Friends, I am so excited for you to meet Missy Graff Ballone! A talented artist and massage therapist, Missy and I became friends when I met her and her husband Jonathan while they were both doing their yoga teacher training at Yoga Mechanics (I know, they're adorable). I first noticed her gorgeous earrings—she made them herself—and soon thereafter, her warm and friendly demeanor.
Not only is she an incredibly talented artist but the founder of Wellness for Makers, an organization aimed at helping artisans and craftsmen stay healthy by teaching them self-care techniques. In our interview, I chat with Missy all about her work, Wellness for Makers and where she's going next!
Check out her work at www.MissyGraff.com
KO: Missy, can you tell us what a day in the life is like as an artist?
MGB: That is a big question. There is a lot of variety, because in addition to maintaining my studio practice, I usually have a few different jobs in the arts. For example, I am currently a Small Business Owner, an Adjunct Professor at Kean University, and a part-time gallery assistant. This keeps me busy, but it also provides me with a lot of flexibility, which I need in order to maintain my studio practice and grow my business.
I graduated with my Master of Fine Arts in 2013 from the State University of New York at New Paltz. My focus was in metalsmithing and jewelry making. I make everything from large conceptual pieces about the body, which are made out of non-traditional materials, including silicone rubber, to everyday earrings, and custom wedding bands. Since I graduated, I have been renting studio spaces in industrial buildings like the Manufacturer’s Village in East Orange, New Jersey, which used to be the Johnson and Johnson factory. These buildings were converted into 40+ artist studio spaces and renting here has allowed me to surround myself with other professional artists. The community aspect has definitely been influential to the growth of my work.
As a Small Business Owner, I work to educate artists and craftsmen about how to take care of their bodies. I travel to speak at conferences, universities, creative non-profits, collaborative studios, and other fun places where people are making art!
KO: I love the way you represent the body through your artwork. What about it first inspired you to start creating those kinds of pieces?
MGB: Thank you so much!
My work is influenced by my tactile understanding of the body. It 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.
In my artwork, 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.
KOWith your massage therapist background and now, as a soon-to-be 500 HR registered yoga teacher, how has your perspective of the body changed? Or not?
MGB: These experiences have definitely expanded my understanding of the body in different ways. My training for Massage Therapy was my first introduction to anatomy and physiology. It also forced me to consider how the repetitive motions of massage therapy could affect my body if I didn’t maintain proper body mechanics. My work experience as a Massage Therapist had a huge influence on my tactile understanding of the body. Yoga Teacher Training has been so much more. It has provided me with the opportunity to internalize all of this information in a new way that is difficult to articulate. My perspective of the body continues to get deeper with every class I attend. I am constantly blown away by how much there is to learn about the body and all of the little ah-ha moments that come along with it.
The intensive training is always reminding me that this is where I need to be for my personal growth, for the success of my business, and for my artwork. I am surrounded by new friends, mentors, and constant inspiration.
KO: When I first learned about your organization, Wellness for Makers, I was so inspired and curious about what you do. Can you tell us more about that?
MGB: Well, thank you!
The mission of Wellness for Makers is to motivate and empower artists through education and mindful living. I created Wellness for Makers to make self-care, stretching, and massage techniques more accessible to artists everywhere. I strive to make it easy for artists to find good resources, including interviews, articles, videos, and links to valuable organizations. I conduct interviews with artists who are also professional wellness practitioners. These artists are actively educating the field about wellness by drawing from their individual backgrounds in yoga, massage therapy, ergonomics, occupational therapy, and more. The workshops I lead provide hands-on training in stretching and massage techniques that are easy to incorporate into an artist’s daily studio routine. I love collaborating with other artists and wellness practitioners, and I believe that by working together as a community, we can create more productive and sustainable studio practices that improve the longevity of our hands and bodies.
KO: We hear so much about how terrible sitting a desk and computer is for people but many of us don't know that artisans and makers are struggling with chronic pain as well. When you first started to approach other artists with your ideas, how did they respond?
MGB: The response has been incredibly positive. This kind of information is not talked about enough in art schools and craft centers, and many artists simply accept that they will eventually develop a repetitive strain injury. So, it can be an empowering experience to learn more about the body and how to develop a more conscious and sustainable studio practice.
KO: What's next?!
MGB: New Partnerships! Wellness for Makers recently partnered with two awesome organizations: CERF+ and New York Makers.
Just as I am always striving to be a better artist, I am striving to be a better educator. I continue learning so I can teach the most relevant and up-to-date information about the body. I love the process of learning. There is always more.