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Tips for Art Making with Tactile Aversion

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

Art is for everyone, although we can all encounter barriers or aversions to certain types of art and materials. One of these common barriers is tactile defensiveness. Tactile Defensiveness is an aversion to touch which can express itself in many ways such as refusal to wear certain types or textures of clothing, dislike of light touch, avoidance of activities that are considered messy. Stephanie Bandera, a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant and Art Instructor, shares tips for overcoming tactile defensiveness with art making as well as a few easy art projects to try at home.

Tips for Art Making with Tactile Defensiveness:

You can try encouraging engagement in art and other creative activities with these easy affordable modifications:

1. Offer “tools” when using “messy” materials like glue, paint, clay, paper mache, etc. These tools can be easy to find materials around the house like paintbrushes, q-tips, disposable utensils, colored pencils, and chopsticks. By not having direct contact with the messy materials participation in art activities can increase.

2. Try using household objects in creative ways. Materials such as baking trays, straws, sponges, marbles, and spice shakers are alternative ways to manipulate materials and different handles that may be easier to hold. Change up your painting tools for a different experience that will encourage increased participation.

3. Allow time for breaks to avoid overstimulation. Have a preferred calming activity ready to go during break times. These break activities could include preferred music, a dance routine, soothing stretches, a walk outside or around the room, or any other preferred activity.

4. Most importantly remember the process of exploring new materials and textures is more important than the final product!

Here are some art projects to try:


Look around the house and see what you could use as a stamp to create an original print. You can cut an apple, bell pepper, onion, or potato in half to stamp a unique shape or even cut kitchen sponges into shapes. Press the homemade stamps into paint and then onto paper or canvas.

Paint in a Bag:

Someone with significant tactile defensiveness may more readily engage with this painting activity because the mess is contained inside a Ziploc bag. Place a blank piece of paper inside the Ziploc bag, add a few drops of paint, and zip the bag closed. By pushing on the outside of the bag, you can move the paint around and explore mixing colors to create a kaleidoscope of colors. Carefully take the paper out of the bag and let it dry.

Marble Run Painting:

Put a sheet of blank paper in the lid of a box or a baking tray, add paint and a marble or two. Carefully tilt the box/tray to move the marble through the paint and watch a masterpiece emerge.

Q-Tip Details:

Use a Q-tip to apply paint in dots, lines, waves, and shapes as an alternative to using a paintbrush. Depending on the level of creativity and/or drawing skills, a background picture could be used to add details with the Q-tip to paint familiar objects, landscapes, or people.