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Art Therapy Projects and Starting Out

Updated on October 20, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Starting a watercolor class for the elderly.
Starting a watercolor class for the elderly. | Source

Starting Out Watercolor Classes

I get letters and notes all the time about starting a program for the enrichment and advancement of the elderly as only art can do. My program was watercolor classes for senior citizens and only lasted 14 years until the program in my city was canceled because of budget cuts, but the effects and love of that program lives on. Below are some of the questions I often get and my answers.

Me posing with a painting in one of my elderly classes.
Me posing with a painting in one of my elderly classes. | Source

Have Hints?

Do you have any hints for me to start a similar program?

I’m so glad I have found you!! I am a self-taught artist and live in a small rural village. Which is growing. I started an art social group last Oct, which is going really well, and now have 15 regulars. I have also started doing art workshops for an elderly group in our village once a month. They love it, as so do I and now I am studying art therapy, especially to help the elderly.

I’d like to try other projects as well. Do you have any hints for me?

One of my first elderly students.
One of my first elderly students. | Source

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.

— Henry Ward Beecher

My Hints

That sounds wonderful. I'm very excited to learn more artists are using their gifts to help others and spread beauty in the world. I would say you are on the right track. You are a step ahead of most people who want to start something like you described. My rule of thumb was to keep things simple for the elderly. They like a little detail but not so much that is taxing their shaky hands and your time limitations. I create paintings for them that had large areas of washed color with just a few spots of detail. An example would be a snowscape with one little cabin in the distance. It had charm and interest but wasn't too complicated for the elderly or children or even the disabled group that occasionally joined us.

Teaching at a Women's Retreat.
Teaching at a Women's Retreat. | Source

Other Projects

As for other projects, I assume you mean something like different creative things for them to try. A great example would be painting rocks with acrylic paint. It has become all the rage. One friend described it to me as encouragement stones. They are meant to make the finder smile. People are walking along watching their feet and they come across a colorfully painting rock that makes their whole day a little brighter. If you pick it up and keep it, you are supposed to leave another one in its place.

Another project you may want to try is the pour painting. Although I believe the cost of the materials might be prohibitive, the fun of pouring paint just to see what it will do would bring a lot of joy to the elderly. If you had some way of getting a grant to cover the cost of the paint, silicon, and canvases, you might find that a really lovely project.

I actually have a lot of ideas that would take a huge amount of time to describe so I will link a few of the articles I’ve already written that may be of interest.

Teaching at one of my elderly sites.
Teaching at one of my elderly sites. | Source

We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.

— Galileo Galilei
I carried all my supplies, paint and paper with me.
I carried all my supplies, paint and paper with me. | Source

A Degree In Art Therapy

From E.

Hello. I'm just wondering if you are actually an art therapist. You may not be aware of this but if you don't have a degree in art therapy you really shouldn't be calling your art classes "art therapy".

Caught in action.
Caught in action. | Source

Watercolor Roses

My Answer

Dear E,

Yes, I was aware and I didn’t call my classes “art therapy” at the time I first started them. But let’s face it, it WAS art therapy and still is. When I started these classes for the elderly, I did not have a master’s degree in art, however, now I do. I doubt that I would have changed a thing in the way I presented the classes or in the responses I made to my elderly clients. These classes were advertised as watercolor classes with me (an artist) as a teacher and that is all. The therapy is in the art not in the name. I saw some remarkable transformations in these lovely people. I have always known the benefits of art in schools, in education, in mood motivation, but I was still amazed daily by the attitude change in many of my elderly friends. They would come in angry, frustrated by their own physical and mental limitations, and leave feeling life was good and they could handle anything. Just that is worth the term “art therapy.” I am not a psychologist or licensed counselor either, but I witnessed people who came to my classes because they got to engage in conversation, tell what was wrong with their world for one hour and go home feeling better. One woman told me it was the cheapest therapy/counseling visit in town. Maybe, maybe not. But they usually felt like it was so and so for them it was.

One of my happy painters.
One of my happy painters. | Source

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.

— Wayne Dyer

Final Thoughts

Whether you have a degree in art therapy or just talent and interest in art, to share your time and love of painting with the elderly is a lofty and commendable goal. They can benefit from any time you give them and mostly you will find them so grateful and lovely to visit with. Don’t forget that we all will be elderly one day (if you are lucky enough to live so long) and you will want someone to spend time with you when that day comes. Why not pay it forward and bring a smile to someone’s sweetly wrinkled face today.


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    Post Comment
    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Crampton,

      I appreciate that. It was a blessing for me to hang out with these lovely people. Thanks for commenting.



    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm sure your art classes have helped many seniors and people of other ages, Denise. Thank you for sharing your skills and knowledge.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Shannon Henry,

      I'm glad you think so and happy to have my humble work shared with people. For me, art is life. For others, it is helpful and therapeutic. It's a win-win. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA


      It sounds like you have experienced the very thing I'm talking about. I'm glad you had that experience. Thanks for commenting.



    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon Henry 

      3 weeks ago from Texas

      I'm glad you shared your experiences here. I'm going to pass your article on to a friend of mine who does have an art therapy degree. It's harder than you would think to actually do something like what you're describing in the field of psychology. However, something like this would be an excellent way to use knowledge from such a degree. IMHO, you're right that the benefits of learning art and being able to socialize is therapy in itself sometimes.

    • techygran profile image


      3 weeks ago from Vancouver Island, Canada


      I love reading about your outreach through art with the elderly. I am not even an artist, but I have done art projects in groups of women who were abused, and the impact of creating, the personal exchanges, and the pleasant, safe venue with other women felt like art therapy to me.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Bill Holland,

      You are so encouraging, my friend. I love that about you. It is your ministry! Thanks for commenting.



    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I love that you share your knowledge and talent with others. Well done, my friend.


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