How To Stretch Your Canvass

by Tilly Troelstrup

Tilly Troelstrup


How to stretch your canvass. No, that’s not a typo. This post is not about the kind of canvas on one of the studio tables you own. This is about another canvas, your body.  Incase you’re disappointed, here’s a link for how to stretch the other canvas, too! 

Truth is in the Practice

Follow along visually with the two image albums and descriptive captions (links below).
Morning Stretch Routing Images
Studio Stretch Routine Images

Many of us have attended programs of all kinds in an attempt to learn the reality of maintaining a studio practice and most of us are finding the truth is in the practice. We learn studio protocol from our eclectic grouping of mentors and as a result much of what we know is a sacred unwritten text book of passed down information. We spend countless hours learning the proper positioning of our hands for a certain pass on the wheel, or a flick of the wrist for a mark on the surface or a glaze effect.  How much time do we spend learning (or being taught) to make sure our bodies can keep up with the demanding tasks we are perfecting?  

As aspiring artists, especially the younger generations, we should heed the warnings of those that have come before us. But what if they never come? What if our mentor hasn’t yet experienced the sneaky developing issue and therefore hasn’t a reason to encourage caring for your body before the pain starts? Because, we all know it’s important but knowing and doing are two different things.

Well, I’ll tell you what happens: we pass on the ignorance until one day we’re around a table of peers, old studio mates and mentors and everyone is complaining about “getting old.” I have already found myself around this table and I can’t help but wonder, what are we as a community of makers really doing to stop the pain? Everything I know about caring for my body in the studio I learned outside the studio. 

Respecting Your Body

The truth is that often there were warning signs of our pains. We just didn’t get the message in our brains. A hip pain could be your body’s last attempt to tell you that your ankle needs to be addressed; a headache could be a pinched nerve in your lower back begging for you to focus on your breathing more; and a shoulder twitch? Well, that might just be a shoulder twitch, but it could also be a finger crying out for a break! 

I’m not an expert, just a health enthusiastic and maker. Slip trial is my most common process and my hands aren’t too happy about it. In order to get the most out of my time in the studio I really have to listen to my body, but sometimes it’s tough to know what it’s telling me. Truthfully, It’s hard to convince myself that a stretch session in the morning/during my studio work will wake me up and better prepare me for my days ahead of me. But, (drum roll) it will! 

I spoke with some fellow artists and my friend Trevor Mason, a classically trained musician specializing in double bass, has a clear mind set about this stuff and he really summed it up best:

“As musicians and artists, we need to be incredibly in tune with our bodies are saying to us. We cannot simply practice until it hurts. While I understand the desire to keep going, a break before the pain helps increase our practice time and we are more likely to achieve our goals. In general, pain should never be a constant within our practice time, regardless of the craft. While physical pain may be a part of our work, constant pain creates a sense of fear and avoidance and may lead to giving up the work.”

What Can You Do?

Be honest with yourself! I try not to remain too proud of the active person I was many years ago. So, as much as I want to get up and crush a five miler like I use to, I know that’ll only last two days before I’m back to hitting snooze. Instead, I follow the most beautiful rule of life: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). 

Simple is still preventative, simple can still save you. I love simple! Being a nomadic artist means I have great excuses not to keep up with demanding routines. I bet you do, too. So forget those and let’s stick with the low demand.  For example, I have three preventative tasks I do everyday:

1. Drink 2 nalgenes or 64 fl. oz of water

2. TAKE BREAKS and stretch for at least twenty minutes
a. 5-10 minutes in the morning
b.two 5-10 minute breaks during my studio work (I set two alarms instead of waiting for pain to tell me to take a break)
c. write a to do list for the following day (PM; at the top of this list is always tasks 1 & 2)

This not difficult to accomplish to do list. It’s takes up about 2% of my daily work.  I follow a few simple rules: I take my breaks to stretch or write a to do list and also use that time to get in a chunk of water drinking...that’s it!

I do not stretch and do my to do list in the same break, since I need to be sitting for that. The point of a break is to get your body into the opposite of the position you were just in. Likewise, I don’t get off the wheel and then go sit and hunch over my to do list. If you’re in the same position as your work position, it’s not a break. I throw water into my to do list because staying hydrated is difficult for me, and water to the body is like oil to your car. This way I’m sure to get my dosage in. For his breaks Mason says, 

“ I am most concerned about my posture and my hands, always looking for any tingling sensations as these can be signs of carpal tunnel or tendonitis...I break every fifty minutes for ten minutes. These breaks are to stretch my back, hands, shoulders and neck. The break is clean, I leave my practice room, stretch, and clear my head.”

The break may seem interruptive on paper, but it is doing wonders for his body’s longevity and helping him to get the most of his time spent practicing.  


 A great way to incorporate something new into your life is accountability. So, if this stretching thing is a new facet of your practice you’d like to try, (especially if keeping a routine is a failed past time of yours) Write it down! Share your goals!  Share this post! Get people in on it with you. Not only will it encourage others but the funny thing about talking/writing goals down is that it often leads to doing. That’s the beauty of accountability. 

Ready, Set, Break!

Below I have included easy to follow photos of my 5-10 minute morning stretch routine (link). I also gathered stretches for during the studio (link) from fellow artists that are working for long, balanced lifestyles and practices. Look over these, read the descriptions and modify for yourself. Most of these stretches are about breathing and getting oxygen to the chest and muscles. Since so much of our studio work leads to us literally forgetting to breath, these stretches can make your studio day twice as effective! The point of stretching is not to reach crazy PR’s but to keep your body flexible and warm for the tasks at hand. Make it simple for yourself- Print these photos and post them up in your studio to declare a “Stretch Station” and encourage others to join you or take a break and use my face as a dart board, it’ll still make you think about stretching! 

Above all friends, remember, making art is only a part of what we do. The key to a balanced and successful practice is to remain a student of life. We all fall off the health wagon but it’s never going too fast for you to jump back on. So, if this post has you rolling your eyes, trust me, you need to stretch your canvass.  

Be sure to check me out on Facebook and Instagram and let me know how your stretch game is going! 

Deborah Schwartzkopf

Rat City Studios is the workspace of Deborah Schwartzkopf, Seattle based studio potter and instructor. Her mission is to engage and build community through clay – one person, one neighborhood, and one experience at a time. In service to this pursuit, she offers studio assistant positions for emerging artists, connects people through social events, instructs classes and workshops, and maintains a lively career in the ceramic arts!