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Art Therapy for Senior Citizens Questions Answered

Updated on July 19, 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.

We took the class outside
We took the class outside | Source

14 Years Teaching Watercolor To Seniors

For many years I brought watercolor art lessons to the senior citizens of my town through the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. This was an awesome community service and I was so happy to be involved in it. If it wasn’t for the budget cuts of 2012, I would still be painting with these sweet elderly people. Since then I have written about my experience and received numerous questions about the classes from people who would like to do the same. Here are some typical questions and answers from the many I have received.

At one of my many sites, we are set up to paint
At one of my many sites, we are set up to paint | Source

What To Charge Question

From Kathryn

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!


Hi Kathryn,

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 felt 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.

“A painting is never finished—it simply stops in interesting places.”

— Paul Gardner
Another class with people painting
Another class with people painting | Source

Special Needs

One group that often came by was a "daycare" for the 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 cleanup. 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 to 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 of 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.

“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”

— Chinese Proverb
My elderly student happily painting
My elderly student happily painting | Source

What would be a good supply list for senior watercolor classes?

I have listed most of the supplies before. Start with paper. You must provide a good quality heavy weight paper that will withstand the use of lots of water. I chose an 80 lb cover weight printer paper with a texture called Classic Laid. It is cheaper than the professional 100% rag 140 lb top-quality watercolor paper so it is affordable for the students. The Classic Laid comes in sheets of 35" x 23" and I tore it in quarters to give us a nice large size but not so large to take hours to finish a painting.

For paint, I chose the Winsor & Newton Cotman series tube paint. It has a lovely deep color without being too expensive to afford. I recommend against using children's quality pot paint sets. The color is weak and spreads poorly. It will discourage your students from even trying. The Cotman colors are so brilliant that the novice will be encouraged by its spread, mixing, and brilliance. With these colors, you will need to have pallets to squeeze the colors into.

Creativity is not a mood. Creativity is not a gift. It’s the very Nature of God inside of you.

— Dan McCollam
Easter Week I wore bunny ears in my hat to make the seniors smile.
Easter Week I wore bunny ears in my hat to make the seniors smile. | Source


As for brushes, you can get away with only two if you must be conservative. I prefer synthetic hair brushes made for watercolor. Get both "round," a fine brush #2 and a large #8 up to #10. After those, if you can afford more brushes, get one half inch flat.

Beyond these staples, you need towels for every student, a cup for water with a wide bottom to prevent tipping for each, and a table easel to hold up the inspirational photograph, drawing, or painting for all to see.

These are the most important supplies you need for senior watercolor classes. I also got a box to hold all the supplies and a hand trolly to pull the supplies to each location.

Final Thoughts

I hope you try to do something like these watercolor classes for the elderly in your community. It is so incredibly fulfilling. Leave any questions or comments you have below.


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