Art Exercise

Art Exercises?

When I played the piano, muscle memory was important – hence the incessant scales. At the gym, I always warm up before I head to the main work, be it yoga or pilates or free weights. Musicians play scales; athletes do warm ups. I think artists need their own set of art exercises to get into flow.

My personal fitness program came together after lots of time with regular trainers at the gym who failed to assess properly that I had muscles that never turned back on after a bad leg injury. I finally chased down the issue myself, after more injuries from their workouts. Ever resourceful, my brain had developed some weird compensation schemes to allow my body to do what was asked. I looked “normal” to those trainers, although in an inefficient, potentially longterm detrimental way. Trained physical therapists could see it and attack the problem. I needed a year of going back to “baby” muscle work to turn those sleeping muscles back on.

Making art exercises certain “art muscles” as well. If I’m struggling with certain activities that don’t seem to work as well as in the past…

… maybe it’s because I have weaknesses from an injury that need to be addressed. Time to go back and analyze my personal issues and set up a scheme of exercises to wake up and strengthen those sleepy art muscles and relieve the overworked, compensating muscles.

So what art issues stymie me at the moment?

Getting into the studio, for starters. I have a recent fear of starting that’s very akin to my fear of certain physical exercises (especially anything that invokes my PTSD about falling – standing while moving on Pilates reformer comes to mind). I find myself going out of my way to do anything else but go to the studio, even though once I get there I can get lost in the work if things are going smoothly. As with the scary gym exercises, careful and safe repetition is needed to remove the fear and inspire renewed confidence.


My usual way to address this type of creative block is to “go around” by finding a new medium. That allows me to access beginner mind again. Gone are the expectations of high technical skill, the thought that I might want to sell the product, the pressure to view art not as play but as work. Ceramic clay is the most recent experiment, and I’m loving it. I’ve dabbled in hand building  and wheel throwing. Most of those early experiments where I was getting the feel of the material have gone to the landfill. I began a course in ceramic sculpture, and I’m in love.

True, it’s akin to what I do in jewelry, but at a much larger scale and with less cost so that I can work with abandon. So how do I bring the lessons from ceramics into the jewelry studio? How do I make it more playful and less fearful? Or do I jump media, which I have a long history of doing? Can I make my ceramics into an art exercise to build my creative muscle?

One obvious pattern from my analysis: working in a series. As with any creative pursuit, there are more ideas than hours to work. I can’t do everything in one piece (especially when it’s tiny like jewelry) so I add ideas to the next piece, slowly modifying as I go. For example, the Backyard Predators series dfrom my ceramics forays started as a small bird head, which became a bird bust (because everyone else in my sculpture class was doing human busts).

ceramic sculpture heron bird goldfish sgraffito

Vickie Hallmark | Backyard Predator: Heron/Fish | stoneware with sgraffito

That morphed to a full bird to hang on the wall, and then another and another. Each one has certain elements in common, but there are always differences that make it new and exciting.

ceramic sculpture owl wren sgraffito

Vickie Hallmark | Backyard Predators: Owl/Wren | stoneware with sgraffito

ceramic sculpture hawk bird lizard sgraffito

Vickie Hallmark | Backyard Predators: Hawk/Lizard | stoneware with sgraffito


What lessons did I learn from this series that might apply to my jewelry? One possibility: I flipped the classic black/white sgraffito to white/white after being inspired by a white Monet snow scene. While I’ve been mostly working with dark-oxidized silver for some time now, maybe it’s time to flip back to a lighter palette. Gold has been calling my name.

Another lesson I learned: these complex ceramic sculptures are slow to make. The clay can only be pushed so far in each session. I need multiple sessions to get the form made, many more to build and attach surface components such as the lizards, flower and songbird. Carving the clay surface to reveal the floral designs is a painstaking process. Color and gloss is built up slowly, with multiple kiln firings. But each new session, each layer of detail matters. The piece is greater for all those additions. The time I invest is not a burden – it’s a joy, as long as it’s made without pressure to sell the piece at a “reasonable” cost. So what if these pieces stay with me forever? They get to be what they were meant to be.

And maybe I need to do the same with my jewelry. Slow down. Enjoy the process more. Let the jewelry be what it needs to be. I love details. My sketchbooks are filled with super-complex pieces that never get made. I dream of adding more and more, but I’ve let dollars deter me. I should let the artist muse have free rein.

Or maybe explore something new just for freedom? I’ve toyed a bit with the simplicity of square wire. It’s such a departure for me. Abstracting from my detailed and more realistic compositions. The first experiments are fun and freeing.

Argentium cuff bracelet

Vickie Hallmark | Petal Leaf Cuff | oxidized Argentium sterling silver, fused

Vickie Hallmark | Daisy Hoops | oxidized Argentium sterling silver, fused

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