Teaching Watercolor Classes To The Elderly
I have written several times about my experiences with teaching senior citizens’ watercolor classes but I have gotten so many follow-up questions that I decided to answer some of them here in more detail. My hope is that you will get some of your questions answered by reading other people’s questions and answers. Well, on with the questions.
I found your website and HubPage article doing a Google search for teaching seniors
art. I enjoyed reading the article and found it helpful.
I am thinking of starting to teach seniors as an independent contractor at different
senior communities in my city of Indianapolis, Indiana. I have a degree in Fine Art.
Do you have any recommendation for what or how to charge? I have no idea! But I don't want to undercut myself or overcharge.
Any suggestions from you would help tremendously!
I am happy to encourage you in your endeavor. The problem is that most seniors are on a fixed income and they cannot pay themselves for such a fun and personally rewarding program. You will have to find some sponsors to cover your time and materials (as you would definitely want to provide the materials to the seniors as well as instruction). I got sponsored through the City of Fresno Parks, Recreation and Community Services department. I also did some classes through the Community Education but they had me charge the seniors a fee and so that class never filled very well. I charged $10 per person per 2-hour class (that was a decade ago) with a minimum class size of 6 and again I provided the materials. When I had 10 to 12 students I felt very well paid. When there were only 6 students, I did teach the class but still felt a little resentful that I could have been making more.
As for the City, they paid me $12 an hour and provided the paint and paper. I thought that was great when I started in 1998 but by 2008 I kind of felt like I was due a raise and then was told that I was at the "ceiling" for a part-time temporary city employee. Rude. Part-time temporary lasted 14 years till finally they cut the city budget and eliminated the program and me. Sad for the seniors. Personally I fell like you should be making at least $20 to $30 an hour because for every hour on site, I spent at least that much at home with preparations. But I loved what I was doing and the seniors are such sweet and appreciative people, it's all good.
One group that often came by was a "day care" for elderly and disabled. They would schedule their outings to coincide with my painting class. They often mentioned that they would like to hire me to go to their offices to provide classes. I had to turn them down only because I was so busy at the time, I couldn't fit them into my schedule. That type of group may be interested in your services and would have funds to spend on you. Look into my article on Art Therapy for Special Needs.
I chose watercolor because the supplies consist of paint and paper mostly, plus dollar store tablecloths for easy clean up. If you wanted to expand to acrylic you may want to have aprons for spills and stains as well as special brushes. Acrylics dry so fast that you may find you would have to replace brushes much more often than I had to with watercolor. That is an extra expense acrylics create. Be aware that sometimes dementia and feelings of entitlement mean that sweet elderly folks will steal from you, your brushes or pallets or even your purse. I had to be very careful with my purse. I had one elderly man who didn't even paint with me, that often pushed his walker close enough to the painting table to steal my brushes and then his daughter would return them quietly behind his back the next day. What can you do but smile?
I felt so bad for that dear man and could actually agree with him that he had paid his dues, served his country in the military and was probably due some free things. I felt bad that I wanted my brushes back from him and I'm really glad that his daughter brought them back covertly so that he never knew she returned them. He would have been embarrassed and angry with her.
Indeed, I think I heard some people's life story a couple dozen times because they forgot that they told me that story the previous week. I didn't mind and each time would smile and nod like it was the first time I had heard it. What did it cost me to listen politely again? Nothing really. It is things like that that I hope folks are patient with me later in my life. I'm quite the storyteller and I figure I may be repeating things a few times myself.
Hi Denise, I enjoyed reading the experiences with teaching the seniors you have shared. I would like for you to share more if you would. Example, I did attend Jr. College in the late 70's, all of my work has ben lost or given away over all this time. I desire to work with the seniors at their facilities once a week at several locations. My plans are to start off smaller scale, A7 size envelope to match folded cards. Use graphite paper to transfer image to watercolor paper. Concentrate on color mix first. Then branch out to larger sheets of paper. Thinking about acrylics rather than watercolor due to the fact acrylic dries faster. What do feel I should say to the director to close the sale and without having any samples to show directed to seniors? Gratefully, Betsy
I applaud your ambition and plans, however, you really must have some sort of portfolio to show the director to at least prove that you know what you are doing because you are an artist. Spend some time now and create a few simple things to show. They can be very simplistic since you are dealing with beginners anyway. It used to be that you had to show a physical portfolio, but today you can take photos and show a digital portfolio on an iPad or bring a flash drive with your work on it. You don't need more than a dozen pieces to show. Most directors wouldn't have time to flip through more than that anyway. Then come up with at least one practical piece like your card idea to show the first thing you would do with the seniors. It's like having the first lesson plan ready to go.
They also want a bottom line budget worked up. How much will it cost in paper, paint and etc., for each senior. I found that was the hardest part since I was used to working with children and had it worked out to how much per class of 20 not how much per person.
Remember you will get discouraged fast if you are supplying all the supplies. Make sure that they (each facility or senior) buy the supplies so you don’t have to. Your hourly wage should also compensate for the fact that like any teacher, you put almost as much time in at home preparing, as you will on site. Also the graphite paper to transfer images is not a bad idea but remember seniors have shaky hands and they will talk you into doing all the drawing and transferring for them if you are not careful. That's the reason I made stencils and drew everyone's paper at home before even showing up on site. It saved a lot of whining, if you know what I mean.
Also, because I drove to 10 to 15 sites per week, I was allowed a mileage compensation only for driving from site to site, not for driving from home to the first site or back home. That small mileage compensation was actually a big help in the long run. See if you can talk your director into something along that line. You'll be happy you thought of it after a couple years of constant driving.
The main problem with acrylics is that they will cost a little more than the watercolor and spills or accidents will be more permanent. Seniors do tend to spill and will be very upset if they can't wash out accidents from their precious clothes. Also I couldn't talk my director into the increased cost of acrylic and canvas even though many of my seniors would have loved it. Besides, watercolor dries just as fast as acrylic. Not much difference in drying time at all.
Do you think you have the patience for teaching senior citizens?
Mmm. Not sure if you would categorize me as a senior - I will be 70 this year and am itching to learn about perspective. I'm a member of an art club where most of the group are my age or older and, on the whole, are very experimental artists working in a variety of different media. I'm guessing your group was more elderly. Did you know that art has been demonstrated to be beneficial to people cursed with Alzheimer’s?
My seniors were anyone over the age of 60, however you are right. Most of them were 80 years of age or over. Still I welcomed anyone who wanted to join us regardless of age or skill level. Some even brought their grandchildren during the summer months.
Yes, art and painting help not only Alzheimer's but also other ailments such as Parkinson's and even certain hand-and-eye coordination problems. It is fascinating. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself. One lady in her 80's had hand tremors so bad she could not sign her name but put a paintbrush in her hand and she could paint a straight line without a problem. I wonder if it was because the creative side of the brain took over for the autonomic reflex area. Who knows but it is amazing to see.
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".
Yes, I was aware and I didn’t call my classes “art therapy” at the time. 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 I do now. 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 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 till 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 councilor 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 psychology visit in town. Maybe, maybe not. But they usually felt like it was so and so for them it was.
All For Now
That’s the latest questions on art therapy and painting with the elderly. As I get more questions I will create more answers for you. I hope this helps anyone who is interested in starting some painting classes for the elderly in your hometown. It could be useful and beneficial to so many. It is something to consider.