Easy art projects to do with your care partner when you’re both going nuts

Brush point in watercolor paint closeup

If you’re a caregiver taking care of someone at home, you probably feel like pulling your hair out. It’s tough, especially if you or your care partner, or both of you are experiencing anxiety or stress.

Here are a few things you can do by yourself and with your care partner.

“Art Exercises for Caregivers” by Meg Carlson, chapter 11 in my book Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

  1. Making an Inside/Outside Box


  • Boxes-shoe box, tea box, metal tin, etc.
  • Mixed media-crayons, paint, markers, glue, feathers, felt, rocks,

Decorating a box allows the artist to reflect his/her persona or face that is shown to the outside world on the outside of the box. Decorating the inside of the box is an opportunity to express the internal feelings and conflicts that are private or feel too big to find words to express. Use whatever materials that are available to decorate the outside of the box, and then the inside of the box to express these feelings.

Outside Box: How do you experience being around others with your loved one? What do you share with the outside world about your process/how do you share?

Inside Box: What is really going on inside of you each day? What isn’t shared with others that have an impact on you?

What has this process, or your imagery expressed to you? What kinds of responses are you having?

  1. Daily or Weekly Mandalas

A mandala is a circular image. It begins with a circle drawn on a page. It can be any size and any media can be used.


  • Paper: Bristol, Watercolor, or mixed media (6×6 is a great size)
  • It is small enough to be done in a brief sitting, and large enough to have room for several images or areas of focus.

Pencils, markers, watercolor, colored pencil, pastels, or crayons are all great.

A version of mandala exists in many spiritual traditions (rose windows in Cathedrals, Navajo and Tibetan sand paintings, Buddhist imagery, etc.) Mandalas can be used to support focusing attention, as a self check-in tool, to express emotions in a contained space (circle), for establishing a sacred space, and to aid in mindfulness and mediation. Carl Jung, through his own art process, came to realize that mandala paintings enabled him to identify dysfunctional emotional patterns and work towards integration and wholeness. 

  1. Color-Texture-Pattern Feelings Portrait

         This process is about awareness of how much is going on in each of us at any given moment. It is an opportunity to just GET IT OUT through color, movement, and expression. The imagery is usually abstract. It is the process of expressing that is beneficial here, not the finished product. Feelings are difficult to have, and when they are expressed visually they can be difficult to look at. But that is okay. If you use this process, when you are finished, take a moment to witness it like a loving friend. Then just set it aside. If your image invites a redo or edit, you can come back to it and work with it, even tear it up and re-create it. If not, let it go. The materials will support you to express emotions and that is their purpose sometimes …. to help you create something that is not necessarily pretty, but honest. That is their gift to you.


  • Small to medium paper, mixed media paper is sturdy. Taped to surface is best. When you prep ask yourself, What size is my expression today? That will tell you what paper size to use.
  • Pencils, markers, watercolor, colored pencil, pastels, or crayons are all great.
  • This can be done between 5 and 25 minutes. It is simply the process of choosing colors and making textures and patterns that express the layers of feeling present. Let the speed and movement be an extension of your expression. It will be unique every time.
  1. Two Inch Window Drawing

The goal is to work with detail and discernment to create a bird’s eye view. Another way to use this tool is one of magnification, to zoom in to one aspect of something larger; examples could be to feel a single sensation, filling a small (contained) space with just what is magnified. Used as a daily or coping practice it may serve to redirect concentration or focus energy and attention, provide containment while titrating an intense sensation. They take between 1-10 minutes to complete. Think Macro and Micro… what would be most helpful, to step back or lean in?


    • Paper: Bristol, watercolor, or mixed media (2×2 or 4×4)
    • Card stock scraps come in several colors, and can usually be found at craft stores.
    • This drawing is small enough to be done in a brief sitting, and can even be a single set of colors.
  1. Process: Journey Drawing


  • Paper: Bristol, watercolor, or mixed media (6×6 or larger)
  • Collage materials, or a material you enjoy (fabric, craft papers, natural materials, etc.)
  • Chalk/oil pastels, pencil, watercolor

Where are you in this journey? Emotionally … physically . . .personally . . . socially? Is there stuckness . . . is there movement? What colors, shapes, textures represent where you are right now? What colors feel supportive of your journey or give you strength? What emotions are present for you about your current life, about being a caregiver? Can you think of any supportive guides/helpers that you have met along the way? How has your identity or personality been challenged or changed in this process? Who in your life is accepting these changes, who in your life are having difficulty accepting the changes?

What has this process, or your imagery expressed to you? If you had a chance to respond to it, what kinds of responses are you having? Are you in a different place in your journey than you assumed/thought/hoped? What are the qualities of where you feel you are in your journey as a caregiver? As you have moved through different stages, what has each stage offered you?

Lastly, choose a color that feels strengthening, a color that will help you move into the next stage of your journey. Now create a final piece of you drawing that will offer you strength and power when you look at it.  Be one of the helpers for yourself in this moment of your journey.

6. Process: Breath Drawing


  • Oil pastels or chalk pastels
  • Large paper
  • Your breath
    With one color in each hand, draw your breath. Notice the qualities of your in breath (short, stunted, deep, long, interrupted, fast, shallow) and allow your hands and the colors to express it. Same with the exhale. What are the qualities present in your out breath? Move each hand/arm in a circular motion with the expression, notice how the lines change over time. Notice similarities and any shifts. Follow your own breath with soft awareness.

What has this process, or your imagery expressed to you? What kinds of responses are you having?


Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Need something to help your loved one find a purpose? How one caregiver discovered that art therapy can be rewarding and stress reducing for herself and her mom.

I’d like to introduce guest blogger Heather O’Neil of Yorkshire, United Kingdom. She graduated in 1984 with a degree in Art & Textile design and writes a blog on how art therapy can help those living with Alzheimers.  Creative Carer

Read how she has used her skills to engage her dear mother in productive and satisfying art projects. Heather and her mum are amazing!

Find more information about art therapy, including simple art projects that both caregivers and loved ones with dementia can enjoy, in chapter 19 of my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.” Available wherever fine books are sold. BarbraCohn__


By Heather O’Neil

My mum was diagnosed with mixed dementia – Alzheimer’s & Vascular Dementia – in 2012 when she was 82. Since then I have constantly researched how best to cope with the disease and have looked for different ways to stimulate her memory and keep her active, happy and engaged despite her Dementia.

Studies show that Art Therapy stimulates the brain, reduces agitation and creates a sense of accomplishment and purpose. This has been the perfect therapy for my mum as she has always been a very creative person.

She passed on her love of arts & crafts to me and I graduated in 1984 with a degree in Art & Textile design. I have been able to introduce my inherited creativity into my caring and I was called the ‘Creative Carer’ by mum’s memory clinic!

I started our Creative Carer Face Book page a couple of years ago to share our activities & ideas. We now have followers from all over the world and have made some wonderful friends.


I spend time every morning with my mum and make sure she always engages in some form of artistic activity … from colouring to card making … shell craft to painting stones!



My mum’s favourite hobby is making beautiful crepe paper flowers. This is a craft she enjoyed when she was much younger … I remember wonderful displays in our home when I was growing up so it has been lovely for her to be able to enjoy her flower making once again!

Due to the Alzheimer’s my mum has lost a lot of confidence and she can no longer design and cut out shapes freehand. However, if I supply a cardboard template she is happy to follow the pattern and will sit for hours cutting out pretty petals and leaves. She particularly enjoys covering wooden kebab skewers with long strips of green crepe paper to create the stems! Making the stems is an activity she can do all on her own and she can cover a pack of 100 skewers in an afternoon 😊

Together we glue the stamens and petals to the stems and once she’s done two or three with me, she’s usually able to carry on by herself! Beautiful crepe paper flowers fill the house and are a constant reminder to her that she is wonderfully creative!


I had the idea to introduce a “Job Box” a few months ago with amazing success! My mum loves to be busy during the day but without me there to encourage and suggest activities she struggled to start any projects. The “Job Box” gives her a reminder of what she can do in the afternoon when I’m not with her. Every day I will leave her a “job” … cutting out petals for example … when I return the next morning the box will be full of her work and she’s always so proud to show me what she’s accomplished.




Mum’s flowers have been greatly admired on our Face Book page and my blog and we have been asked many times if she sells them. With so much stock around thanks to the “Job Box”, I decided to fulfil her ambition of having her own little business!! On the 29th of August 2017 I opened an Etsy shop for her! We pledge to give 25% to the Alzheimer’s Society and already have made over £110 for them!! Mum’s flowers have been shipped all round the world … from the UK to America, Canada and Australia!!! Absolute proof that you are never too old to fulfil your dreams and with a little support and creative encouragement there really can be a future after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

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