Full time

I’ve almost forgotten I have a home, because I’ve been bunkered down at the Atelier which I pretty much never want to leave. You may recall I’m taking a three-month intensive, having thrown in all steady employment in favour of a full-blown art frenzy, and I’m happy to report that it’s everything I hoped and dreamed.

My glorious new routine involves getting up at the same time every day (what luxury!), and this time is not remotely near 5am, taking some brain food such as Bammes or Scott’s ‘book’ to a pleasant, sunny café, and cruising down to the studio by 9.30 to work intently until late afternoon (tea breaks allowed).

Scott’s book

I then potter around a while, working on some illustration and such before the evening class, and head home after about twelve hours of making art. Some days there are models, some days there are casts, some days there are cylinder horses. I’ve investigated the properties of cylinders, discovered three-point perspective, faceted David’s eye, explored turning points through colour, carved masses out of charcoal smudges and rendered some velvety legs. It’s extremely satisfying to work hard all day and to feel like all the knowledge one has gained barely scratches the surface. A lifetime of challenge and intellectual stimulation awaits—art is inexhaustible.

So much of what we do is learning to see, and we learn to see by doing. There’s no fixed curriculum, no exams, no term times, no lectures. The teachers attend to us one at a time, demonstrating their own distinct methods and directing us through exercises that correspond to what we already know and what we hope to gain. I don’t note down anything, I only listen and question and try for myself, and listen again and try again. The teachers bring new explanations, new examples, deftly trailing their pencils across my page to unpack things, connect things, describe things. A new language is penetrating my vocabulary as anatomical words drift along assured pencil strokes. Hearing a piece of information doesn’t cement it, but there is always a day when the new knowledge leaps from the page and everything becomes clear.

Tools are always to hand—skulls, flayed figure casts, iPads, books. Books on bones and muscles, books on artists, historical books, philosophy books. Discussion trips from brushstrokes to politics to sugar-free diets. Cake is shared. Those who find scant time for art feel something when they come—they feel compelled to justify their life choices, assure us of their artistic capabilities, make us understand how big they are in the outside world. But at the atelier, life is art. Nothing else is as pure or simple or profound, and those who seek refuge elsewhere are but making weak excuses for themselves.

Also, we are having a summer show. It’s soon! It’s in Paddington, Brisbane! If you want to hear us wax lyrical about art and see a bunch of drawings of Nicolo (and some other things), you should drop by the RQAS gallery on Petrie Terrace on Saturday 8 December. I’m going to be showing Rufus (‘a painting worthy of its name’—‘well I’d best name it, then’):

Rufus © Samantha Groenestyn


‘This willingness to continually revise one’s own location in order to place oneself in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. One submits oneself to other minds (teachers) in order to increase the chance that one will be looking in the right direction when a comet makes its sweep through a certain patch of sky.’ (Scarry*, p. 7).

Time to go make some more art. x

*Scarry, Elaine, 1999. On beauty and being just. Princeton University Press: New Jersey.



The Meadows © Samantha Groenestyn

Right this minute, a bunch of custom notecards are making their way to my dear friend Elizabeth in Scotland! Liz and I used to live together in Edinburgh, and these cards bring back happy memories for me as I hope they will for her.

Edinburgh Castle © Samantha Groenestyn

Skye sheep © Samantha Groenestyn

Rolling hills © Samantha Groenestyn

Yep, I’m available for commissions. Just send me a friendly note!




Taste, beauty and Australia

Westminster © Samantha Groenestyn

I have been heartily enjoying an Australian literary classic penned in 1960: Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness*. Though I have no architectural ambitions, buildings hold some lingering fascination for me, and Boyd’s speculations on and criticisms of Australian architecture half a century ago are razor-sharp when applied to the Australian aesthetic (or lack thereof) in whichever field it raises its beastly head. Our ‘youth’ as a nation is not responsible for our dire aesthetic sensibilities—rather, we have willfully cultivated a population proud of its poor taste, and seized on this revulsion to beauty as a defining national characteristic. Boyd calls it, rather cleverly, Featurism.

Featurism, according to Boyd, is a sort of decorative approach to design, and in turn a sort of enshrining approach to decoration. It is about appearances rather than function or utility, and as such it allows no room for subtlety, or the beauty to be found in elegant simplicity. It is one hundred percent veneer: false surfaces applied to questionable (and most likely poorly imitated) structures. The Australian rarely designs, argues Boyd. He defines design as fundamentally a problem-solving exercise involving ‘find[ing] order in a confusion of functional requirements and conflicting economic demands,’ requiring the designer ‘to blend separate parts into a whole, single, unified concept’ (p. 22). The Featurist fails to step up to such a challenge: ‘The Featurist, on the contrary, deliberately and proudly destroys any unified entity which comes into his hands by isolating parts, breaking up simple planes, interrupting straight lines, and applying gratuitous extra items wherever he fears the eye may be tempted to rest’ (p. 23). The architect, artist or designer faces an uphill battle trying to get through to a public that can only appreciate the surface. Glazed eyes slide over the visual landscape until they lock momentarily onto a flashy surface trick, and this is the extent of the audience’s engagement.

Featurism is exactly what it sounds like: One builds a house that stands out on one’s street, with a nice peaked gable with little wooden scrolls on it, and a lattice gate with a bell next to it. The veranda is covered in all manner of wind chimes, exotic plants and antique chairs. The living room has a feature wall, perhaps plum purple, painted in the granulated paint that must be swished on in multiple directions so that its rough surface picks up the light in different ways, mimicking some ancient Italian stucco. The feature wall has an antique telephone table in front of it, accompanied by a statue and a large, colourful painting in a flashy gilt frame. Fake flowers (these are Boyd’s pet hate) are a downright necessity. The car is of American make, but painted in suitably Australian primary colours, with leather seats, or sheepskin seat covers, with a smaller wooden steering wheel, billiard ball gear stick knob, checkerplate floor mats, custom pedals, neon-lit dash, chrome trimmings and stickers of your family on the rear window.

‘This is the nature of the prosperity,’ argues Boyd. ‘There is no attraction to the idea of upsetting the comfortable status quo by fundamental re-thinking on appearances, while loose coins in every pocket jingle eagerly to be spent on novel, exciting surface effects’ (p. 116). Australia has reached a level of prosperity on par with Scandinavia—our standard of living is incredibly high, we work hard, we’re well-educated. None of this is enough. The respect that Sweden or Denmark affords its creatives is entrenched in a culture that values design as ingenious solutions. Australia offers its creatives no such respect; Autralians only want to be wowed. ‘In this busy age ordinary taste has become so dulled and calloused that anything which can startle a response on jaded retinas is deemed successful: it draws attention to the fact that paint has been used and progress is afoot’ (p. 109).

As an artist, then, I face a choice. Australia may be receptive to my art, but at what cost? If perhaps the most shallow of my paintings are the most appealing to people, will I give up on trying to give meaning to my work? If producing decorative pieces is enough, I won’t be able to explore and grow as an artist. If my intellect is removed from my work, forcefully or out of sheer apathy, my growth as a human being is stunted. This is no way to live one’s life when the world is rich with experiences and knowledge and ideas to work through. Such a choice has dogged Australians with a spark of life in them for generations: ‘Most Australians … do not wish to be reminded of the facts that their country is still known abroad as an artistic and intellectual desert, and that they themselves would never be taken seriously without their denying to some extent their Australian upbringing and background, and that highly talented Australians in any of the non-useful fields of art or science have to face a dramatic decision early in their careers. They can stay here in easy-going comfort with their talent and their frustrations both working at half-pressure, or they may wrench themselves from their own country in order to develop themselves’ (p. 76).

I, of course, am a true blue Featurist. Raised on a gluttonous diet of ornament, colour and pattern, my house is a veritable goldmine of Persian rugs, tapestry-upholstered couches, tacky French prints, Dutch crockery, fake flowers, moustache cushions and ugly lamps. (Boyd considers lamps to have always ‘brought out the worst in designers’ (p. 117) ). ‘Voluntarily or involuntarily,’ he laments, ‘Featurism dogs Australia even when she sets out with good intentions of avoiding it’ (p. 22). My lavish poor taste infects everything I touch, because I can’t communicate through subtlety, and my eyes delight in being assaulted. I’m determined to grow out of this and to learn to appreciate quality beneath the surface. As for my country—our lack of respect for beauty and real engagement with design is most likely far too entrenched.


* Boyd, Robin. 2010 [1960]. The Australian Ugliness. Text: Melbourne.


Pint size


Come along to another little show in West End next month! I’m showing two small pieces as part of a group exhibition hosted by IncStamp. Over thirty Brisbane artists are taking part, so there’ll be a plethora of tiny pretty things to dazzle your eyes.

Thursday 6th December, 6.30pm-10pm
Chambers at 32, 32 Hardgrave Road

Bring your mum! Bring your friends! We’ll go for beers afterwards!


Action and preparation

Princess © Samantha Groenestyn

How does one go about pursuing a career in art? My educational background puts me at something of a disadvantage in terms of knowing anything at all really about the accepted career progression of professional artists, and this has forced me to be somewhat resourceful and unorthodox in my approach. I dream up things, try them, and see if they work. My rather brash method is to act—quickly—and then to stop and evaluate the response to my efforts before taking another brazen step. I’m learning by doing—arranging shows, talking to strangers, and most of all, sharing. I can’t afford to keep anything under wraps; I have to be open about my work, have it ready to show anyone who is interested, and ready to react to their response. I’m learning on the job: learning both how to establish myself as an illustrator and how to go about my craft. I’m trying to grow both at once.

Sketches from the Prado exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery

I’ve been fortunate enough to learn more about the big, bad art world through my artist friends, big-deal gallery openings and talking to the types of people who buy (or don’t buy, as the case may be) art. I’m discovering that one might approach a career in art in a deliberate and measured way. One might take a lengthy period of time to think and to ready oneself, to prepare. Being sure of your work and intentions can enable you to present something solid when the time is right.

I’ve always been in a hurry to do all the things I want to do, and far more inclined to dive right in without adequate forethought, be it moving to Edinburgh to study having done zero research on Edinburgh, or buying lovely musical instruments on a whim, or signing up for a graphic design course three days before the beginning of term. I think of it as engineering luck by pushing myself into situations that might become opportunities. I suppose it’s a bit like playing those old computer games, like Street Fighter, and just pushing that one button really fast so you get the most kicks in and you more or less have to win because something has to connect. But now that I think about it, look at all the energy I have to expend in so many directions! What if I had the focus to work at the one thing I knew mattered to me most of all?

But while I may be over-stimulated, I certainly don’t have a limited attention span. I work most satisfyingly when I work intently on one thing for hours at a time. I like not having to rush; I like labouring over my task and doing it well. Perhaps I’ve reached a point where I’ve tried enough things and need to consider which things are really worth my attention.

Coffee date with Bammes

In fact, I am culling a few things from my hectic schedule just now and am quietly thrilled to be adjusting to probably the best phase of my life so far. As of this coming week, I will no longer be working part time at a café to pay my bills, and I will no longer be spending several evenings a week wrestling with Photoshop and InDesign. It’s hopes and dreams from here on in, baby, and I won’t be pouring away a minute of my time on anything that isn’t art. I’m starting with a three-month intensive at the atelier, peppered with a week at Julian Ashton’s in Sydney, and making a lot of hot dates with Bammes.

Wish me luck!

If you make it down to Vulture Street, West End in Brisbane, you can see some more of my paintings in The Happy Cabin and SOL Breads, as well as some brand new works and my blog banner at The Box.



Just quietly, Venezia has gone up for auction on the Illustrators Australia website. All the 9 x 5 paintings will be auctioned on the opening night, this coming Friday, but you can get in early if you so desire (or if you can’t make it to Melbourne) and make a bid.

Some of the other submissions are looking pretty swish, why don’t you go and take a look?

Space 39,
39 Little Collins St,

Friday 9th November, 6pm.

Quality time with Bammes over coffee.