Art Therapy For Senior Citizens
One Of My ClassesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Five Steps To Creating Your Own Art Therapy Classes
Anyone who has put brush to paper knows the exhilaration of design, the pleasant calm of pleasing colors, the magical moment when images appear. Having painted all my life, I've known the joy and peace of being carried away by paint and brush. Now I find it's not just art; it's "art therapy". This realization came when I began teaching watercolor painting to senior citizens through the Community Services department of my city's Parks and Recreation Department some fifteen years ago. At first, it seemed just a nice diversion for the seniors but it has transformed into an event most seniors will not miss for love, money, or doctor's appointments. Most recently, I was approached by eight siblings who thanked me for saving their mother's life. They said that before coming to paint with me, she had no interest in life; taking her medication, she ate and slept, nothing more. They were expecting a funeral soon. Then a friend brought her the center where I was teaching a watercolor class. Now she is angry if any of them should try to cut into her painting time. She may not be the next Grandma Moses, but how many of us are? I don't expect my work to hang in the Louvers later, but it doesn't stop me from expressing myself creatively with color.
Many of the senior citizens I have taught have decided to deepen their knowledge in the art field by taking a drawing or additional painting classes at the city college. I take this as a compliment. Most tell me they had no idea there was any ability there and now could not see themselves without art in their lives.
Do you have a desire to help people? Consider starting a similar class in your community.
The Science Of Happiness
“Everyone has talent at twenty-five; the difficulty is to have it at fifty.”
— --Edgar Degas
Plein Aire Painting
1. Watercolors vs other media
Watercolors are relatively inexpensive and require less time to complete a picture so they are my medium of choice. Because I was working mostly with beginners, I decided not to spend the extra money on archival quality paper and bought a cheaper grade wood-pulp paper. Yes, it will yellow with age but the seniors don’t mind and the city program can afford to supply it.
“A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts.”
— --Sir Joshua Reynolds
2. Bring The Paper Drawn And Ready To Paint
In the beginning, I tried to teach the elderly to draw their own picture but they lacked the experience and confidence. The entire hour was taken up in the drawing process and no one had time to paint. Those seniors who already know how to draw probably won't be taking an "art therapy" class. Those who will benefit most probably don't know the first thing about drawing. I realized early on that it was the painting part that gave them the most pleasure and therapeutic effects, not the drawing. That's when I started drawing the pictures at home. I'll explain how I did this below.
“Art’s whatever you choose to frame.”
— --Fleur Adcock
3. Create An Image They Can Complete In The Time Allotted
In my case, the city wants me to travel around town each morning staying only one hour at each site. It is hard to calculate what a senior may be able to finish in one hour. In order to make this work, I time myself when I paint the original picture. I figure if I can finish the picture in 15 to 20 minutes, most of my seniors can finish it in one hour. If it takes me longer, no matter how exciting the picture is, the seniors will be discouraged that they couldn't finish it. Even sending them home to finish it doesn't help as most don't have their own paints or brushes and those who do would rather paint with me sitting next to them. This means there had better be a few details in the picture.
70 Year Old 2-Stepping
Examples Of Paintings And Stencils I Have Used
Should the government pay for elderly art therapy programs?
4. Cut A Stencil
When I first began 15 years earlier there were only about 40 seniors painting with me in a given week. After just a few years the numbers increased to about 100 who paint weekly, and some who follow me from one site to the next to paint the same picture again. In order to draw that many pictures, all the same, I started cutting a stencil for each week's drawings. I traced the original and using an Exacto blade cut the lines to create my stencil. I tried using a copy machine once but the size and the weight of the paper made the copier inefficient. Also, most copiers use a water-soluble ink that bleeds black when you add water. This looks terrible. Gratefully the city paid for my preparation time.
Paid For By The City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department
Do you believe Senior Citizens should have access to free government programs like this one? When the budgets get tight, the government has to cut programs and usually the elderly and the children suffer most. Should arts therapy programs be paid for by the government or should private organizations pick up the slack? Unfortunately, in our area, the only private organizations offering this kind of therapy charge a price most seniors on a fixed income cannot afford. What is the solution? Do you have one?
“Art made for the people and by the people, is a joy to the maker and user.”
— --William Morris
5. Ask Around.
If there isn't a program already in place, ask if you can begin one. Believe me, you will benefit more than the senior citizens you teach. That's exactly what I did. Before I asked there was no painting program for the senior citizens. I was calling to see if there was a children's program with the city Parks and Recs department that I could teach for. I was transferred from program to program until the lady in charge of the senior program got me. She said she would ask the seniors if there was an interest and get back to me. Since I was sure I had gotten the royal run-around, I didn't really expect her to get back to me. However, two weeks later she called me. She had indeed asked the seniors and there was interest in getting a painting program going. She practically hired me sight-unseen. She warned me that when the seniors were tired of me that I would be out. I figured that would tire of it in 6 months to a year. To my surprise, the program went on and on picking up more and more participants. I was given an award by the city mayor for my contribution to the elderly. I feel humbled and honored to work with them. They are dear people.
My Cartoons About Trained BrushesClick thumbnail to view full-size
“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”
— --Chinese Proverb