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Art Therapy: Getting to Know the Painting Materials

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

Art Therapy: Getting to Know the Painting Materials

It is common in an art therapy session to encounter the painting process and to engage with a variety of different paint media. Painting is inclusive of a variety of materials and a variety of processes- ways of engaging with the paint material and its surface. Painting involves movement and flow with actions such as dipping, dabbing, smoothing, stippling, splattering, layering, mixing, pouring, dripping and glazing. The material quality of paint can vary, some thicker and more viscous and some more fluid than others. Paint is often deemed less structured of a material compared to that of drawing materials, such as graphite pencils and markers.

One might be attracted to the painting process as a way to target one’s affective or emotional experience. Expressive painting involves one’s ability to let go of inhibitions and perfectionistic tendencies and allow for spontaneous and free-flowing movement of the paint on the surface. This orientation to the experience serves to dismantle debilitating expectations one might have regarding how the painting should look and accepting that the painting will become what it needs to in its own uniqueness. Attention can be placed on color and shapes and one’s internal reactions to the markings that emerge on the surface. The focus is not on judging or critiquing, but rather allowing the images that want to surface, to surface- allowing them to be seen, witnessed, observed and altered.

So, what painting materials might one encounter in an art therapy session? It is not unusual to be introduced to watercolors, acrylics, tempera paints, paint mediums, paintbrushes, canvases and/or mixed media paper. There are a different variety of paints that each uphold different properties. Differences and similarities among the different types of paint might vary in terms of drying time, texture, opacity/transparency, ability to be layered upon, color vibrancy and intensity, and thickness. Many of the paints listed above can be altered and manipulated to create a variety of desired effects and these techniques will be further explored in a future blog post.

It is important to consider the effect that you are wanting to create when developing your vision for a painting in a therapy session. Some paints require drying time prior to adding additional layers and others can be revived with the addition of water to continue in a future session. Some paints will dry with a greater transparency than when they were applied and others will maintain a level of color saturation or intensity. Some paints will blend with little effort and others may require additional energy to blend colors and forms together.

If you are interested in experimenting with paints in an art therapy session or would like to play with a variety of materials in a mixed media creation, you can discuss your thoughts with a registered art therapist on staff at the Holistic Health Counseling Center by following the link below to schedule an appointment:


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