Recently, a co-worker at my serving job asked me, “what do you do for fun?”
I stood there perplexed—my usual state, let’s be honest—as I wracked my brain, trying to think of things I do besides trying to read through my copies of Northanger Abbey and Jane Eyre for English classes, or frantically writing essays the night before they’re due.
I listed off a few activities like bowling, board games, and yoga, but then I got to thinking: how often do I actually do those things? I don’t think I’ve been to a yoga class since 2015, and that’s a generous estimation. I go bowling maybe once or twice a year. My friends and I keep talking about doing a games night, but we haven’t had one of those in almost a year due to our busy, conflicting schedules. It scared me to realize that maybe I don’t have any genuine hobbies after all.
Sure, I also mentioned the classic Netflix; it’s a hobby, and there’s always time for that, right? But even as I put on an episode or two of The Office while I eat dinner, I find there’s always a feeling of guilt that arises in me because I could be reading, studying, or working on some upcoming assignment.
Between classes, schoolwork, jobs, trying to maintain social lives, and keeping up with general responsibilities (cough, cleaning our rooms), it’s no surprise that our hobbies get tossed to the wayside. It’s easy to get immersed in this busy culture that society so readily gratifies, but I propose that it doesn’t have to and shouldn’t be that way. It’s important for both our mental and physical health to make some time for ourselves and take a breather once in awhile—and that doesn’t have to mean yoga or Netflix. In fact, maybe it’s time to branch out a little and try something new.
As Arts Editor for The Nav, I’ve spent a lot of time over this academic year looking up events happening around Nanaimo, and I have been amazed at the abundance of talent and opportunity manifesting in my hometown that I was rather ignorant of before. But in my search, there was one thing in particular that kept popping up and piquing my interest: a little something called The Lost Arts Club. So, after all these months I finally took the plunge and signed up for a mandala dot painting class with them.
The Lost Arts Club, located at 2358 Wild Dove Road here in Nanaimo, is run by a skilled artist named Jennifer Doll. Her daughter, Mercedes Hunt, is also involved and frequently helps out during lessons. Operated out of a room in the back of their house, they offer a wide variety of classes every month, ranging from canvas art and painting to weaving, crochet, beaded jewellery, sewing, rug-making, décor, bath and body items, mini gardens, and solar fairy jars. They can even teach you how to make reusable food wraps. That’s just to name a few. The selection is endless, and it’s almost overwhelming to pick just one class. But based on my experience and skill set (or lack thereof), I figured dot painting would be the best one to start with.
Their house, though on a bit of a secluded street, is clearly marked with signs and easy to find. Little arrows with “LOST ARTS CLUB” written above them direct you onto the path and down the right side of the house into their backyard, where you can access the club room through a set of elegant double doors. I quietly followed behind two other ladies, who stopped to gleefully admire the fairy jars placed strategically along the garden path.
The club room is small and quaint, the perfect size for the eight-seater table that sits in the middle. Green walls adorned with paintings and artwork surround us, and I admire the brown tiled floor as I take a seat in the corner chair by the door. Soon the table is filled. As the youngest person there, I’m a little intimidated; but I soon realize that many of the students are just as new to this as I am, and everyone is friendly and introduces themselves as they sit down. I begin to feel more at ease.
In this class, we’re painting rocks as ladybugs. Scattered in a line around the table are a variety of rocks in different sizes, which Doll tells us she found on Lantzville Beach. Pre-painted black for the base, we each choose one. I want mine to look like Doll’s in the picture, so I strategically choose one of the bigger ones. Next, laid out in front of each of us are the contents of a dot painting tool kit: we all have an eight-piece acrylic rod set, four blue rubber-handled ball stylus pens, five stainless steel ball stylus pens, five reusable mandala stencil template guides, one paint palette, and one rod of sandstone for marking (turns out sandstone is easiest to erase), along with a thin paper sheet to carry our rocks home in.
First we draw the outlines of our ladybug on the rock with the sandstone, and then we begin to play with colours on our palettes before we start on the rocks. When we began our actual painting, Doll recommended that we paint the eyes last, but I went for it, doing all my white dots first. Everyone was pretty quiet at first as we tried to master the technique, but we gradually started to chat. We told each other how we had discovered the club, and I learned that Michaels doesn’t carry any dot painting tool kits. Shame on them.
The thing about mandala dot painting is that it’s supposed to be therapeutic and meditative, and I certainly found it to be so. I took my time with it, and while I initially wanted mine to look like the picture, I started to go off in a totally different direction as I experimented with purple, blue metallic colours, and glittery coppers. Funnily enough, the red dots came last; I was starting to wonder why it didn’t look much like a ladybug.
By the end of the two hours, everyone was holding up their ladybug with pride.
“Aw, look at that,” one of the ladies said when she saw mine. “See, I think we’re pretty artistic!”
The final step was to dry off our ladybugs with a hairdryer, and then coat them in a protective layer of some sort of clear stuff. I just know I chose the shiny one, and it made my rock look nice.
Though I took the full length of time, many others were done early and quickly left, so a photo op was out of the question; but I think we made some pretty cute bugs together. It would be a great activity to bring a friend or partner along to, but it was also fun to go solo for a bit of afternoon quiet time, and to bond with people that I probably wouldn’t talk to otherwise. (The joys of social anxiety.)
Doll has been running the Lost Arts Club for three years. It stemmed from a love of art that came from her grandmother, who introduced her to and showed her how to do many of the arts and crafts she now teaches to her students.
“My grandma had an art room about twice the size of this,” she tells me.
She learned about felting from one of her coworkers at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, and she took up weaving on her own after a client asked for a woven macrame class. On the day of this class, she had only three weeks left working at the hospital, and then she hopes to continue with the club full-time. It’s all part of the retirement plan.
Doll decided to start the club to spread her love of art, and because she noticed a lack of creative programs in the community. She also wanted to make it accessible and affordable to everyone; rather than go online to Amazon to buy your painting kit, she can sell one to you right there in the classroom for a flat $20.
“I wanted to share the experience. And if I can provide these classes and kits at wholesale, it makes it affordable for everybody,” says Doll.
I happened to be the only VIU student in the class on that day, but Doll says she gets many signing up. “I do get quite a few VIU students, and sometimes international students come with their host families; we host international students in our home as well. I don’t think we really have a typical demographic, we see families looking for an affordable family activity, seniors looking for social activities, elementary, high school, and university students, and even tourists in town visiting family or on vacation,” she said.
She doesn’t pick favourites, and her love for the club and all it entails is evident. “It’s hard to decide what my favorite classes are as I love them all; if everyone is happy with what they made during class and had fun creating then I’m happy. I love being able to provide these activities and share the knowledge that was passed on to me from my family and friends.”
On the topic of hobbies, she has a few of her own, and they might sound a bit familiar. “Running my business definitely takes up a lot of my time, but creating new crafts and classes is a fun activity for me,” said Doll. “During my free time I like to do yoga, garden—we like to grow our own fruits and vegetables—and play games; we have a family game night every Wednesday night. We also breed and raise chocolate labs primarily for autism and PTSD therapy dogs; we started doing this six years ago, a few years after our daughter was diagnosed with autism.”
She notes that the benefits of art, not just for students but for anybody, is undeniable.
“I think crafting is very therapeutic for everyone; it’s a chance to relax, stimulate our creativity, explore a bit about ourselves and feel a sense of accomplishment when your project is done. We try to make every class suitable for all ages and all abilities; I truly believe you can do anything you set your mind to do. I love when people come to class and they say ‘I’m not creative and I’ve never done any crafting before,’ then they create something beautiful and are amazed at the results. For students it’s a great way to get your mind off your worries, to relax before or after a test, something fun and affordable to do to meet new people or with a group of friends. Many students enjoy our soap, candle, and aromatherapy bracelet classes. We strive to make crafting like getting an ‘A’ on your school paper that you spent countless hours writing, but you only need to spend a couple of hours in our studio to feel relaxed and fulfilled.”
Indeed, the classes are very affordable, ranging from $10 to $40 in price (with many being $20 or under).
I am proud of my little ladybug, and I look forward to attending more classes at the club. Who knows what’ll be next—maybe a candle or a soap bar? Why not both?
For class information and more general info, check out the club website at <www.lostartsclub.org>. They can also be found on Facebook and Instagram @LostArtsClub.