Painting Studio with Niamh McConaghy

Painting and Mark Making 

Painting is about the intertwining of body, vision and movement. Art-making in terms of therapeutic benefits are proven to contribute to a more satisfying way of life. Research has demonstrated that they can increase emotional well-being and self-worth. A form of self-expression, a person can create a more affirmed sense of self, separate from a health condition. Painting is a sensory experience. Not only can the finished creation produce the above benefits, but the process of creating and making can generate therapeutic benefits. Used commonly as a distraction focused activity for people who experience chronic conditions, a variation of techniques can deliver a range of benefits.

Starting a painting on a blank page or canvas can be a daunting task. That first mark requires confidence, which is not usually in abundance if the person has had limited experience with paint. For many people, the last time they may have painted could have been school so it may require a few painting exercises to loosen or warm up before they begin. Even for professional artists, like athletes, a few warm up exercises can be very worth while. It can be helpful to begin ‘warming up’ through sketching with paint, an object that is familiar to a person. Beginning with some still life painting sketches helps the hand to begin to engage with the paint and break down the initial pressure of trying to make something ‘look good’.


Different paints have different properties. While watercolour paints can be very unforgiving for mistakes and changes, oil paint has enough ‘body’ in it to be easily manipulated. Acrylic paint has less body, but can be more convenient to use instead of oil as it is a water based paint. Mediums can be added to paint to enhance or change its qualities. Beeswax is a great addition to oil paint for a very textured quality, or the addition of extra linseed oil can produce a smooth and glossy appeal. Adding dry materials like card can work very well with acrylic paint in particular, whereas adding it to wet oil paint can leave a greasier mark on the paper because of the oil in the paint.


Repetitive techniques can focus a person away from a health condition, if only for a short period of time. This is an example of quick repetitive sequences using watercolour paint. Repetitive techniques have become very popular through adult colouring books, which is in line with Mindfulness approaches.

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Painting Repetition with Watercolour


Expressive painting can be produced through a combination of colour choice and brush stroke application. In terms of communicating through art, subjectivity can play a large part of what a person may regard as an unhappy line vs an excited line. But by using the body to create large physical movements with the paint, the body and paint are externalised as one being.

Expression.pngCy Twombly, Untitled (1952)

Adding/Taking Away

Charcoal can be used to add definition at any stage of a painting process. It crumbles if pressure is applied and so consideration of force and touch of the hand is necessary. Similar to pencil it can add texture through wet paint, like Twombly’s painting above. It smudges easily, so again can be manipulated by the force of a finger. Sponges, the end of a brush or a finger nail can also be used to take away from wet paint and can produce a very expressive, physical sense of movement coming from the body and into the work. Cutting into a painting either with scissors or a scalpel knife can add to the process of the work, in a therapeutic sense. The action of destroying an artwork once finished can issue relief to the artist for many reasons.


Using a dry brush over wet paint can a blurred effect (Lamnaouer, 2019). But a dry brush onto a dry surface shows the friction of the paint, often broken lines from the drag of the brush are produced. A similar effect can be created using oil pastel or chalk (Pilkington, 2019).

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Jon Pilkington (2019) Hannah Lamnaouer (2019)

Wet on Wet

Applying wet paint to wet paint can be difficult and frustrating to avoid muddy colours, but can create a very cohesive and abstract finish.

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Carolina Nunez (2019)

Short Movements

Changing the way you hold a brush can show the movement of the mind and body. This can be both a timid or an expressive technique. The painting below shows very deliberate and decisive marks, that does not create the most realistic form but the marks together are to be read as one. These marks are bold and applied thickly with paint, but also can be used softly and transparently with more water added to the acrylic paint.

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Guy Yanai (2017)

Collage and Paint

For acrylic paint, adding pre-selected images to dried paint can create a more definitively structured painting. This can be a more accessible way for people who might not be confident in paint, but who want to add objects or figures to the work.

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Golsa Golchini (2018)

Painting on Top of a Surface

Using a surface that already has marks or a pattern on it can help to reduce the pressure of painting. It can also add to the chaos of an artwork and become an important component of the overall work.


Kenneth Alme

Flicking/ Stiff Brush Effect

Flicking paint onto a a surface from the brush can create effective movement in the work. So too can painting with a nail brush or a short bristled brush. A type of stabbing motion is needed with this application.

Narrative and Communication

While these techniques can produce many therapeutic benefits, the narrative is somewhat missing until the artist explains it. Subjectivity within art can be both a positive and a negative factor. It is extremely difficult to deduct the meaning behind an artwork without its title or without the artists explanation. Take Andrew Irving’s example of Van Gogh’s painting of Wheatfield with Crows. This painting has been praised throughout history because of its colour use and brushstroke technique. But it is said to be one of the last paintings he completed before his untimely death. The painting now has a different context, one that we cannot help but read in relation to Van Gogh’s psychological difficulties in life. Subjectivity in painting swirls around the idea of the Other, which comes to life as the viewer applies imagination to their interpretation. Without the artists narrative of explanation, understanding can easily be misinterpreted.

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Van Gogh (1890)

Helpful reading:

Andrew Irving; The Color of Pain. Public Culture 1 May 2009; 21 (2): 293–319.

Painting their Way Out: Profiles of Adolescent Art Practices at the Harlem Hospital Horizon Art Studio by Alice Wexler

Meeting on Common Ground: Assessing Parent-Child Relationships through the Joint Painting Procedure by Tami Gavron

Before and After: A mother and infant painting group by Carl Arroyo and Neil Fowler


Photos Above: Year 2’s Painting Studio