Art Inspired by National Geographic

Ryan working on his shark 3-d art

By Ryan Smoluk

I have always been fascinated by the National Geographic magazine. The photographs are amazing. It helped connect me to the world around me. That was back in the days before the internet.

Looking back now I understand that the magazine helped develop my artistic ability and encouraged my imagination. Like most children with autism I also had great difficulty with social situations. Just being around people gave me a terrible anxiety. Now as a public speaker I actually enjoy being around people. It’s all learned.

As a young child our family used to visit the Lake of the Woods Ontario for summer vacations. It was there that I was first introduced to my grandpa’s National Geographic collection. He had hundreds of them. I was instantly hooked!

I started painting at a very early age around 6 or 7. I enjoyed painting nature scenes and landscapes …  just pictures that were in the magazine. I encourage parents who have a child that has autism to try to help them develop their creativity. Kids with autism usually have a strong creative brain. I liked to paint owls for many years. I also loved to paint the Northern Lights. In Ontario we used to watch the beautiful colored lights dance across the sky at night.

It’s late spring here in Manitoba, Canada, and the snow just doesn’t want to leave. It’s been a long cold winter. I fantasized many times about being far away from here and just laying on a nice hot beach somewhere. My depression came back with a vengeance this past couple of months so I’m trying to stay busy because I have an art exhibit and an an artist talk to get ready for April 21.

In preparing for my exhibit I was at my parents home looking around for art to select and I came across this old sculpture that I made as a teenager. My parents are awesome. They have held on to all my originals throughout the years. I remember why I created this piece. It was my homage to the National Geographic. To this day I still have a large collection and look through them for inspiration for my new work. 


This is a photo of a dead seagull that had washed up on the shore of the ocean. This image horrified me.

I actually cut the image out and taped it into my sketchbook. The birds pick up the plastic bits thinking it’s food. The fish ingest the plastic and we in turn eat the fish. All these chemicals are getting into the food chain.

This image became the catalyst for one of my sculptures titled The Shark.

I wanted to create an art piece that would represent societies obsession with consumerism and material possessions. We’re living in a money driven disposable lifestyle and having more doesn’t make us happier or fulfilled.

Whenever I have a new idea for a project I like to get together with my mentor and renowned artist Diana Thorneycroft. Everyone should have the privilege of having a friend like Diana. She understands my creative process and my sense of humor. I showed her the image of the seagull. She looked at me and said “Ryan, make it big.”


This is a complex piece that speaks to the chaos of modern day excess through societies insatiable appetite for more and more material possessions.

Ryan working on his 3-D shark

As a teenager I am so glad that I had the insight to enroll in a computer graphics program at our local Manitoba Institute for Trades and Technology (MITT). To this day, Jan Hamilton the instructor still helps me out. I’m also working on a large sculpture 6 ft x 5 ft called “Big Nothing.”  The Electronics Dept. at MITT are helping me install motion activated hardware. It’s going to be a talking installation piece I am very excited about this project.

I will keep you posted. Ryan Smoluk has a Great-West Life through June 6. To see more visit












0 replies on “Art Inspired by National Geographic”