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'Nature is a necessity as an artist and a human being' (5 photos)

From pristine night skies to the rugged shorelines of the North Shore, local artist and outdoors enthusiast Paula Trus feels lucky to live where she does

As a student in Nora Harrison’s art class at Mount St. Joseph College, the city’s former all-girl secondary school, Paula Trus decided to try drawing something she loved, her Scats. She took out her pencil and began sketching.

“Here’s that sketch of my favourite running shoes in high school,” laughs Trus. “There were holes in them. I was upset because my mother threw them out.”

The memories associated with the drawing bring Trus back to a pivotal point in her life where she began connecting with art. As she explored it further, the art began to connect to a passion from an earlier time in her life.

“My grandparents, aunts and uncles lived in Hawk Junction. That was one of the places I first connected with nature. My first visit there was shortly after I was born”

That experience in Hawk Junction at three months old was to be one that was repeated throughout her formative years. 

“Very early on I felt that connection to the outdoors. We would go up [to Hawk Junction] and be outside, even in the winter, playing in the snow, sliding, ice fishing and ski-dooing. In the spring, we used to walk up this path they called Wallace’s Trail and there were trilliums and ladyslippers. Picking blueberries was also a big thing for us.”

Maintaining that connection with nature on a daily basis, Trus began exploring the forests, waterways, and trails along the north shore of Lake Superior. The area quickly became a source of inspiration for her art.

“I was inspired by just being outside on Superior watching the sunsets. My friends used to tease me because I would take picture after picture of the sunsets. When sitting and watching the sunset, some people might sketch it. I am so distracted by the beauty of the moment, it’s almost all-encompassing.”

She finally decided on a medium other than her camera to capture those moments. It is a bit of a twist that she turned to technology to translate the feeling the sunsets on the shoreline gave her.

“Instead of using a paintbrush or pencil, I started using the computer mouse to draw digital landscapes. I focused on places of inspiration or places I have visited. I don’t do a landscape unless I have actually seen it and have to have a personal connection to it.”

For Trus, developing these digital landscapes was a way for her to re-live her stories and moments in a creative way. 

“I love using the bright colours. I wanted to do something based around the basic shapes, rather than detail. In other mediums, I always find myself going towards the details, so I wanted to try something different.”

Not limiting herself to the one medium, Trus also found herself re-exploring pencil drawing, this time with a focus on the outdoors rather than a teenager’s sneakers.

“In the past five or six years, I started doing pencil drawings again,” she says, noting the approach the opposite of her digital landscapes.

“When I get into a pencil piece, it is almost like nothing else exists. I don’t see or hear anything. I totally concentrate on it. That creative work is also a stress reliever even though I am concentrating on what I am doing.”

Looking through her portfolio, you can find detailed sketches of birch bark, shorelines, northern trees and flora. One recent sketch is of an old cabin.

“This is Norm’s cabin out at Stokely Creek. I went out there a few times cross country skiing from the base lodge at Stokely Creek. You’d ski to Norm Bourgeois’ cabin and stop in for cookies and tea, look out onto the lake and then ski back to the lodge.”

The cabin is a well-known stop locally, as well as with out of country visitors. Before his death in 2010, Bourgeois had become a local legend with his open-door policy, welcoming skiers into his cabin and telling entertaining stories.

“People would just go for a visit. It was a great experience and a good memory.”

Although the original cabin was torn down, the Algoma Highland Conservatory rebuilt one to carry on the tradition and to promote silent sport recreation like cross country skiing as well as environmental education.

The concept of preserving the natural environment as much as possible is something that resonated with Trus. She became involved in a special project that aimed to preserve the pristine night sky at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

“In 2012, I started taking more night photography of the Milky Way, the stars and the Aurora Borealis,” she says.  “We heard from a gentleman named Jeffrey Deans from Algoma Astronomers and he wanted to see if Lake Superior Provincial Park could be turned into a night sky preserve.” 

Dark-sky preserves are areas, usually surrounding a park that restricts artificial light pollution. Deans began filling out the paperwork to make it happen and Trus and her husband John O’Donnell contributed to the effort by camping out and taking light readings at night, as well as taking night photos to help support the application.

In 2018, the park was granted the dark sky preserve status by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada which will help protect the park against light pollution in the future.

“Light changes your experience when you go out at night. The darkness helps us to see the night stars. What I didn’t know initially is that it also helps to protect animals who fly at night.”

According to Ontario Parks, Lake Superior Provincial Park is one of the darkest places, not only in Canada but on earth.

“The park is our favourite place to spend time. We enjoy sport fishing, kayaking, canoeing, backpacking, hiking and recently started hunting grouse which was a great experience.”

Over the years the couple, Trus has explored the park from one side to the other.

“Every place in the park is unique and we revisit many of the places. We spend as much time as we can between here and Wawa.”

Trus considers herself to be lucky living in Sault Ste. Marie.

“We have some great places that are only five minutes away. You can go outside and feel like you are in a forest. Places like Hiawatha and the Voyageur Hiking Trails are beautiful. We live in a really great place.”

If you visit any of Trus’ online presence, there is a quote by her that sums up her being. “Nature is a necessity as an artist and a human being.” For Trus, her mental and physical well-being is directly tied to the outdoors.

“Even if it’s a totally rotten day outside, I can look out the window and see snow falling or birds going to the feeder. I could go outside to snowshoe or for a hike. The outdoors is very important to who I am.”

There is a limited selection of reproductions and postcards of Trus’ artwork carried at the Art Gallery of Algoma. From May to October, her Lake Superior Park art is available at the Lake Effects Gift Shop at Lake Superior Provincial Park on Agawa Bay.

She is donating 20 per cent of profits from original artwork purchased directly from her to help support the Mauno Kaihla Koti, the long-term care facility in the Sault Ontario Finnish Rest home.

To see more of Paula Trus’ art, visit her on Instagram or her website.