Nina Brooke’s bold, aerial seascapes are eye-candy for ocean lovers.
Playfully abstract, vividly colourful and bursting with energy. This is how Nina Brooke describes her eye-catching paintings, which use a bird’s eye point of view to emphasise the colourful beauty of the ocean. The beach and the sea are at the heart of every piece, and Nina experiments with perspective, colour and style, putting a unique spin on the classic seascape painting. Her stunning body of work includes collections of paintings from Sri Lanka, Montauk and Hawaii, alongside her ever-growing and evolving Cornwall collection.
Growing up in Rock, Cornwall, Nina learnt to surf in the waters of Polzeath and to paint alongside her ceramicist mother and likewise creative family. With a studio in Rock, she now lives in Trelight and travels to various surf hotspots for fresh inspiration. In school, Nina was always a keen artist, and did her first show when she was 18. “I used to paint abstract shipwrecks,” she tells me, “really textural. I had a fascination with old wood and boats, and the storytelling behind it. I then began to paint seascapes, but wanted to find my own language in this, so I flipped it on its head and went bird’s eye.”
Nina speaks of how being surrounded by the natural landscape provides endless inspiration for her. “Cornwall is really good for that because the energy is so dramatic.” A seafarer since childhood, Nina has grown up around the ocean and her admiration for the water stems from this. “My family always took us off sailing for every holiday; I’ve been sailing since I was two weeks old. I’ve had this respect for the ocean for a very long time… it holds us all in some way.”
Nina speaks to me from Costa Rica, on month four of what was intended as a spontaneous two-week trip. She details a typical day-in-the-life: wake up, have a coffee, go for a surf, then start work in the studio on a latest piece, before perhaps another surf in the evening. Travelling offers a stripped-back period of time where Nina can focus solely on the sea and painting, perfect for capturing the atmosphere of the environment she is immersed in. Nina’s travels also offer a new source of inspiration: “When you look at a place with fresh eyes you can see the romance of the scene and its characteristics immediately,” she tells me. “When you revisit a place again and again, you lose that piece of magic you get when you first see a place. Travelling renews your inspiration, I get a new lease of life for work.”
As for her favourite travel destination to work from, Nina says Sri Lanka. She details the beautiful colour of the water, the landscape abundant with boats, people, surfers, all of which create a vibrant canvas of inspiration. Hawaii is another personal favourite of hers, in particular the colourful parasols on the beach and the endless palm trees. It is the little details Nina brings out that make each piece so eye-catching – smudges of beach towels and surfboards, splashes of waves and reflections of a bold colour on the water. And such details are unique to each cove that Nina paints, causing every piece to capture an atmosphere and tell its own story.
Despite the enticement of new landscapes, Nina’s home, Cornwall, always calls her back. It never fails to surprise her, with its abundance of hidden coves and ever-changing scenery. “Cornwall inspires me more than Costa Rica as a place… there’s more colour in Cornwall, the colours are different. Colour palettes in each location vary and some inspire you more than others, it’s really interesting. In Cornwall there are so many different spots. You can go for a weekend to St Mawes or Sennen or Land’s End and come across a cove you’ve never been to before, and think, this is incredible.”
The process of Nina’s work begins with her drone, which she flies up whenever she feels inclined and explores the coastline from above. Once she has chosen a reference photo, she experiments in the level of realism she is going to portray. “Translating photos that you take onto paint is always challenging,” she says. “You have to have a fine balance. You can play with it and depict it in so many ways.” She works with acrylic paints onto a large canvas, starting with a warm base colour and then working dark to light to build up layers of depth. “I have such a relationship with colour,” she details. “The way the yellow might complement the blue or a green works well next to an orange. I’m always looking at the colours next to each other, and how they make each other pop.”
The vividity of colour is what is striking about her work, as she pulls unusual shades of orange, green and pink out of largely blue ocean scenes. “I try to exaggerate colours. It’s sometimes nice to change the colour palette all together, to make it more interesting so that it’s not like looking at a photograph... to make it more surreal in a way.” Nina often has several pieces on the go at once. “It’s sometimes good to take breaks between paintings and work on something different, get some new headspace before you go back. Knowing when it’s finished and when to stop is always the challenge.”
The past year has been a turbulent and difficult one, but for many, it has also provided time to home in on artistic endeavours and explore creative hobbies which we may not have previously had time for. I ask Nina how the Covid-19 situation has impacted her work. “It has definitely made me more focused. The first lockdown was really good, I was able to be quiet with myself and my work, and I tried to encourage people to travel within my paintings. I think there is definitely a sense of wanderlust within the pieces, a sense of going somewhere by looking through this window of work.” Art is a form of escapism, and her seascapes achieve this – they aim to transport you to the ambience of the beach, immersing the visual senses into the serenity of the scene. If this lockdown has taught us anything, it is the power of creativity and art to transport us to another reality and help us to stay positive and inspired. “I was painting oodles of palm trees in the first lockdown to feel like I was in the tropics,” Nina laughs.
Nina’s next project is a local one, working with Watergate Bay Hotel. She will be creating a collection based on Watergate Bay and its surrounding beaches. The artwork will be displayed in an exhibition, before adorning the hotel walls. This demonstrates how, no matter how far Nina’s travels take her, the Cornish coast will continue to be an influence and hold a special place in her heart and in her artistic imagination.
Nina’s paintings evoke feelings of appreciation and admiration, not only for exotic shorelines, but also for the magic of home. They showcase the beauty and comfort that the ocean, whether near or far, can provide to us all.