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Teaching Watercolor Classes to the Elderly

Updated on September 6, 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.


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 loved wearing the hats.  The seniors appreciated it too.
I loved wearing the hats. The seniors appreciated it too. | Source

Watercolor Vs. Acrylic

From Betsy

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 '70s, all of my work has been 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 the smaller scale, A7 size envelope to match folded cards. Use graphite paper to transfer the 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

Hi 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 of 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.

Step by step instruction was the key to helping the seniors leave with a successful painting.
Step by step instruction was the key to helping the seniors leave with a successful painting. | Source

Do you think you have the patience for teaching senior citizens?

See results

Outdoor Classes

Occasionally in good weather we painted outside at a park or nature reserve.  The seniors loved that too.
Occasionally in good weather we painted outside at a park or nature reserve. The seniors loved that too. | Source


From Glenis

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.

Notice I set up a sample of the end product at the end of the table for everyone to see.
Notice I set up a sample of the end product at the end of the table for everyone to see. | Source

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.


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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      16 months ago from Fresno CA

      You don't need expensive materials to begin painting and I think that was the most enlightening thing for most seniors who had never tried to paint because they thought they had to have the best supplies to begin.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Dora Weithers,

      Thank you so much. You seem to be my loyal fan. So sweet. Have a lovely Mother's Day.



    • CaribTales profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Keep up the good work bringing a sense of purpose to the lives of elderly, and helping others to do what you do. I applaud you!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Hi Bede,

      I'm not sure they really are a better buy simply because you have to have a little more hand and eye coordination with oil or regular pastels. Also there is the toxicity problem. I think I will go into more detail on that in another HubPage article. I sure appreciate the question because it does raise more possibilities. Thanks.



    • Bede le Venerable profile image


      2 years ago from Minnesota

      If the government understood better the therapeutic value of art, there would be less money spent on Medicaid. There should be more subsidies for such enterprises. Anyway, do you think oil pastels might work better? They’re likely cheaper and maybe less hassle for you and the students. It’s just a thought.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you, Mary. It became a thing where the seniors were interested to see what hat I would show up in next. At one point I owned about 40 hats. Now I only have a dozen. I like them. So much fun. I feel undressed without one now. And I wish I lived near you as well. I'm sure you would be so much fun to have in a class. Thanks for commenting.



    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What an admirable thing to do. Love that hat. Am sure your students enjoy looking at you in that hat. I like water colour as well and wish your class is close to where we are so I can be part of it.


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