Nanaimo lawn bowls turns sports ‘bowls’ into art


Judy MacNeal will never forget the first day she tried bowls.

She learned that the balls were called bowls and they didn’t roll straight. And then, one of the members of the Nanaimo Lawn Bowling Club threw Judy a metaphorical curve ball.

“She said, ‘Maybe you could paint a little flower on it,'” Judy said, remembering the woman pointing to her bowl.

The woman wondered if Judy could put a flower on an old bowl after hearing that Judy had had a career in graphic design which began as a collage artist for Sears catalogs in the end of the 1960s.

“You have all the little photographs and you had to cut them out with scissors and glue them with rubber glue,” Judy recalls.

The pre-computer design process resembles Judy’s post-game bowl transformation.

Instead of just painting a small flower on the sports gear, Judy used clay to transform the bowl into a bountiful bouquet.

“You have to make each petal out of clay, paint it and glue it on,” laughs Judy, simplifying a creative process that can take up to 15 hours.

Judy was so inspired when she covered that first bespoke flower bowl that she threw her own curveball, after seeing a shed full of used bowls at the club that were destined for landfill.

“I brought home 120 bowls!” Judy laughs.

Judy set up a studio in her garage, where she proved to be a prolific bowl painter.

“It was a good thing to have on hand during the pandemic,” laughs Judy.

So far Judy has painted around 80 bowls, ranging from blonde bowls (Marilyn Monroe) to dog bowls (a pair of bulldogs) to Christmas ball bowls (Santa Claus and a nativity scene).

Dozens more (including jeweled mandalas) were given as gifts to friends and family.

“I have about 35-40 (unpainted) bowls left,” Judy said before laughing. “Then the hangar (of the club) will have to be cleaned again!”

Maybe Judy will use her catalog-making skills to sell them. After being overwhelmed with the pleasure of doing them, she has no intention of throwing another curve ball and stopping.

“I learned to do whatever I want,” smiles Judy. “And have fun doing it.”

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