Tracy Naughton

Making Waves with Tracy Naughton

Image source: Contributed

Photographer and painter Tracy Naughton has captured the dance between seascapes and female surfers for years. Georgia Beard discovers how this local artist uses her subjects to reveal the importance of living in the moment. 

In Tracy Naughton’s home studio, an unfinished painting sits on her easel. Picture this – a sun-kissed surfer rests on her board as she crests a wave of cerulean blue, searching for the next ride. We can’t see the breaker to come, but we know she’s ready to take it on. 

Paintings and photographs just like this adorn the studio walls, portraying women in fluid connection with the ocean. By the cascades of sunlight, the swell of the waves and the women dancing on their surfboards, it’s clear this artist has found her muse. 

Tracy Naughton of Let Me Sea has held a camera in one hand and a paintbrush in the other since high school. Now a well-recognised local artist, Tracy’s works have appeared in surf brand campaigns, galleries like the Old Ambulance Station and even hotel rooms at the Novotel in Twin Waters. 

Growing up in New Zealand, she went from high school magazine photographer to design student. After moving to the Sunshine Coast and falling in love with the lifestyle, she saw how her photographs could translate onto canvas. 

“I became interested in ocean scenes and did coastal photography, but I wanted to bring more life into it,” she said. “That’s when I started shooting surfers because they’re such a part of the culture here. It just evolved from there.” 

Tracy got involved in surf photography at the Noosa Festival of Surfing eight years ago, and the subject matter quickly became her specialty. 

“I was drawn to the tie-in between the natural landscape and the female form,” she said. 

“I try to be a little bit minimalist, feminine and soft while capturing the relationship between the surfer and the ocean; the way the water moves with the surfer and the surfboard.”

For Tracy, translating a photo onto the canvas is a meticulous process. She decides her medium – acrylic, coloured pencil, alcohol ink or even digital graphics. Then she composes her subjects, mixes her colours and ponders where the light should fall. 

The result is a vibrant, lifelike portrait of a woman on the waves. The image chosen for this edition’s front cover, Golden Days, proves surfing is an artform itself and perfectly captures the autumnal tones and anticipation of waiting for the next wave to ride. 

As Tracy explored the world of surfing through her art, she developed a passion for female empowerment in the industry. In 2018, this inspired her to create She to Sea, an all-female art exhibition in conjunction with the Noosa Festival of Surfing. 

This year, the exhibition was held on International Women’s Day to connect women in surfing, photography and the arts at Noosa Main Beach. With a panel of speakers from the Womens Surf Festival and a showcase of surf-inspired art, photography and apparel, women came together to support each other and share their voices with the community. 

As Tracy’s own artistic voice is heard internationally, she dreams of embarking on a surf photography tour, visiting countries like Hawaii and Mexico to shoot surfers and find inspiration. 

“I’m always looking for something special,” she said. “There’s a lot of experimenting when you’re out there. 

“It’s hard to recreate another moment in time because you’ll never get the same lighting, the same wave and the same position of the surfer. 

“You have to think on the fly and be brave when you’re shooting.”

To capture surfers in action, Tracy often immerses herself in the waves with her camera in underwater housing gear. 

This would be challenging enough if she didn’t have to cope with her ocean phobia too. 

“I didn’t grow up living by the ocean, so I’m not naturally confident in the water. I had to overcome a fear of the ocean, and I still do every time,” she said. “But once you’re in there, it’s the most beautiful environment, and the photos you can get from the water are so different. 

“Being able to play with the angles, the water and the light is pretty special. 

“Tea Tree Bay is my favourite place to shoot, in the afternoon when the light is good,” she said. 

“I also love being in the zone of painting when you get so involved in a painting that everything else doesn’t exist anymore. Those are my two happiest places.”

Tracy finds freedom from her thoughts when she’s creating art, and she hopes to capture that feeling and share it with her audience. 

“I want to bring a sense of calm and peace. I think people can be overreactive and get worked up easily, whereas I want to promote living in the moment and enjoying what our natural world has to offer.”

As she catches landscapes, oceans and surfers in action, the tranquillity of the moment comes in waves. It’s clear wherever her artistic career takes her next, Tracy Naughton will chase the swell and ride the breakers as far as they go.

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