From wood to board: Victoria artist’s love of surfing inspires new medium

Natalie Brake’s studio in Mexico. Photo by Grace Lennon.

She’s known for creating evocative mixed media pieces whose layers both excite the imagination and calm the senses.

Artist Natalie Brake’s innovative use of acrylics, fluid paints and epoxy resin is a visual delight, and her mix of bold and pastel colours swirling in a musical dance of joy has garnered her a robust following, with her art featured in homes and exhibitions around the world (her most recent Canadian exhibition took place at KWENCH Culture Club last Fall).

Born in Alberta, Natalie brings her East Indian, Mi’kmaq (Ktaqmkuk), Irish and Euro-Canadian heritage to her aesthetic, and her work is deeply informed by nature and its wonders.

Now based in Victoria half the year, and Mexico the other half, she began painting after an injury forced her professional Flamenco dance career to an abrupt halt. First experimenting with oil painting, she’s since expanded her repertoire and knowledge to embrace acrylics and resin.

Experiencing two very different cultures each year has broadened her perspective and approach as an artist. Of her adopted part-time home, she says “Mexico is a very vibrant country in terms of the culture, art history and the music. When I’m here I am constantly exposed to the huge array of diversity in art and as an artist; my mind is more open because I see that there is so much I can create. For example, I can paint a fairly large mural in the town I live in by just walking down and asking a shop owner, and they will basically let me do whatever I want because murals are everywhere, they’re a very normal part of the cultural landscape.

Also, living in both countries exposes me to different trends in interior design which is really interesting and challenging for me because I have clients in two very different markets, which I think expands my skill set.”

Lately, her time in Nayarit, Mexico has inspired a new form of canvas: surfboards, with the artist taking the same playful approach to transforming longboards as she does to her paintings.

What inspired the change? Her other passion, surfing. “I’m a longboarder,” says Natalie. “It’s a mellow, stylish and fun surf style as opposed to shortboarding which is a different type of fun – it’s fast and intense, with more adrenaline.

“I’d decided to have a custom board made for myself, and around the same time, one of the most popular longboarding competitions in the world was being held right here at our main surf break. One of the main competitors, Miguel Sinclair, also happened to be my board shaper of choice. I had asked Miguel if I could paint my new board for fun, and after visiting my studio he said yes.”

With her board in Sinclair’s hands, friends suggested Natalie approach the organizers surf invitational Mexilogfest to paint surfboards live at their recent competition. They said yes and she set up three boards at a pop-up studio at the event.

“I included my own 9’2 single fin longboard, from @MAS_surf, another longboard owned by Risa Mara Machuca who is a very accomplished female Mexican surfer and instructor, and also an Olympic qualifier for the Pan American games, and one for a very well known local athlete, Shanti Tilling whose partner had an old board hanging on his wall.”

Artist Natalie Brake with one of her paintings on the beach in her part-time home in Mexico. Photo by Grace Lennon.

Her experience, and the reaction to her work, was so positive Natalie now offers custom surfboard painting and has already started working on some for Vancouver Island surfers as she welcomes new commissions. She’s also looking forward to trying her hand at cold-water surfing when she returns to Canada.

Check out Natalie’s work at