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Commonly Asked Questions About Art Therapy for Seniors

Updated on September 6, 2019
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Just two of my many precious painters:  Helen and Armando.
Just two of my many precious painters: Helen and Armando. | Source

Questions From My Readers

From my many questions and inquires concerning Art Therapy for Senior Citizens, I have gathered a number to answer in more detail here. There has been a lot of interest in my classes I taught for the elderly, advice on starting a similar program in another town and what was needed. This actually makes so very happy. That’s one reason why I wrote the several articles about art therapy in the first place. Seniors everywhere could be benefiting from art and painting if only there were programs like this in every town. So without further ado, here are some questions and answers.

Another of my many painters: Lupe.
Another of my many painters: Lupe. | Source

Pastels vs. Watercolor

Do you think oil pastels might work better than watercolor?

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.


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 (chalk) pastels. Also, there is a 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.

Extended Answer: The oil and regular (chalk) pastels are toxic to the skin. It is recommended to work pastels with latex gloves these days. The chemicals and materials in the pastels are pure and handling them means you can absorb them through the skin. The regular chalk pastels also can be breathed in and cause lung damage/cancer, so many artists have now been using facemasks. I hate the facemasks personally, so I make it a practice not to blow the dust from my pictures so as not to make the particles air-borne. With these restrictions, I really don’t think pastels are appropriate for seniors. Oil paints are also somewhat toxic and many artists use the gloves with that medium also. You read about so many famous artists dying young or going a little crazy. It is likely that many or most were suffering from lead poisoning and other toxins found in the paint and mediums. We have stopped using lead in the white paints but other toxins are still in the paint and have to be avoided or at least treated with care.

Every painting medium is made of just pigment and a binder. Watercolor is pigment plus gum arabic. Oil paint is pigment with oil, usually linseed oil. Acrylic is pigment with acrylic medium (a polymer). The whole question of toxicity is all about which pigments are being used. The binder is needed because something has to adhere the paint to the paper or canvas. If you tried painting with pure pigment, when it dried it would simply fall from the surface and blow away. Pastel is like that. That is why the surface used for pastels has to be rough to “hold” the pigment.

The whole reason I use watercolor in my classes is that it is cost effective as well as bright and vibrant, plus it dries quickly and the seniors have a finished or almost finished painting to take home at the end of one session. With oils, pastels, and sometimes acrylic, you build up the colors and layers which takes more time. Watercolors are fast, relatively easy and far less toxic to handle.

Linda still loves to paint, on her own now.
Linda still loves to paint, on her own now. | Source

Charge Fees

What an interesting experience... Do you mind tell me how much do you charge for the classes?


I wouldn't charge less than $25 per person for classes today and I wouldn't have less than 6 students per class. That seems like I'm money-grubbing but the prep time is extensive and a class lasts 2 to 3 hours so really I'm not walking away with all that much.

When you consider my education and experience, I should be getting no less than $100 per hour but artists are not valued the same way that lawyers and doctors are. Plus artists pick the career not because they will be paid well, but because they have a deep burning passion to create and money doesn’t really come into the picture. Although I must admit, it is nice paying the bills and having a roof over one’s head. No one chooses an art career for the paycheck. If they think it is a lucrative career path, I hate to be the one to break it, but it is not. A few (precious few) make it big, but the price paid for success in art is backbreaking, sleepless nights of continuous work to get there. And the public is fickle. What is hugely popular one year, maybe lining the birdcage the next year. Still, I love what I do even if I never get paid for it. I can complain about not having the nicest car or home, but I love what I do all day. That’s the price I pay for art.

One of my classes.
One of my classes. | Source

Would you pursue a career just for the love of it?

See results
Me teaching one of my classes.
Me teaching one of my classes. | Source

Final Thoughts

I guess that is all for now. I have more questions later. Please feel free to ask questions about my process or my program. I’m happy to share, especially where it will continue to help the elderly.


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