Magic Happens: The Story of Painting with Parkinson’s

The book Magic Happens describes an extraordinary journey by Canberra artist Nancy Tingey over 20 years in which a recreational art class developed into a specialist program which enabled people with Parkinson’s to produce art works of startling originality and emotional intensity.

It also traces the story of Nancy’s husband, a scientist diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 46, who rated Painting with Parkinsons  a ‘Can do’ activity, replacing abilities lost as his Parkinson’s developed.  Although eventually unable to transfer without the help of two people and a machine he painted until he died aged 77.  Another member of the group maintained, ‘When I am sketching, I forget about my Parkinson’s and it forgets about me!’

Nancy began with the belief that anyone can paint given a sympathetic environment, good quality materials and encouragement.  From there she researched ways of using art as a therapy for Parkinson’s on a Churchill Fellowship – the steepest learning curve of her life – after which she incorporated meditation and rhythmic movement into the program. 

Using prompts and triggers, taking things one step at a time, minimising interruptions to the painting process and introducing a variety of stimuli to challenge participants – Painting with Parkinsons collaborates with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and local poets – the program focuses on restoring confidence and a sense of individual identity to people whose disability has marginalised them as contributing members of society.

Group members are often amazed at the variety of imagery that evolves with each class session. One mark leads to another, but no two marks are the same.  And as one of the strengths of people with Parkinson’s is their almost obsessive ability to stick at something once they get started they keep going until they have finished. 

It is wonderful to watch people who find everyday activities challenging paint with freedom and fluidity, totally engrossed in the process. They may no longer be able to sign their names, but they can express themselves in paint. 

Magic happens! 



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