Senior Olivia Whittaker brings awareness to the benefits of therapeutic art


Olivia Whittaker working on a painting. (Submitted Photo)

Grace Laverriere, Senior Editor

BIDDEFORD — Senior Olivia Whittaker has an unique connection with art. Since she began painting, she’s discovered its value for her and the community, and she’s even began her own business “Under a Paintbrush.”

Whittaker began painting in middle school when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She said her art helped her to deal with the stress of cancer treatments.

“When my mom was going through her diagnoses with cancer, I turned to art as a way to destress and release my anxiety surrounding what my mom was going through, and what I was going through as well,” Whittaker said.  

What started out as a way to deal with a stressful time turned into a lifelong passion. Whittaker said when she was painting at her grandmother’s house one day her freshman year, her aunt told her she could sell her art through the Common Ground County Fair. After that day, Whittaker’s business blossomed.

“[When my aunt told me that,] it really got me going with the idea that I could start my own business, and start selling my art places,” said Whittaker. “Art has greatly impacted my life. I don’t know where I would be without it, to be honest. In addition to the mental health benefits from [it], it has helped me make so many different connections to the community since I’ve taught the art classes and started my own art business.”

As a member of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institution, a program that assists young women in finding their voice and their potential, Whittaker was given a project to spread her voice throughout the community. Due to her familiarity of the effects of cancer on families, she reached out to a place that’s special to her and her family.

“One of the ways I was thinking about [putting my voice into the community] was giving back to the community that’s supported me through [my mom’s] cancer treatments,” said Whittaker. “My mom used to go to the Cancer Community Center quite frequently, so I reached out and asked if they would have me host an art class to help spread the benefits of therapeutic art.”

Whittaker’s involvement with the Cancer Community Center has allowed her to help others while positively impacting her family.

“I was so incredibly proud of her when she reached out to the Cancer Community Center a couple of years ago to teach a class,” said Whittaker’s mom, Christee Whittaker, who’s been in remission for the past four and a half years. “She is great in front of a group and is compassionate and sensitive to her students. It is so therapeutic for the patients. The feedback she got was so positive.”

In addition to teaching therapeutic painting classes at the Cancer Community Center, Whittaker also had a unique opportunity to teach painting through the Adult Education programs.

“This year, I’m taking an independent study course with Mrs. Ryan, and that’s how I set up the art class through Adult Education,” said Whittaker. “I wanted to mainly spread the impact of the benefits on the mental state of people going through stressful situations, and how they can use art to combat that.”

Olivia Whittaker assists Mrs. Ryan with her painting during her independent study. (Submitted Photo).

Whittaker’s art has impacted the lives of many people, and her creativity has spread even further than Biddeford.

“At first I only did local art craft shows [with my business], but now it’s grown. I now have some of my pieces in the Honey Maker Mead Room in Kennebunkport, and I’ve gotten some of my pieces in local art galleries,” said Whittaker. “One of [the galleries] my art was in was the Casco Bay Artisans last year.”

Even though she’s very busy with school and sports, Whittaker makes time for her creative passion.

“One of my favorite memories that comes to mind from a few years back was when she was preparing for one of her craft events, sitting in her room painting while listening to Frank Sinatra,” said Christee Whittaker. “She is an old soul.”

For Whittaker, painting is a way to separate herself from whatever troubles or stress is going on in her life.

“My favorite part about painting is when I get to listen to music and totally disconnect from reality and immerse myself in the piece that I’m working on,” Whittaker said.

As Whittaker prepares for college, she said she doesn’t think she’ll ever stop painting.

“I want to major in pre-med and neuroscience, but I also want to keep art on the side,” said Whittaker. “[I want to] continue to teach art classes and combine that with my work in the medical field.”

Whittaker’s business “Under a Paintbrush” is more than just a business. It gives her a means to reach out to the community she’s apart of and share the benefits of painting on people’s mental health. For the past four years, Whittaker has been able to impact many people’s lives through her craft.

“It’s really grown a lot [since I started it] and I’m so thankful for it,” Whittaker said.