When she was only 12-years-old, the Museum of Northern B.C. hosted her first art show — and every piece of her work sold.
Resident artist Nicole Best Rudderham said that maybe the rain and being stuck inside encouraged her to discover her creativity at such a young age.
“I was brought up that way. As soon as you were inside, you had to do something so we were taught all kinds of things. Sewing and painting and gardening, and fixing the boat with my dad. You had to be busy,” Rudderham said.
She took after her mother, who had worked in England designing cards by hand for birthdays and Christmases. Together, they would attend art workshops and fine tune their craft. This month, Rudderham led her own workshop on watercolour painting for the Prince Rupert Community Art Council’s annual Creative Jam.
More than a dozen artists spent the weekend with brush in hand, painting a child’s face over a white canvas. Watercolour is one of the toughest styles to grasp, Rudderham said — the light has to be there in the beginning, and once you paint over it, it’s gone.
“You can wash it off or scrub it off but it’s never as light as it is when you start. So you have to think backwards,” she said. With acrylic, an artist can paint right over top.
Light poured into Rudderham’s upper level studio on Third Avenue when we met. Her work was laid out in every corner of the room, some on large canvases, capturing the textures of a tree, or hands pulling canned salmon from a jar, to smaller framed pieces laid out on a table — reflections of North Coast life and landscapes.
“Everybody has a talent of some kind and you just have to be steered to what it is and that’s more than reading and writing, it’s your soul. So you may lean toward music, expressive dance or writing down your feelings,” Rudderham said, who leaned toward painting and dance.
When she paints, she prefers capturing people. One day, her mother asked her if she was going to paint something other than people, and gave the push she needed to take courses to expand her scope.
After high school, she went to Arizona State University for a summer to study life drawing and dance. Since then, she has taken courses and workshops around the province to broaden her art education.
With a reputation in art firmly established in Prince Rupert, from time to time she has been asked to substitute for an art class for the school district. She said she taught probono for at least a decade.
Dance was another medium of creative expression for Rudderham. From the time she was 17 until she was 35-years she taught kids and teenagers the art of movement. She also ran her own company that hired out dance groups. But a recurring injury ended her dance career, and she turned her attention solely on her art, which keeps shifting.
“I find I go through a lot of phases where you’re painting just watercolour, or just acrylic, or just pastel, or whatever medium you’re using and you work and work until you work it out,” she said explaining how certain expressionistic styles can change with the circumstances of life.
“Then you want to learn a new way, a new method, even new colours that you’ve never used. I’m on the cusp of that right now and I think it’s a big one.”
Recently, she took a step back from her work after there were some deaths in her family. Despite the common belief that emotion may make an artist paint more, that isn’t always the case. Still, she can sense the moment is coming when the canvas will call to her for the next big project.
Being an artist in a small city makes marketing herself easier. Her work is kept at the Ice House Gallery in Cow Bay in her studio downtown, and now at the North Coast Transition Society where she donated a mural she painted for the child’s play room.
In another era, she explored another genre of her creativity — designing store front displays and dressing mannequins. In the ‘80s, she worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company and other stores in the city, and every other week when the shops needed a fresh look she would paper up the windows and set up the scene.
“Even the police would watch. It was exciting. People would gather in the morning and we’d reveal the scene by pulling the paper off,” she said.
The next big reveal will be presenting her work at a gallery. Rudderham said she hasn’t had a show for more than five years, but she’s preparing for one in the next year.