It’s late September 2021, but summer is making an unexpectedly bold – if short-lived – resurgence. A mini-heatwave has hit Cornish shores, bathing the coast in mellow, golden light. Ripe sunshine bounces off crashing surf, while cooler evenings create spellbinding, technicolour sunsets. Observing this natural spectacle was artist Nina Brooke, on a week-long residency at Watergate Bay…
A renowned seascape painter from Rock, Cornwall, Nina spent her days painting in and around the hotel – from The Living Space deck to her beach loft bedroom to barefoot on the sand.
“Painting on The Living Space deck was really amazing because of the sunlight and the sunsets we had the week I was there,” she says. “Everything had this incredible golden glow. And the view from the deck is just so spectacular that whatever you’re creating up there, you can’t go wrong.”
Nina found the indoor/outdoor balance of The Living Space deck intriguing. “There was an interesting crossover between having the hotel and the guests so close by, but then also being surrounded by nature, working plein air,” she says.
Passing guests were keen to stop and chat, curious to discover how Nina develops her concepts, or how long it takes her to finish a canvas. “It was nice to be able to interact with them because it brought the process full-circle,” she explains, “this experience of a stay at a hotel creating a new body of work. It’s not very often you get to see a painter painting live in the flesh either, so it was great to give people more context than just looking at a piece in isolation.”
The nine bird’s-eye view paintings Nina created during her stay capture striking aerial perspectives of the beach, the sea and the surfers sitting ‘out back’, waiting for their next wave. “I wanted to show the vastness of Watergate Bay,” she explains. “The way it can sometimes be an expanse of exposed sand, with a really long beach, and other times the tide is high and the Bay is transformed.”
So, what goes into making one of Nina’s epic aerial works? Here are eight themes that her Watergate Bay collection explores...
- All the world’s a stage
“Painting plein air, overlooking the beach scenes from a height, being in and amongst the environment, the people and the landscape – it’s like being in a theatre set.
“That concept and feeling is really the backbone of what I do. The way I see it, we’re all just playing roles in the huge theatre set of the world. Every time you go somewhere new, you’re walking into a new scene. When you’re out on the deck at Watergate Bay Hotel, you’re literally in the amphitheatre – watching this amazing scene of surfers and sunbathers and dogs and people walking on the beach. Plus, the weather’s always changing. All these little details make up this living set right in front of you.”
- Take to the skies…
“I flew a drone over the Watergate Bay area two weeks before my residency to capture different concepts from above. I wanted to explore the landscape in and around the Bay – the colours, the rock formations, how people behave in that setting. The drone gives you a live feed from the sky – you’re watching, and then when you see a view you want to save a snapshot of, you press the button to capture it. I use drone imagery a lot in my work, but if I ever get the chance to fly in a helicopter, I’m there, hanging out the door to get the picture!”
- …but don’t forget the waves
“I got out on my board a few times during my residency. ‘Conversations’, ‘Out Back at Watergate Bay’ and ‘Surfer’s Peak’ were all inspired by surfing. And staying in the Beach Lofts, with those panoramic ocean views, it almost felt like the surfers were within touching distance.”
- Seek out the light
“As an artist, I’m very affected by light. I can only paint in natural light – either outdoors or in my studio, which luckily has a really good natural light source. The fact that there’s so much drama on the Cornish coast – it gives a new energy every time. While I was at Watergate Bay, it was on the cusp of autumn, so it was a mix of warm and cold light. It wasn’t that clichéd summer’s day.”
- Go with the flow
“I prepped a couple of pieces from my Watergate collection, but apart from that, I just saw where the residency took me. The most fun part of painting is not quite knowing how it’s going to turn out. Generally, I work in one of two ways. It can be really intuitive, just reacting to the natural landscape around me, trusting my instincts. Or it can involve more prep work – considering the canvas size, the concept, the abstract formation. There are lots of rules to abstract work that make a painting more pleasing to the human eye, which I try to keep in mind.”
- Find a fresh perspective
“The bird’s-eye view brings a fresh perspective that people don’t often see. It makes you think differently about how you spend your day-to-day, all the interactions you have. We take for granted just how amazing the world is, so I want to show people the incredible beauty of the ocean in my pictures.
“I don’t want to be recreating a photograph – I want to be playful. I like that naivety. I want people to enjoy the colours and the wonder of it.”
- Remember your roots
“I grew up in Rock, so there’s a real sense of nostalgia about Cornwall for me. But I’m also drawn to the fact that there’s always something new to see down here. You don’t have to travel far to find inspiration.
“I’ve just opened up my own gallery space; Joy Editions in Bude. It’s a mix of my work and other contemporary artists whose work I like, and it’s so nice to be doing it in the South West.”
- Adjust your palette to match the weather
“When I was staying at Watergate, we were lucky enough to enjoy a mini-heatwave, so it felt like midsummer again, even though it was the end of September. I think that shows in the works, that prolonged summer feeling, but also being on the tipping point between two seasons – hence the title ‘Edge of Autumn’.
“Looking at the collection as a whole, it’s quite dominated by deeper, greeny hues, which give that sense of autumn approaching. But then again, the water colour always changes when you turn it into an aerial perspective.”
‘Watergate’ will be on show at the hotel for a year and is available as a limited edition print of 50 on Nina’s website.
View the full collection and buy Nina’s prints online: www.ninabrooke.co.uk/watergate-bay
Posters of ‘Watergate’ by Nina Brooke are sold at the hotel front desk.
Follow Nina on Instagram @ninabrookeart