth the effort.
What were the areas (in terms of wellness) that were most troublesome for you in your personal studio practice?
I’ve experienced my own pains and strains in the studio for sure! I’ve thrown my back out more than once as a result of being careless with my alignment while I was working for long hours.
I also remember feeling tension in my elbow and being concerned that I was developing a repetitive strain injury. If I were to lose a lot of mobility in my hands and forearms, I would no longer be able to make my work. Fortunately, I noticed the issue early, acknowledged that the actions I was taking were not sustainable, and committed to making some very important changes. I now feel stronger and know that I am creating longevity in my body and practice.
I believe that you also deserve to feel great in your body, whether you spend hours working at a computer, hammering in your studio, throwing at the wheel, knitting, painting, or writing. Developing a conscious studio practice will give you the leverage you need to pursue your creative vision on every level.
This year, Wellness for Makers is beginning to offer online classes to dive deeper and help artists create a more conscious studio practice. If this isn’t your style (or in your budget), I recommend checking out these great resource videos that Wellness for Makers made in collaboration with CERF+ that cover key issues artists face in their studios.