Denman Masthead

Painting With Parkinsons

Wendy Johnson

At the end of 1994, a very special group gathered among the beautiful and quiet surrounds of the Australian National Botanic Gardens to do what we all ultimately want in life—make our mark.

Painting with Parkinsons Canberra is an innovative art program for people with this progressive neurological condition.

Today the program is recognised around the world for its wonderful benefits and the 12 members of the Canberra group produce inspiring work that appears in exhibitions. That includes seven pieces in the new IGNITE exhibition space recently opened at the National Disability Insurance Agency Trial Site.

The paintings have also made their mark elsewhere, including as the logo for local community dance group GOLD (Growing Old Disgracefully), and even in North America where a painting by a member was featured in a calendar for the United States Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

Cards featuring paintings by the group have just been stocked by Agency after Halie Rubenis, Business Development and Retail Manager, discovered Painting with Parkinsons through founder and artist Nancy Tingey, who has been an Accredited Professional Member of Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre since 1996.

Nancy’s husband Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 46. Nancy was driven to combine her role as a community artist and art curator with her desire to care for her husband Bob, and so she founded Painting with Parkinsons Canberra.

Artwork from Painting with Parkinsons by Marilyn Nelson

Artwork from Painting with Parkinsons by Marilyn Nelson

Buy why painting given that Parkinson’s is a ‘movement disorder’?

“Painting works because it’s a magical unravelling of a series of steps,” says Nancy. “You create a mark on the paper. Then you create another mark. And another. It’s almost a linear process and people with Parkinson’s can cope with that quite easily. What they can’t cope with is a whole lot of stimuli presented at once.”

Many members discover inner talents and abilities through painting. Painting also helps members lose themselves in their work and takes their minds off the illness.

Ann Nugent, who was diagnosed some years ago, says painting alleviates her symptoms and encourages her to experiment with her art.

Katrina Muir first attended the Canberra group to observe, but soon found her work being used as the logo to promote GOLD at the Canberra Dance Theatre. Painting with Parkinsons is a place where I can just be myself,” says Katrina. “I don’t have to explain my symptoms to anyone and feel treasured for the person I am.”

Bob Tingey joined the group when it was first founded and it is his painting, ‘Light’, that was featured in the calendar in the United States. Bob’s hand moves involuntarily, except for when he paints. “Although he had never painted before, he took to it like he did any other activity in his life—with great enthusiasm and energy,” says Nancy.

IGNITE 7 is an initiative of Belconnen Arts Centre and the NDIS Trail Site (212 Northbourne Avenue) is a place for artists with disabilities to showcase their work. Belconnen Arts Centre manages an exhibition program that changes quarterly in a gallery space set up by the NDIS in the foyer.

Painting with Parkinsons cards are available at Agency and also at Handmade Shop.

Feature image by Ian Healy via

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author

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