Red house over yonder / Scott Monument

Red house © Samantha Groenestyn












A few years ago, I lived in Edinburgh. When I arrived, fresh off the bus from the airport, suitcase in tow, one of the very first sights to greet me was the looming Scott Monument, shadowing a noisy bag-piper. It’s probably the best monument in the world.

At first sight

While Edinburgh is full of monuments, as I soon learned–Adam Smith on a pedestal, David Hume in a toga (O-week, first year?), an assortment of dudes-on-poles–none are quite so imposing as that commemorating Sir Walter Scott.

Dude on a pole

Adam Smith

While dudes-on-poles and Mr Smith lose their dignity to pigeon shit and traffic cones, Scott is ensconced in a veritable fortress of thought, in the Denkmal castle so big that you can actually pay money to climb the built-in staircase to the top.

View from halfway

Not bad for a writer, eh? I developed a fixation with this Gothic structure, the very feat of engineering one envisions as a child making witches castles at the beach, drizzling wet sand into craggy spires. This is the sort of legacy to which one should aspire.

Gothic splendour

My dad is a builder, and the red house is a sprawling country bungalow flanked by cane fields in Far North Queensland. When he set out on his own and started his own business, and came up with the name Shadow Constructions, my eyes glazed over with the recollection of the Scott Monument. No other construction ever shadowed so mightily. ‘Dad,’ I implored–‘this silhouette: your identity.’


Dude craft

‘Your dead child. Prepare him for new life. Fill him with the earth. Be careful! He should not over-eat. Put on his golden coat. You bathe him. Warm him but be careful! A child dies from too much sun. Put on his jewels. This is my recipe.’ (Madame Benshaw)

Yesterday, these shoes were scuffed old brown shoes, loved day after day, trekked through all terrains.

Today, these trusty shoes were reanimated.

Tomorrow, these shoes will walk again.

I think this little weekend craft, book-ended by Photoshop tutorials and sunset bike-rides, qualifies as a ‘dude craft‘ even though I am more of a lady-dude. It involved boot polish!

The poulet à la d’Albufera recipe above is from none other than Richard Sennett’s cooking teacher, a Persian woman who wrote in metaphor. But that’s a dude craft for another time.



Phoning Mum © Samantha Groenestyn

I am experimenting with style. Thus far my output has been the natural result of my putting paint to paper. I like strong colours, strong lines and textures that don’t quite conform to perspective. I like reflections on shiny objects, and take infinite delight in recreating a view realistically. The expressiveness of realistic painting is much like that of photography—the suggestion of composition. I can frame a view that you could certainly see for yourself, but might not have seen in the way I have. I can draw your eyes to a new centre, where in the world you would see an unfocused panorama. Remember when everyone was stitching their photos together to take panoramic shots of their holidays? It’s because they wanted to capture the view as they saw it, with peripheral vision. I want to show you little worlds that are self-contained, with a person or an object to ponder, at the centre of its own little universe. There is meaning in this that there isn’t in 180-degree vision.

Painting allows for greater manipulation than (unshopped) photography in that the colours can be tweaked—muted, brightened, monochromed and so forth. New moods can be overlaid perfectly realistic images simply by use of colour. By which I mean, through composition and conscious colour manipulation, photo-real paintings can really tell a story without relying on pictorial symbolism or stitching together conceptual motifs. These latter are certainly not my strong point (enter: high school art projects and gut-wrenching memories of candle wax and denim), but I have found other ways to communicate visually, which is, after all, what illustration is about.

Nonetheless, there is something unsatisfying about simply putting brush to paper and accepting the inevitable result. I am at war: the desire to paint accurately is so strong, though more imaginative work is around the corner if I can rein this desire in.

Being self-taught, I have no directed assignments to jolt me into trying new things. What I do have is lots of time to practice what I want to practice. To this end, I have devised a method of analysis and imitation to develop artistically. This does not mean blind mimicry of my idols, but, rather, careful consideration of the elements of their work and the way they differ from mine. I have always collected—vowel sounds, letterforms, haircuts, dress sense—I have compiled a style out of taking small bites of others’ pies and piecing them into my own. My accent is a pleasing amalgam of broad Australian a’s, soft South African e’s, and educated pronounced (rather than clipped) t’s and d’s at the ends of words. My handwriting was carefully appropriated from curled, connected letters penned by others, made fuller and shorter, and looped for optimal speed of writing. While I have the dress-sense of a four-year-old collided with Amy Winehouse, I can quote my sources. The key is to be selective and to be thoughtful. So will I approach my illustration style.



Fluid © Samantha Groenestyn


The other night, after a steamy day, a hot breeze descended and a storm fell across us as we slept. I woke to low, rattling thunder amidst hectic dreams, and the rain seemed to fall for hours. I imagined watching it from the veranda, water black like ink, pouring over the gutters and washing out the sleeping city. (Illustration Friday)

Media: pen, ink wash
Listening to: First Aid Kit


Workspace / tools

I love ‘snooping’ around other people’s workspaces. This is where I sit. An old kitchen table, a cute shelf stacked on top, and an antique chair of J’s from his opa. I like to keep my most studious books to hand–books on illustration, typography and languages–as well as travel momentos and pieces of my old car (note flying car picture made by my bro on the wall). The lamp is an essential as it’s a nice shady corner. To my right is a door (recently un-stuck by my dad when he came to visit) opening on to the veranda which brings in a welcome breeze.

Things I need for painting. I work at A3 and A4 size. I sketch out in pencil first, from life if possible (this may involve perching on a chair in the kitchen). It helps to reference photos from my computer to check colouring.

Things I need for sketching in the world. I pretty much always sketch in pen, and it’s a Uniball Eye (the micro is best, but fine is okay). I love the fluidity of the line–it never sticks or clumps, the ink just pours onto the page in a consistent river of black. This is the best thing I ever learned from an art-affiliated instructor: get comfortable with your own strokes. Mark your page boldly.

Incidentally, these watercolours are ace. They are Windsor & Newton and fit into the tiniest of handbags. Pocket rainbow!


Field sketches

Lady Moxam © Samantha Groenestyn


A warm, lethargic Sunday afternoon in the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, my trusty sketchbook and Uniball, and a flash new watercolour set to test out.

Money-obsessed small children pleaded with their mothers to be allowed to dive into ponds to collect glistening coins, reasoning that ‘wishes never come true, Mum, I make wishes all the time and they never come true’–let’s just grab the money. They were momentarily distracted by the tiny green tree frog on the branch of Lady Moxam.


Living intentionally

Cloves © Samantha Groenestyn

Never seeing the person you love again—this is the harrowing reality facing Ira in Discover Love, a performance I had the privilege to see the Belarus Free Theatre perform last night. After a lifetime of struggle, poverty, and surviving with barely a moment to talk, Ira’s husband Tolya is kidnapped and executed. Giddy childhood memories, the street community, falling in love with her physics teacher—a rich patchwork of a life is stitched together like Ira’s grandmother’s cheerful patchwork quilt, with vibrant dancing, a haunting ocarina and a box of oranges. All is dashed when one life out of so many is removed.

Somehow it seems like the very struggle for existence makes life richer and more meaningful. The poverty, the daily resistance, the bold eastern European culture set amidst the repression of a former Soviet republic have a guilty romanticism. When another man approaches Tolya and asks him to leave Ira, Tolya quietly, in his beautiful curling language that sounds like softly warbling doves, explains, ‘I love my wife, and we have struggled so much to be here now. It would be best if you left.’

Somehow, the idea that such passionate, salt of the earth people could want our gaudy consumer-driven lives, could want to move to such a bland, banal country as our own, is a let down. Yes, we have opportunity, and wealth, and freedom to choose—freedom, indeed, to perform theatre, while members of the Belarus Free Theatre are exiled from their own country—and we would never wish the agonies portrayed in Discover Love on our brothers and sisters abroad. But what is this fine line between living hungrily, purposefully and meaningfully, and living under hardship and fear? Is it possible for us to live so intentionally in complete freedom? Our freedom makes our challenges trifles. If only we could learn from Tolya that ‘one shouldn’t cry over trifles’.

The resounding declaration from Discovering Love is that ‘Every person is free. No one rules over anyone else.’ Not husbands, not employers, not states.

Source: Brisbane Powerhouse











Discover Love is showing at the Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre until Sunday 19 February, 7.30pm; Sunday 1pm, 6pm, with a free Q&A session following Saturday’s performance. $25-$30.

* Our homemade spice rack, replete with old cook books from my mum.