Visual Arts projects yield amazing results, when participants feel safe in a project that is appropriate to their comfort level, and when they are supported by caring and friendly co-creators (aka TAO program volunteers). The project facilitator’s role is to create a pleasing project, work with TAO to ensure the room layout and supplies needed are in place, and to place and direct volunteers.
Equipment and Supplies
One practical way to ensure a variety of materials for any number of visual arts projects is to have several boxes of materials. Tidewater Arts Outreach reimburses artists for materials expended at TAO projects, with a per program limit. Please discuss your art project with TAO so that expenses are within budget and reimbursements are timely. Your boxes could include (but are not limited to) the following:
A visual arts project is a great way for the community to be involved with residents in a senior care location. Our goal is to have at least 3–4 adults at every visual arts project, and more is better. Volunteers are co-creators in this case, and a good set-up is to have these individuals interspersed throughout the room, seated among residents. These volunteers are instructed to create art alongside residents, engaging in conversation, admiring work, sincerely praising effort, and helping where needed. Volunteers look to the artist for cues during the project, and provide assistance in passing out supplies and cleaning up.
Clients who are blind have approached us to create art. People who have suffered strokes, and have only the use of their non-dominant side, want to create art. People with arthritis or who have little use of their hands want to create art. We work to create accommodations, such as using foam pipe insulation to make a paintbrush easier to hold, or altering the scope of a project, or doing one aspect of the project (like scissor work) for someone with specific limitations. Seniors with dementia need other forms of accommodation, such as using lots and lots of encouragement, keeping the project simple, understanding their attention span and sticking to one task at a time.
Many people approach art with trepidation, having never experienced critical success as an artist elsewhere. A good form of encouragement is to help them understand that the end product is not what is most important — the process of going through the arts experience, and what that experience does for us, is what is most important. Other accommodations include:
Visual Art and Low Vision contributed by Charlotte Moon
Charlotte Moon is the Executive Director of the Park Place Child Life Center, a community enrichment program for at-risk children living in Norfolk’s Park Place neighborhood
Many people with low vision will have “visual memory” of things they used to be able to see well. Even folks with complete vision loss may have seen at one time, or have vivid mental constructs of how they imagine things to look. So it should be assumed that they would be able, with help, to create a visual representation of what they have in their minds.
When you begin, say the client’s name first so they will realize you are speaking to them, and then tell them who you are. Try to remain in one location as you work together so that the client will be able to hear your voice coming from the same place throughout the project. If the client seems to have disengaged, call them by name again. They may have just lost track of your voice if you are working in a lively or group setting.
A conversation could begin with discussion of the client’s favorite colors. This may help you understand more about their visual limitations in a non-threatening way.
The project or activity should be explained in descriptive language that the client can understand. Example: “We are going to paint a vase of flowers with lots of different water colors on a large piece of paper. We’re going to use a small brush, and dip it water, and then in the different colors to paint on your paper. We’ll rinse out your brush in some water when you want to change colors. And I will help you get the paint colors you like onto your paper. Have you ever painted like that before?” (In cases of long-term, total vision loss, it would be very helpful to have a three dimensional representation of the item that will be recreated in the project so that the client may touch, feel, and understand it.)
Describe to the client each item that will be used, and help them locate, by guiding a hand, where each item is in the work space. (Always ask permission before touching a hand in this way: “Would you like me to help your hands find where the things we are going to use are located?) Some clients are used to having the location of food and other common things described to them as the locations on a clock: Your paintbrush is at 3 o’clock, the paper is at 6, the water colors are at 9, and the clean water and paper towels are at 12. This may sometimes be a helpful tool to use.
Be sure to ask which hand is the dominant hand for the client.
Invite the client to touch all the items that will be used for the project. (Pick up the brush and hold it, pick up the paper and determine its size, feel where the water color pan is located, locate the paper towels and water container.)
Some clients may prefer to pick up the items up and hold them closer to their eyes if they have certain visual abilities, rather than learning by touch. Offer this to them.
Ask the client what else they would like to know about the project before you begin. Always take the attitude that the client will enjoy the project if they understand how it will be done, what materials will be used, and what kind of help you can give them if they need it.
As you begin the project, ask what kind of help the client would like to receive. Avoid doing it for them; rather enable them to do as much as they can do. You might say: “Would you like me to help you get some green paint on your brush so you can start the project? Or “Your paper is right here in front of you. Are you ready to begin?” The client may have some hesitation if they have not been successful with art experiences yet, so as many gently leading questions as appropriate should be asked to encourage them to take that first step.
As the project unfolds, continue to encourage and help, always asking before touching, and always offering before doing. Notice what the client is able to do, and make positive comments to them as they proceed. Sometimes an affirmation of the work can help them know if they are doing what they intended. For instance: “I see that you are painting some wonderful orange leaves. Do you want all your leaves to be orange?” At that point, they may indicate they would also like some green leaves, or that all orange is just fine with them. If a desire for something different is expressed, ask permission to help them get what they want. “Would you like me to rinse out the orange paint and get some green on your brush for you?”
From time to time, it may be helpful to offer to pick the project up so the client can hold it closer to their eyes to get a better idea of the progress and feel encouraged.
As you go say things like: “Wow, you just painted a beautiful purple flower!” “I can see that you must like the color yellow a lot! You have a beautiful yellow vase for your flowers.”
When the project is completed, describe it in complimentary terms to the client and any others as appropriate. Find out if the project can be displayed somewhere, or if the client would like to keep it with them to show to others. Be sure the client’s name is written somewhere on the paper so it can be returned if misplaced.
Of course, all clients should be treated with dignity and respect, and given the hope and joy of creativity within their abilities.
General tips for working with people with vision loss:
Visual Arts for Persons with Dementia
The visual arts, like all the creative arts, are a powerful, nonverbal form of creative self-expression that is well-suited to persons with dementia for many reasons:
Clients with dementia require more attention to task and more support to complete each task, such as moving a brush or pencil across a piece of paper. They may not know where to start on a page. Some ideas include:
When individuals with dementia are creating, they have transcended memory loss and can see something happening before them.
Structure the Activity:
Client-Centered Focus is Key
Don’t place too much emphasis on the finished product. Instead, focus on participants and how they are reacting to the process. Projects with an auto-biographical focus are a great way to get people to open up about themselves, artistically, through the process of visual arts.
Some ways to accomplish this:
If you work with people suffering from dementia:
Be patient, do not rush a participant.
Be prepared to repeat (simple) instructions more than once.
If someone becomes agitated, try distracting them. i.e., if they say they can’t do art because their friend/child/spouse is supposed to come and take them home, say something like, “Oh? Tell me about your home.”
Speak calmly; keep distractions to a minimum (more than one conversation is too much; sometimes artists prefer to work without conversation.
Give genuine praise and encouragement at regular intervals. Use their first name and contact – touch their shoulder, their hand.
Avoid creating the art for the participant. Encourage, praise, be patient; create art alongside.
Have examples of finished products nearby.
Intergenerational Visual Arts Projects
A successful program arrangement has been to involve high school or college youth with adults and seniors in visual arts workshops. A facilitator guides participants through the arts project. We have found a great ratio to be at tables of four: two seniors, one adult and one child. The adult breaks the ice and keeps conversation flowing. This formula has been magical for TAO!
© 2012 Tidewater Arts Outreach - 809 Brandon Ave., Suite 300, Norfolk 23517
Tidewater Arts Outreach is a 501c(3) Virginia not-for-profit corporation, Tax ID 68-0583526.