Sensory painting

Forget about creating a masterpiece. Instead, close your eyes and feel the sludge between your fingers. This month, Enjoy the Algarve tries sensory painting in Almancil. 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017


An Algarvian sailing boat, a seascape in the style of Katsushika Hokusai, or maybe even a portrait of Gustave the Dog? Or perhaps I can copy a photo onto paper and just colour in the outlines so it won’t look too wonky? On the way to the sensory painting workshop I wonder about what I’ll create, not knowing yet that artist Adérita Silva (58) has some completely different ideas…

Her atelier in Almancil is full of paintings, dozens and dozens of them, all very colourful. Adérita, who was born in the Algarve, moved to France with her parents as a child. “In Paris, art is all around you, so I grew up with it. I’ve visited every possible art museum in the city. However, I didn’t paint when I was young; my parents didn’t really like it.” She only started taking up her brushes when she moved back to the south of Portugal, 25 years ago. “One day I suddenly felt like I would explode if I wouldn’t paint. It soon became my way of expressing myself.”



It’s also a way of sharing her creativity with others. “To me that’s almost like a mission. My creativity is unlimited and sharing art is very important. My paintings show who I am on the inside, they’re a part of me. Painting isn’t some sort of therapy, though; it’s something I just have to do. I paint every day, sometimes it’s like meditation.” In what way are emotions reflected in her paintings? “The most important one is alegria, happiness,” she answers. “It runs like a red line through my work.” There seems to be no saudade at all in the work of this Portuguese artist. “No, there isn’t,” she confirms. “Saudade is about regret and what’s happened in the past, whereas I think it’s more interesting to look at the present and the future.”

In this present, I’m told to close my eyes. Which seems a very strange thing to do when you’re about to start painting. It gets even weirder when Adérita says I have to keep them closed for the entire duration of the activity. We start with breathing exercises and relaxing the shoulders (mine seem to be permanently tensed). I hear her squirting some paint on the paper, but can’t see which colours she has chosen. As Adérita guides my hands to the table, I notice a faint smell of paint. Still with my eyes closed, I move along the paper until I reach a blob of what feels like syrup. Turns out sensory painting is all about the contact with the paint with your hands, which allows you to feel its intensity. “When using a brush, you don’t have this intense contact,” the artist explains.



It can’t possibly be more different to Paint By Numbers and I’m unsure of how to proceed. As I can’t see the colours or even the paint, I don’t know how to create nice shapes, let alone drawing something that vaguely looks like Gustave the Dog. I don’t even know where the edges of the table are. Warning: if you’re a person that’s easily stressed out (read: an absolute neurotic control freak like me), you will get confronted with this personality trait during this workshop. Adérita, who chooses that exact moment to tell me about how sensory painting can also help people with a burn out, encourages me to just feel and play.

Giving up on any proper drawing, I decide to follow her advice and actually have fun. Loads of it. Letting the paint slip through my fingers is like playing with mud as a child. I laugh out loud and probably look like an idiot, but it really is a funny sensation. Like making a mess with massage oil. Expecting to have smeared all the colours over the table into one big brown blur, I’m pleasantly surprised when I open my eyes. To be honest the result might even be better than if I’d tried to paint normally.



“The only limits are in your own head,” says Adérita, to whom painting comes naturally. She explains: “The moment I discovered I’m an artist in my essence, I decided to work without limits and now it goes very easy. I just experiment. Painting is in my DNA; when I accepted this, there was no need for any conflict or restrictions.” This goes for everything, from measurements (her paintings range from 20 by 20cm to 4m²) and material (she paints on canvas, but also on suitcases) to colours and techniques. Adérita shows me some of them, such as scratching away the upper layer of paint with either the backside of your nails or a special spatula. Variation in pressure reveals different colours.

On my second go, Adérita notices from my movements that I have more confidence: “Now it’s more of a discovery; you play and explore.” She’s right, I’ve lost the worry to strive for perfection (read: create something that looks half-decent). “It’s like that for many people,” the Portuguese artist reveals. “The reference to what’s considered pretty is in the eyes, so if you take the sight away, you don’t have that control anymore.” When removing the objective of creating something according to current beauty standards, the goal of perfecting a certain technique, or the pressure of doing something within a certain time frame, the pleasure of just doing remains.



And that certainly rings true here: I love the sensation of paint slipping through my fingers. (I wonder how it’d feel to roll around in it, like Gustave the Dog does in puddles of mud. I briefly contemplate giving this a try, but in the end decide against it – it’d probably cause the table to break and wreck my masterpiece). “It’s like when children are playing, they don’t have limits. It’s only as adults that we have limits, set by ourselves,” states Adérita. Photographer Kyle has a go as well. He doesn’t seem to have any limits, but just throws himself into the sensory painting with wide movements, using the entire table. “Your gestures are very open, you’ve got an open personality,” comments Adérita, who likes to observe the person while they’re painting.

“For me, painting is a way of communicating with others.” She explains: “When a client comes here to my atelier and chooses and buys a painting, it’s my way of sharing a piece of me.” This urge for communication and sharing logically led to street art, which is accessible for literally everyone. Creating art on the streets in the south of Portugal was a lifelong dream of Adérita. “In Lisbon, you already see a lot of street art; here, not so much. Some consider it vandalism. Art is difficult in the Algarve; it’s not so much part of our culture.” Still, that attitude is changing. Last year, Aderita was part of the MED Festival, leading the exhibition ‘A magia da mala’ in the streets of Loulé.



Also, she’s just finished painting the 70m long wall of Almancil’s football stadium together with graffiti artist SEN, Anje, Treesher and Joëlle. The colourful mural features graffiti, but also almond blossom, a chameleon, heron, sea horse, azulejos and a dolphin. “I wanted to combine our traditional symbols and the Ria Formosa identity with normal street art,” Adérita explains. “People are surprised to see this mix, but it works. There’s so much more interaction and public connection with art this way: already during the painting, people came up to us and told us what they liked.” In her most recent work on Almancil’s Rua Salgueiro Maia, there are no opening times, entry fees or other restrictions; everyone who walks by can enjoy it. And that’s how it should be, according to Adérita. “Art doesn’t belong in a museum; it should be out there on the streets.”


When to go?

Whenever you want, apart from the summer months (June, July and August). You’ll have to make an appointment in advance though. To do so, contact Adérita by phone (+351 912186868) or email (

Seeing as this is an indoor activity, it’s possible no matter the weather. The sensory painting workshop is also possible on location.

More details can be found on Adérita’s website.


For whom?

For creative artists who’d like to try something new. This activity is also great if you want to discover your inner child and don’t mind getting your hands dirty.

There’s no minimum number of participants. Children (from the age of 1) can also participate in the workshop.

All materials are provided. Although the paint will come out in the washing machine, you might not want to wear your nicest and/or newest clothes


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017

Sensory painting

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