ATKIN, A (2008) Painting with Parkinson’s: Art as Therapy, Unpublished.
Painting with Parkinson’s: Art as Therapy
A Resource Manual for Parkinson’s Art Groups
“During each session I am able to relax and put all of my
thoughts into expressions of color.” Glenys
© Atkin 2008
Anne Atkin has been an active volunteer, public speaker, ambassador and librarian
with Parkinson’s Victoria since 2006.
Driven by her love of art, her own journey with Parkinson’s and a rich professional
career in teaching, Anne began her first ‘Painting with Parkinson’s’ group in 2007.
Committed to helping others experience the benefits of art, Anne now travels
throughout Victoria to conduct art seminars for Parkinson’s support groups.
Anne hopes to set up as many art groups as possible and has devoted many hours
developing this booklet as a resource. This booklet contains advice, methods and
techniques specifically designed to overcome Parkinson’s challenges to the creative
Anne kindly offers her mentorship to anyone interested in starting an art group.
Please contact Parkinson’s Victoria (ph) 03 9551 1122 to get in touch with Anne or
for more information.
1. Art as a therapy for Parkinson’s
2. How does Painting with Parkinson’s help
3. Pre‐drawing relaxation
4. Beginning activity – The Power of the Doodle
5. Preparation and materials
6. Painting Ideas
7. Activities Smorgasboard
9. Finishing a Session
10. Acknowledgements and Further Resources
© Atkin 2008
1. ART AS A THERAPY FOR PARKINSON’S
Art gives chronically ill people the chance to make choices and decisions so that they
take back some control in their lives
Parkinson’s can often lead to social isolation and low self‐esteem due to difficulties
Inability to move the facial muscles can make you look different to how you feel, but
art allows you to express yourself
Learning new skills helps with self‐confidence and self‐esteem
Through planned activities, your creative ability can be encouraged to ‘kick in’
Art allows you to use both sides of your brain (Drawing on the right side of the brain
by Betty Edwards)
Art teaches you to see things around you differently
Lessons can be planned to allow people to choose to work independently or as part
of a group
Art lets you express your feelings and moods
Art allows you to express yourself in a totally different way
2. HOW DOES PAINTING WITH PARKINSON’S HELP?
When in the creative mode the brain is working subconsciously with low stress levels
Learning new skills helps to keep you active and helps to combat depression
There is improved mental health
There is evidence to suggest that Parkinson’s Disease actually enhances creativity
rather than decrease it
Art activities help you to become physically and mentally relaxed
Research shows that physiological functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure and
respiration slow when people are deeply involved in an activity they enjoy
Also making art provides an opportunity for someone to exercise their hands and
their eyes, improve eye‐hand co‐ordination and stimulate neurological pathways
from the brains to the hands.
Stress reduction is also of significant benefit as stress can intensify pain and other
symptoms of disease
“When participants arrive they sit at the tables with tea or coffee and chat. Usually there
is laughter. After about 10 minutes it’s down to art. Each takes something from one of the
many containers on the tables‐ a crayon, pastel, felt pen, charcoal pencil and so on. The
music starts and with eyes closed quiet descends, some bodies sway in time, some don’t. It
doesn’t matter because as the drawing implements move over the paper you can see
people’s faces relaxing. Art as a therapy has started.” (Nancy Tingey)
© Atkin 2008
3. PRE‐DRAWING RELAXATION
“Listening to music and relaxing through breathing exercises and other forms of meditation
help the nervous system to function properly. As tension is released, painting begins.
Absorbed in the process, movements free up. One thing leads to another. Creative pursuits
seem to defuse stressful situations.” (Nancy Tingey, 1998)
Our group starts ‘officially at 9.30am but over the months this has changed slowly. Now
most people arrive between 9.00 and 9.30am, grab a cup of tea or coffee, maybe a scone
and have a chat with others as they arrive. This half hour has become a very important time
for people to off‐load any problems, talk about whatever and from distance you hear the
sound of chattering and more importantly, laughter.
Then at 9.30 we are ready to set up and our brains are more receptive to what we are about
We sit in a chair and let our bodies, thoughts and breathing slow down. Eyes are
I talk them through listening to the sounds around them.
Then one by one you take a sound, put it into a box and let it sit to the side where
it’s out of the way.
Do this till you can focus on just one thing – your breathing.
If an unpleasant thought enters, don’t panic; just look at, put it into a box, lock it and
push it away.
Breathing slowly and deeply.
Raise your arms and point your fingers – just do the best you can
Roll your shoulders; do some shoulder shrugs and open your eyes.
© Atkin 2008
4. BEGINNING ACTIVITY
You are ready for: The Power of the doodle
Pick up any drawing implement and listen to the music (Peer Gynt’s Morning is a
good one to start off with)
Close you eyes and move your pencil, crayon, pastel etc over the paper in time to the
Listen to the music and use circular movements only
Eyes still closed, try to draw a simple object in your mind’s eye. See yourself drawing
it without taking the pencil off the paper. Now you will do the same thing on paper
but remember, it’s without lifting the pencil off the paper. Keep it simple e.g. trees,
Close your eyes, listen to the music and feel yourself becoming part of it. Bodies may
start to sway and the relaxation sets in fairly quickly. I tell them to open their eyes
and continue doodling but now use other colors and see what develops.
Then I asked them to make the whole top of the table one big doodle. Loads of fun if
done in felt pen and then spray water over it – watch the colors start to spread
This is the art version of musical chairs ‐great fun! Everyone has a different type of
art material eg, a green crayon, a purple oil pastel, a red felt pen, a yellow soft
pastel, charcoal etc. As the music plays( one or two minutes to start off with) they
draw anything they like but when the music stops they pass their drawing to the
person beside them and continue their drawing, music stops, pass it on, start
drawing etc until your drawing gets back to you. This produces lots of laughter.
© Atkin 2008
Cover the whole table with one long sheet of paper and let everyone just 'doodle' on
the 'tablecloth' in front of them. After a few minutes, tell them that they are to
somehow 'join' their drawing to the drawing opposite them ‐ this activity is one you
would do later when people are comfortable with each other and have more
Put up on the wall as big a piece of paper as you can and someone put a scribble or
small pattern in the middle. When people are comfortable they can add to this initial
mark anyway they want in any direction with any art material but it must be a
continuous drawing – no starting elsewhere. When the sheet is full it is a rather
attractive 'abstract' work.
Those who are able to stand and move around the table can do this‐ the others can
watch. All facing one direction move around
the table and with the pen in your left hand
and as you move around, make a continuous
line on the paper. Now stop; face the other
way, put the pen in your right hand and do a
continuous line again.
Finger painting ‐ mix up wallpaper paste and
use only 3 colors ‐ red, blue and yellow. Mix
the now fairly thick paste with each color (this
gives it 'body') Each group member wears
latex gloves and on a large piece of paper they
have a large blob of the 3 colors. You will get
lots of other colors being produced. When
something looks good, put a piece of paper on
the top and run a roller over it‐ makes a lovely
“Anything which will calm down the
nervous system will help the messages
to flow smoothly from one set of dendrites to the next. If the
‘lubricant’ dopamine is missing it is possible to compensate
to some extent by introducing the body to stress‐free
activities which do not agitate the nervous system.
Meditative processes work for sound scientific reasons,”
(Nancy Tingey, 1996 Churchill Fellow)
© Atkin 2008
This session usually lasts approx 15min. Sometimes the results of these activities give people
ideas for a piece of art for the rest of the session.
5. PREPARATION AND MATERIALS
A good idea for storage ‐
I bought two very large tubs on wheels ‐ one is for drawing materials and the other is
for painting/wet material,
Have a smaller tub for paper.
You will need:
Paper towelling ‐ lots
Spray bottles of water ‐ try this yourself first and you will see how effective this is ‐
do an abstract/scibble pattern on cartridge paper using water based felt pens. Now
spray water over the lot. You can let the colors run or blot them with paper
Lots of plastic containers of different sizes
One of those tall clothes drying stand ‐ use pegs to hang wet art work
A hair dryer – to dry a painting/drawing enough for more drawing to be added
© Atkin 2008
List of materials.
Acrylic paint ‐ chromacryl in 2litre bottles and just get the primary colors and white
Graphite pencils 8B to 8H
Thick water based felt pens
Brushes ‐ get more of the thick handles than thin for people who have trouble
Good quality drawing cartridge paper A4 and A3 plus paper on rolls so you can get
wall murals and group work check out paper wholesalers
Food coloring/ and colored inks ‐ drip onto wet paper and let it run!
This is a basic list and you will be amazed how much you can do with simple things. For
example, lumber crayons ‐ draw a picture or do patterns with heavy coloring in but you
don't cover every bit of paper because over the top you will brush on diluted paint which of
course will not cover where the crayon has gone and you can get some great effects.
I often set up an art activity nearby so that anyone who is unsure or lacking in confidence
can have a go at something and it seems to get the creativity flowing.
Last week we did marbling and it was great fun – instant results!
Painting with Parkinson’s is not a formal art lesson. It is art as a therapy but if you find
some people finding it hard to get it into perspective, then use this analogy.
Exercise has become an important part of helping people with PD because it releases
chemicals in the brain and this is thought to have some neuroprotective elements but doing
exercise as a therapy doesn't mean you are training for the Olympics.
Painting with Parkinson's will one day be an important part of helping people with PD
because it releases chemicals in the brain and this is beneficial in the long term for
relaxation and depression but doing art as a therapy does not mean you are training to be
the next Picasso.
Now, apart from the normal art supplies, try to build up collections of these things for
activities such as collage, and printing.
Ice cream sticks
Textured materials eg. Corrugated cardboard, rough sandpaper
Material eg onion bags, hessian, velvet, the rippled carpet underlay
Old sterilized toothbrushes: for painting with and for spatter work
Wire: soft bendable stuff like florists wire to make shapes
Different types of paper: tissue, crepe
Plastic plates, bowls: handy for painting
© Atkin 2008
6. PAINTING IDEAS
If you give most people a paintbrush they will draw with it, not actually paint so try these
PS very messy!
I only put out on a paper plate 4 blobs of color – red, yellow, blue and white. Never
black because it is not easy to use. If someone is determined to use black, tell them
to add it last because it overpowers everything they will have done.
Use large pieces of paper and paint with
A piece of sponge
Cardboard with different edges cut along it
Using these will give wonderful texture and beautiful colors as the primary colors
Now, the toothbrushes! Do you remember doing spatter work at school as a child?
Again, put paint on a plate. You can use anything for this but leaves are very effective.
Put one large leaf on your paper. Dip your toothbrush into the paint (not too much) and
either use your finder to flick the paint over the leaf or rub the toothbrush over the flywire.
Now very carefully move the leaf into a new position, use a different colour and spatter
© Atkin 2008
7. ACTIVITIES SMORGASBOARD
For most activities, remember wet on wet!
If you have done finger‐painting as a warm up, you can print from it.
(Keep a spray bottle of water nearby to keep the painting wet)
Just place a sheet of paper over the top and go over with a roller; peel off the top
sheet and you have 2 pieces for the price of 1!
Smooth out the paint and using a stick or anything, draw a pattern in the wet paint
and print from that. Or on top of the wet paint add an arrangement of leaves and
print. There is no such thing as failure in art – there is only “next time I’ll try this
Coil string that has been dipped in paint onto a sheet of paper. Another piece on top;
use the roller and pull off top sheet – you never really know what you’ll get!
When printing from a finger painting, try rolling with different pressure – sometimes
very soft or sometimes hard‐ you will get different results.
Draw on wet paper (paper must be cartridge at least for strength) with brightly
Draw on wet paper using thick water based felt pens. When it’s dry you can draw
some more either using felt pens or anything else! It’s called mixed media and it is
Draw using a white crayon on white paper then paint over with diluted paint.
Printing is a great way to have wonderful surprises‐ lift the paper off and underneath
will always be something unexpected. Just because you have stuck down different
textures onto cardboard and the spread paint over it doesn’t mean that it will work
out the way you expect ‐ it could be better!
Remember – keep spray bottles on hand because working on wet paper gives
wonderful results but more importantly, it makes using certain media easier to use.
Pigmented inks dripped onto wet paper using eye droppers can give the most
beautiful colors and patterns. It is a great way to help someone overcome a hand
freezing – just follow the drips!
Printing activities are wonderful because of the surprise element; have a collection
of materials with textures on hand eg, corrugated cardboard, onion bags, hessian,
bits and pieces of differently shaped anything! Arrange them and glue onto a piece
of thick cardboard or ply, let dry, add paint, paper on top, roll over carefully and peel
I find that the rest of the group watches to see what is produced and it is a very
happy sharing time too.
Have a blow dryer on hand to dry a drip painting as done above, and then you can
use a different media on top. Eg. Outlining with felt pens as you see shapes within
Drawing on wet paper with soft pastels
Marbling – gives beautiful swirls of color instantly
Fluro paint on black paper
Water‐based oil paints‐ no need to use turpentine
© Atkin 2008