Jewel LaGrapp improves a sketch during a College of the Mainland 50 Plus Program art class.

Teaching art at the COM 50 Plus Program, Andy Karjala and Lee Johnson relate to those learning art later in life.

“I didn’t start painting until my daughter was in junior high school,” said Johnson, who didn't pursue art for many years because of the cost of supplies. “I was the happiest person in the world when I could do that.”

Johnson began working on her own. 

“I tried to do it on my own, but there was always something missing. Now I realize it was design. Design (is) composition, and light and dark and midtones, focal area,” explained Johnson. ”I didn’t get that for over 10 years. Then one day I found Willie D. Criss who taught at the college (COM).”

While Johnson learned from local experts, Karjala painted in Europe with masters. 

“All I know about art I learned from mentors in Europe. I took classes from a maestro. I was an apprentice,” said Karjala. “We had to create our own paints. I never painted until I was in that class over a year. It was the best time in my life because I couldn’t paint. But now I can mix paint like nobody’s business. (It was a) wonderful 11 years.”

Now she and Karjala use their experiences teaching at COM.

“I encourage them to try everything,” said Johnson. “They’ve done painting on newspaper, all kinds of techniques., abstracts, and all kinds of different media to broaden their perspective on art and try anything and not to stay in the box because we don’t want to get boring.” 

Students may opt for mosaic, quilting, embroidery, paper mache, oil painting, watercolor, photography and acrylic painting classes. 

John Hart, 71, began taking art classes at COM about eight years ago.

“A good friend got me into it. I’ve always liked to draw,” said Hart.

Jewel LaGrapp has taken many art classes at COM over the years.

“I did (oil painting) first. I’ve always been kind of crafty,” said LaGrapp. “It keeps your mind going. You get out of the house. It keeps me busy. I just started quilting.”

Besides learning new skills, students have the opportunity to enter their works in juried art shows on campus and in the community.

“Since March 2014, we've successfully had four art shows, showcasing over 300 pieces of artwork produced by the 50 Plus Program students,” said Alesha Vardeman Aulds, COM Director of Lifelong Learning. "These art shows mean so much to the students whose work is showcased, but more importantly, I am so proud for the recognition that this brings to the quality of instruction and caliber of artwork produced by our students in the 50 Plus Program." 

Karjala encourages students to try all forms of art.

“There’s an art statement within everyone. A statement is really something that is ingrained in you,” said Karjala. “All a person needs is a good teacher to let it blossom.”

The COM 50 Plus Program offers art, fitness and technology classes for those 50 and over, now registering for the summer. For more information on the COM 50 Plus Program, visit