Dream Homes & Places to Retreat

A quick, meaningful art project that anyone can do with an older person one-on-one or with a group

by Allison Decamillis

This is a quick, meaningful art project that anyone can do with an older person one-on-one or as a group. It is an excellent way for families to connect with older loved ones, and it is fun for all ages and skill levels. Make the most of the creative experience by concluding with a lively group discussion.

Project Description:

The concept of home is familiar to us all. We strongly identify with the places we grew up or resided for most of our lives. Throughout this project, you can explore thoughts and feelings about “home” with an older adult through a simple, expressive mixed media collage.

One person should serve as the facilitator and read the instructions aloud to the other participants. Allow the older adult(s) to follow the steps independently as much as possible, and offer assistance when necessary.


  • Clean table to use as work surface and sturdy chairs to sit in
  • Canvas, canvas board, mat board, or cardboard
  • Non-toxic acrylic paints in a variety of colors
  • Paintbrushes
  • Plastic buckets/cups for water
  • Aprons or over-sized t-shirts that can get messy
  • Home decor and lifestyle magazines (e.g. Better Homes & Gardens)
  • Mod Podge© (a brand of water-based sealer, glue & finish) or glue stick
  • Chalkboard, dry-erase board, or large piece of paper


  1. Begin by laying out magazine clippings of homes on the tables and having each person select one that resembles their childhood home or represents the home of their dreams. Lay the selected image on the table near the canvas or cardboard.
  2. Each participant should draw a horizontal line anywhere on the page to indicate where the sky and ground will meet. Then instruct participant(s) to paint a background landscape, completely filling in all the blank space above and below the horizon line for the sky and ground. NOTE: It is sometimes best to pour a small amount of paint directly on the canvas or cardboard and have the participant(s) spread it around with the paintbrush. This often creates lovely blending that gives the landscape an abstract look.
  3. Once the paint is dry have participant(s) decide where they would like to place their “home” (clipping of a house). Suggest moving it around the canvas until they find a place that “feels right” to them.
  4. Assist participant(s) in pasting the image to the painting surface using Mod Podge© (a brand of water-based sealer, glue & finish). The adhesive can be applied over the surface of the image as well as on the back to completely seal all edges of the paper for a collage effect.
  5. Finally, participant(s) can create a more detailed scene by painting, drawing, or collaging images of trees, flowers, paths, water, animals, and gardens around the house. As they are working, engage them in dialogue about things that bring them peace or make them feel calm. Encourage them to add these types of elements to the painting and to use their imagination

Discussion Tips:

  1. Begin a brainstorming session by asking, “What are some of your favorite memories of homes you have lived in? If you could have live anywhere (whether in the present or when you were younger) where would you live? If you could, would you live in the city or in the country? What kinds of things would you surround yourself with to make a peaceful place? Would there be water, flowers, trees, gardens, playgrounds, sidewalks, …?”
  2. Quickly write down all of their answers on a large piece of paper, chalkboard, or dry-erase board—make it large enough so all participants can see and read it.
  3. When the everyone has completed their artwork have each “artist” present it to the group by holding it up or hanging it for display. Have each person title their own piece and describe how it makes them feel (e.g. joyful, happy, thankful, calm, peaceful, excited…). Then encourage the others in the group to provide positive feedback to the person by describing how the piece makes them feel as well.

Courtesy of VSA Alabama.

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