My Mom Helen

Helen Name

Raising a daughter with Down syndrome has taught me many things. One of them is the power of art to inspire, engage and entertain. Rita loves creating art. And we’ve developed techniques that enable her to do that. While simple to implement, they involve working closely with her. I would like to share a few of these techniques with you. Let’s begin with a video of how to paint a birthday cake:

See a Collection of Rita's Artistic Cakes

The next video showcases us working together as Rita paints flowers.

A Collection of Rita's Flowers and Nature

This upcoming video shows you how Rita paints an owl. After you watch it, check the Learning Techniques below to see what we did to create the work.

A Collection of Rita's Owls

Learning Techniques

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions and Answers.

What supplies did Rita need to get started with watercolors?
We started with a watercolor pan set that came with a small brush. It was student grade paint and was relatively inexpensive. We found that cakes of watercolor are easier to use for someone who has no experience as compared to liquid paint in tubes.

I also purchased some less expensive watercolor paper online. Watercolor paper is heavier than printer paper and won’t disintegrate when wet. You could use cardstock if you wish just to try out the paint to see if your family member or client likes painting with watercolors.

If you find that watercolor is something that you wish to pursue you can slowly investigate different qualities of paper and paint. The best paper is made from 100 % cotton but is generally more expensive than wood pulp paper. There are also better kinds of paint and brushes to try but the cost rises as higher quality supplies are used. If all you want to do is have some fun painting, you can continue with student grade paints and paper.

Why do watercolors work for Rita?

Watercolors behave in mysterious and unpredictable ways. Rita likes to combine different colors within a page and with watercolors the intersection of these different colors lead to very interesting shading and gradation of colors, which gives her paintings a very unusual blending effect.

How did you learn to be Rita's art facilitator if you are not an artist yourself?

There was a significant learning curve, and I am still learning. I suggest, to begin with, enroll in an art class with the person you are supporting, geared to people with intellectual disabilities and observe how the instructor teaches. When I started sitting in on art classes, I learned how to break down an art project into small steps that gradually led to a finished project.

By working very closely with Rita, I learned that some of her challenges are language-related; e.g., she misunderstands the instructions given — so my role is to ensure that she understands the meaning of any instructions.

Some are perceptual issues. Rita may not fully understand shapes, perspectives, sizes. I must develop ways to address these topics with her within a project. Websites designed to teach drawing to children can be beneficial in deciding on an approach.

Fine motor skills are also a challenge. Again, workarounds are needed; e.g., if Rita draws a shape, I can cut it out for her, or we can use templates of various kinds to create shapes on a page.

Also, I had to educate myself on the art materials and the technicalities of using them. Reading articles, watching instructional videos, and talking with the art teachers are ways to become more knowledgeable about materials. Once that information is in place, I can better obtain the right materials and teach Rita to use the materials properly.

This process takes time, but it can be done bit by bit. Each person is different, but by working closely with the person, one can begin to address their support needs.

Do you have any questions for me?

My Art, My Shop