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For this week’s Rest Home art project, I tried Jen Goode’s Coloring Page Sun Catcher.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting projects that are doable in 1 hour for people with various age-related challenges, and this one seemed perfect: Residents get to make choices, it’s small enough that it’s not too exhausting, and there’s a fun surprise at the end.

To begin with, I downloaded some relatively simple mandala coloring images from a few “not for commercial use” sites and sized them to fit wide-mouthed canning jar lids (3.25″). I got the lids in the canning section of the grocery store, and they cost ~$6 for 12 lids.

Ahead of time I printed out the coloring art images on regular printer paper, and cut them into individual squares to offer choices for participants to select from. (Here’s a PDF) canning ring art

Materials I brought:

  • Coloring art print-outs
  • Colored pencils
  • A few small pencil sharpeners
  • Canning rings (3.25″ wide mouth size)
  • Salad oil in a baby food jar (I put a drop of lemon oil in to make it smell nice)
  • Portion cups or small jar lids – for oil dipping
  • Cotton balls for spreading oil (facial tissue would also work)
  • Small paper plates
  • Sticky dots (tape or glue would work)
  • Scissors
  • Baker’s twine

First I showed everyone an example of the finished sun catcher. Then friend/volunteers (and the awesome Gallatin Rest Home activities staff) helped to pass out materials and assist residents as needed. I brought some cans and we gave each resident a selection of pencils in primary and secondary colors.

Each resident selected an image and got busy coloring. Some asked for a little help to finish, others completed the job on their own.

After coloring the pictures, the participants cut out their circles and set them face down on a paper plate. We passed out a small amount of oil and cotton balls, and they rubbed the oil onto the back of the paper, making it translucent.

We adhered the circles into jar lid rings with sticky dots (glue or tape would have worked) and tied on hanging strings.

This was a quick, easy-prep project. Participants enjoyed themselves and felt very successful! Thanks to Jen, volunteers Lynne and Emi, and Rest Home staff!


These are some gelatin block monoprints I’ve made using reference images. For the skull and the cat, I used background textures created with stencils.

I learned gelatin plate printing while developing art workshops for senior citizens with physical and cognitive challenges. It’s easy and fun, and there’s lots of info on the web. I used the resources of gelatin gurus Linda Germain and Sharon Giles.

While experimenting, I found that one of my favorite techniques involves hand-painting monoprints using a reference image. I made a tutorial video to help others try it:

In the video, I didn’t go into detail about building the hinge jig: Basically, I made a little foam core platform so that my paper was flush with the surface of my gel block. Then I taped an additional piece of foam-core on, to align with the top of my printing paper. This functioned as a “masking tape hinge holder.” (Depending on how big the paper is, you’d just line up the hinge-holder with its top, and tape it down.) You can also just use a masking tape hinge and skip all the foam core fuss—whatever works!

Of course you need a GEL PLATE RECIPE Gel Plate Recipe Steps (PDF)
(Again, thanks to Linda and Sharon for their resources. They really know this stuff.)

Below are steps for a rest-home art project using a simple image. I practiced with an image I found on the web (sorry I couldn’t locate its original source to credit). Click on the first image to arrow through.

UPDATE: Here are some pictures from the Gel Plate workshop I did at the Gallatin Rest Home in May, 2017. The residents loved this activity and were very successful.









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This week the Gallatin Rest Home celebrated Art Week (intended to “focus attention on how artists make the world a better place”) so we did a project involving a recognizable masterpiece. I had seen student art projects that cut a work of art into a grid, then have each student paint a piece. I thought this would work well for our group of seniors citizens, so we undertook Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.”

I cut an image of the original painting into a grid of 15 squares.
I sized each square at 4 inches and placed them on 8.5×11″ sheets for easy desktop printing. I also made a printable “coloring book” version of the 4-inch squares with black outline only, to give the painters a bit of a head start.

You can download the colored 4″ “puzzle pieces,” the 4″ “coloring book” squares and a printable example sheet PDFs here:

Since the rest home activity director wanted to do something more special than just painting on paper, I took the project a step further, and transferred outlines to 4″ mini canvas boards (purchased at the craft store). I coated the back of my 4″block print-outs with powdered graphite and traced on top with a pencil to transfer simple outlines to the 15 canvas boards. (Graphite is messy, so carbon paper is a good option, if you have it!)


  • 15 numbered Puzzle Piece example squares (from the PDF above)
  • 15 4″ mini canvas-board squares (or the 15 printed 4″ coloring book squares from the PDF above, printed on card stock or some other paintable surface)
  • Smallish acrylic brushes, water cups, smocks, paper towels
  • Acrylic paint: Phthalo blue, white and yellow. (I also provided black and violet to artists painting dark areas along the left side.)
  • One black canvas (20″x 12″ or larger) to mount the finished canvas squares on when done.  (A black poster board or foam core would be good alternatives)
  • Glue or heavy double-sided tape to mount squares


I printed out one copy of my painting puzzle squares, cut them out, numbered them 1-15, and temporarily attached them on my black canvas using double stick tape.

I also numbered my corresponding “coloring book” pieces on the back. (If you don’t think your painters need guidelines, you could just provide a colored example square and a blank canvas)

We showed the painters the entire painting-puzzle, completed, and asked each to select a piece to reproduce as an individual painting.

Next we gave each painter the black line “coloring book” square that corresponded with the example piece they selected.

Each painter received a paper plate palette with blue, yellow and white paints, and those who selected darker parts of the painting also got small dots of black and violet.

Volunteers and rest home staff passed out brushes, water, paper towels and smocks. We helped the painters get started by pointing out a place to begin, and continued encouraging them keep painting as needed. We also demonstrated how to mix colors, as needed.


Participation was good. Four-inch squares were enough to keep our senior painters busy for the whole hour. Some people had time to do more than one. It was fun to see how they all looked when reassembled and mounted to the black canvas.








When I saw this Kandinsky inspired color study project is popular among primary school teachers, I couldn’t wait to try it with senior citizens. I had no idea if they’d enjoy it, or think it was too abstract, but they loved it, and everyone had a great time. It was exactly the right level of challenge for a 1-hour workshop with a mixture of seniors with varying abilities and challenges.

I find that the seniors I’m working with are more inclined to participate and seem to be less beset with self-doubt if there is some type of structure, and this activity had a nice, clear concept that was easy for people to engage with. Once they get going, the work can evolve and be open-ended. There’s never a wrong choice!

I used:

  • Acrylic paint in 3 primary colors (magenta/red, blue, yellow)
  • 30 3×3″ mini canvas boards purchased at Michaels with a coupon
  • 1 18x 24″ black canvas (Also from Michaels. I think they were on sale, 2 for $8)
  • Double sided heavy duty carpet tape
  • (smocks, water cups, paper towels, paper plate palettes, medium-sized acrylic brushes)

I provided an example of one canvas already painted, so they could visualize the idea. (I was careful not to make it too perfect!)

I had each painter choose 2 primary colors. Then I asked them to 1. Paint a dot in the middle of the page with one color; 2. Add a circle around that dot in the second color; 3. Mix the two to make a third color; 4. Continue alternating until they had covered the whole canvas.

For some, painting one 3×3″ canvas was enough of a challenge to take the whole hour. Others churned out several, and had fun experimenting with color mixing.

The best part was that I was able to quickly mount their mini canvases on a big black canvas, so they could see that the imperfections and uniquenesses of their individual paintings added to the interest of the overall piece. (Hot glue would have worked to stick the canvases down, but I used some heavy duty carpet tape I happened to have handy.)



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I just started leading some art activities at a local senior care center. The class meets once a month, for one hour, so it presents some challenges: What can a group of seniors, who may never have painted before, complete in a single 1-hour class?

I set two initial goals:

  1. Get people to dip paint brushes in paint and put it on the canvas.
  2. Have them leave with a sense of accomplishment.

I thought for the first class it would be a good idea to give them something to start with, so there wouldn’t be anxiety about a blank canvas. Since tulips have been going wild this spring, I chose tulips as the subject. I prepped the canvases with a neutral background to ensure that the result look would look complete (this is a step the participants could have done themselves, but there wasn’t enough time for a multi-step process).

What I did for prep ahead of time:

  1. Buy cheap canvases and acrylic paints (red, yellow, blue, white) using half-price coupons at a craft store. (Cost of materials for 16 was about $50.)
  2. Download and print a good (not over-complicated) stock photo of tulips.
  3. Quickly sponge a neutral ground onto the canvases using a thin wash of acrylic paint and let it dry. (Blow dryers work great if you’re in a hurry.)
  4. Quickly carbon transfer the lines to the canvas, using a dull pencil or similar dull pointed implement. (I made carbon paper by rubbing powdered graphite on the back of a tulip print-out. You could use carbon paper.)
  5. Darken the lines on the canvas with a black sharpie.

With help from rest home activities staff, I gathered

  • portable table easels (They cost about $8 ea. on line)
  • smocks
  • water cups (We used urine sample cups! –Unused– ha ha)
  • paper towels
  • paper plates as palettes
  • 1/4″ size acrylic brushes.

(Acrylic brushes have stiffer bristles than watercolor brushes, making it easier to control acrylic paint, which is thicker than watercolor. It can be frustrating to paint with brushes that are too floppy, too ragged, too big, or too small for a particular project.)

You could do without easels, but I think they help to prevent people from dragging their arm across the wet painting.


Getting started:

We set up each painter with a canvas and easel. I offered blank canvas, or just a neutral ground as another option to start with, but everyone chose the ones with lines.

Helpers passed out brushes, towels and water cups. Each artist got a color copy of the tulip photo for reference.


I gave each painter a palette with a dot of red, yellow and white paints, explaining that I’d give them blue later. (If people requested to blue, we gave them blue, too! But I thought people would feel more successful in general if they began with colors that all mix together without making mud.)

  • I demonstrated on a palette how you can mix the color with your brush.
  • I explained as needed that dipping your brush in the water occasionally makes the paint flow better.

This was plenty of activity for one hour. Painters enjoyed the process of choosing, mixing and applying colors. Some needed encouragement that it was OK to go ahead and paint. (Yes, dip the brush in the paint, and then put it wherever you want! Yes, mix any colors that you like! No, you don’t have to stay inside the lines, but you can if you like!)

I did a lot of encouraging and remarking on color choices, “I see you mixed some white in the red to get that pink,” etc.

Since it wasn’t very opaque, the black lines showed through, which gave a nice effect.

After completing her painting, one woman said, “I’m proud of myself!” which absolutely melted my heart. A few others said, “I messed mine up” which is harder to respond to. My responses were things like, “You tried something new,” “You mixed some really nice subtle colors,” “Wow, look at that bold red!” “You took on quite an adventure!” etc.

Overall, as a first experience it went well. The lines may have resulted in some people feeling frustrated with their dexterity, but I think that some are always going to be a little timid, and it’s OK to just say, “You did it!” …as cause enough for celebration.

People seemed to enjoy their own works more once they saw how interesting the whole group was, with everyone’s individual choices and experiments. The activities staff hung them on wide ribbons in sets of three to display them.

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