Colour is the soul of nature and the entire cosmos and we participate in this soul by experiencing what is coloured.
(Rudolf Steiner)

Colour appears in the interplay between darkness and light. Colour changes, depending on the light; it is a sphere of transition. Our world is colourful, colour surrounds us everywhere. Colour gives orientation in nature as well as meaning and beauty to human beings. It is both objective and subjective. We respond to its stimuli; colour moves us instantly and gives expression to our moods and feelings. Through colour we can be touched in the depths of our soul. Using colour therapeutically opens a multitude of possibilities to connect to our feelings and emotions.

By observing and painting atmospheres in nature, such as a sunrise or sunset, clouds or a rainbow we gain a deeper understanding of colour, both within nature and ourselves. In doing so we not only concern ourselves with colour but also with light and darkness. Working with outer colours connects us with our inner colours, inner soul landscapes. Through experiencing light, darkness and colour we experience creation, qualities and forces that are essential to our being.

“Soul mood”, dry pastel


The fluidity of painting allows us to experience processes of change particularly well. In the flowing of the colours, mixing and blending, we can trace the most varied nuances and contrasts. Different types of paints allow us to work with varying aspects of colour. Paints can also be used together with a mixture of other materials such as glue, beeswax, pastes or sand to experience different textures as well as movement, creating a transition to dyeing and printing. The process of making paints is often included in the therapy process, such as egg tempera, inks or pigments derived from plants and minerals.

A hundred years ago, Rudolf Steiner pointed out the importance and benefit of plant colours. Today, plant-based paints also promote a resource-saving use of art materials and help provide sustainable art therapy. This concerns not only the pigments but also the binders. Plants open up many new possibilities in the therapeutic context. They stimulate the senses, kindle curiosity and wonder, and bring about playfulness and joy. Plants can be used directly in the painting process, for example when painting with petals or the sap of the stem. The colours derived from plants retain some of their vitality, which becomes noticeable in the painting process through the quality of an inner luminosity and depth. Additionally, unlike synthetic colours, plant colours contain many nuances of colour of the complementary range. These different colours hidden in the plant interact with the light; bringing them alive and contributing to their harmonising effect.

6-year-old girl
“Blue has a birthday party with all friends invited”,
working with plant pigment-based watercolour,
made with mortar and pestle

6-year-old girl, “Blue has a birthday party with all friends invited”, working with plant pigment-based watercolour, made with mortar and pestle

6-year-old girl
“New life”,
painting with plant pigment-based watercolour,
made with mortar and pestle, both images courtesy
of Susie Gay, New Zealand, Waldorf teacher
anthroposophic art therapist, counsellor (Carl Rogers)

6-year-old girl, “New life”, painting with plant pigment-based watercolour, made with mortar and pestle, both images courtesy of Susie Gay, New Zealand, Waldorf teacher, anthroposophic art therapist, counsellor (Carl Rogers)

Watercolours are particularly suitable because they are translucent. This property renders watercolour more than other paints a carrier and expression of creative life forces that can be experienced in the vivid colours of nature. Watercolours are water-dilutable and can be mixed with each other to create a wide range of different hues and colour intensities. Furthermore, there is a rich selection of sustainable, ready-to use plant and mineral pigment-based paints available. Here we show two of the most common techniques used with water colour.

Alanus University in Bonn/Alfter, Germany have integrated the use and research of plant colours in their curriculum, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and offer free access to their open research publication Plant colour and Natural Material in Art Therapy and Social Art. In their dye garden “sevengardens” they grow plants specifically for this purpose. Images: (left)Paints made from plants/flowers, with pestle and mortar and the additions of water. Salts or lemon juice change the PH level and thus the colour. (right) painting with flower petals only, exploring different yellows

Wet-in-wet painting

The paper is soaked in water prior to painting. Depending on the level of dampness the surface allows the paints to flow and blend very easily. This process stimulates spontaneity and imagination, creating surprising and unexpected shapes to unfold. It is a very quick and flexible technique, ideal for children and adults alike to warm up to painting in a playful way.

Wet-in-wet colour meditation with plant-based watercolours,
video courtesy of Ali Rabjohns, Transpersonal Arts Counsellor

Veil or layered painting

Here we work on a dry surface, on watercolour paper that has been previously stretched on a board. The paint is very diluted and has a gentle effect. Layers are gradually built up over time, lower layers shine through to the surface, thus creating different shades of colour. The work here is slow and reflective. It is a rather quiet and contemplative process.

Veil paintings courtesy of Ali Rabjohns,
transpersonal arts counsellor

Video by Gill David Training director/Head of Tobias school of Art and Therapy,
MEd Arts in Therapy and Education; Dip. Art Therapy; Dip. PG Painting Therapy;
PG Creative Supervision; RATh, Approved Supervisor PTUK, HCPC