Wildlife artist Nicole Ruuska draws inspiration from northwest Ontario

Wildlife artist Nicole Ruuska grew up in the Lakehead, but was born in the tiny rural community of Shabaqua, located north of Thunder Bay, Ont. Ruuska said the family moved to the city when she was two, but the wilderness stayed a part of her life. She also had the urge to make wildlife based art at a very young age.

"If I can make someone happy with my art...it's so rewarding."

Nicole Ruuska says her first love was painting birds, but she has expanded to big game such a s deer and moose as well. (photo: Nicole Ruuska)

Wildlife artist Nicole Ruuska grew up in Thunder Bay, Ont., but was born in the tiny rural community of Shabaqua — about an hour north from the city.

Shabaqua is located in the heart of the boreal forest, where moose, deer and bear are more numerous than people.

Ruuska said the family moved to the city when she was two, but the wilderness stayed a part of her life.

She also had the urge to make wildlife based art at a very young age.

"I've always been fascinated by nature, especially birds," she said. "I still have some of my early sketches from my Mom's old cookbook. And I just developed from there. I'm just passionate about nature."

Ruuska said she didn't realize she could paint a picture until she got more into high school. Her sister bought her an art book called "the world of Robert Bateman." The book featured some of the incredibly realistic paintings done by Bateman, one of Canada's most popular and beloved artists.

"I couldn't believe anyone could paint so life like and ever since then I've just strived to learn,"  she said.

Russka said she is self taught, although she did take art in high school for a couple of years. She said she is still in touch with her art teacher Linda Walker, who Ruuska descibes as "a great lady."

Although she cut her teeth as a young artist painting birds, she soon moved on to other animals including, deer moose and bear.

This painting of a mountain line (cougar) is one of Nicole Ruuska's most recent works. (photo credit: Nicole Ruuska )

From there she moved on to big cats, including the cougar.

Initially, Ruuska primarily worked on traditional canvases. But when Ruuska moved to British Columbia, where she now lives, she began to expand her horizons.

She said her interest in painting on other media also came as something of a fluke.

"I was camping, and the people that were running the campground noticed I was working on a painting," she said. "The gentleman came up to me and gave me this tree fungus...and he said 'Hey, see if you can create something on this'... and I did." Ruuska took the fungus and painted a raccoon.

This initial work lead her to try painting on other things like rocks, oyster shells, feathers and more recently, moose antlers.

Ruuska said she started painting on oyster shells, rocks, feathers and more. (Nicole Ruuska)

"Everything is a challenge, and I really welcome that. Just to see what I can create," she said."If I can make someone happy with my art...it's so rewarding."

Ruuska said she loves living in British Columbia, but draws a lot of inspiration from northwestern Ontario.

She said she tries to return every summer to see family and friends and to revisit her roots in the lakes and wilderness of the northwest.

A collection of Ruuska's art work can be seen and purchased on her website, www.nicoleruuska.com.

"I live in B.C. but still call Thunder Bay home," she said.