Arts & Crafts

Silent language

Silent language

Hanrie Coetzee’s soft-spoken demeanour and quiet humour underscore her delicate illustrations and art. On the eve of the release of her first children’s book in Australia, we speak to this Skukuza newbie about her magical world.

Last October Hanrie and her husband, an ecology lecturer, moved to the Kruger National Park after two years in Melbourne. Described as the “Cape Town of Aus”, there she was part of a vibrant, creative community surrounded by kindred spirits. One would imagine that her current surrounds might be a bit of a let-down, but not so, she says. In fact, she’s rather ecstatic to be here.

“Skukuza is exciting,” she laughs. “We have more of a social life now than we ever had before.” And who wouldn’t love showing off their backyard to visitors if you’re living in the Kruger Park? She also appreciates the peace and quiet, as bar the odd visit from a baboon outside her studio, it allows her to get on with her work.
Hanrie studied fine arts at Stellenbosch and completed her degree in 2009. A world citizen, she then lived in Iceland and Finland before returning home to Stellenbosch where she, along with four other creatives, started up a production company specialising in documentaries. During this time, she had veered naturally to animation and illustration. She also obtained a subsequent degree, in illustration, in 2014.

Drawing and painting allow her to tell stories of not only great events, but of life’s little incidents, she says. Inspired by people’s personal snippets and histories, she picks up on life’s imperfect moments and captures its beauty and pathos in the most delicate way. And although children’s illustrations are only one of many genres she excels at, her style is perfectly suited to it.
Hanrie’s first children’s book, A Counting Adventure, will be released in September in Australia. It deals with a little girl who discovers local animals as she learns to count. “The book was inspired by the nature surrounding Melbourne and encourages counting and language skills.” It formed part of research she did for her honours degree, also through Stellenbosch University. “I enjoy projects with an educational angle. Art, whether you’re looking at it, or are covered in paint up to your elbows, is a valuable learning tool.”

You have to present a professional package and keep going at it.

“My children’s picture books are inspired by everyday events, but I portray it with more tenderness and light-heartedness,” she says. Aimed at all ages, everyone, including grown-ups, can relate to the quirkiness and playfulness of the stories. Adults perceive subtle humour while children enjoy the detailed images, with its multiple layers of meaning, combining drawing, painting and collages. In her picture books for adults, she portrays things that happen around her and evoked an emotional response. “In the hope that it will also trigger emotions in the audience,” she smiles.
Hanrie’s other love is botanical drawings, one of her favourite commissions, she says. Portraying plants with minute attention to detail and accuracy appeals to her perfectionist nature. “I am fascinated by the intricate detail of scientific illustration. Visual imagery is second nature to me. I express myself through the silent language of drawing because that way I can communicate more eloquently.”

Being somewhat cut off from the “real” world, hasn’t been an impediment to her. “There are many ways to make a living from illustration,” she says. “My images are used on calendars, greeting cards, products – and I did an animal alphabet series for classrooms. It is available in Afrikaans and English and was a natural progression on the children’s book. I’m currently looking at animals in the Kruger as inspiration for my next project.”
As she adores being outdoors and is a keen mountain biker and hiker, she’s in the right place for more than one hobby (not so sure about her other interests, kayaking and scuba diving). She also loves being close to the animals and plants of her native country and enjoys cooking and writing. A keen reader, she lists JM Coetzee, Jonathan Franzen and Haruki Murakami as a few of her favourite authors.

Hanrie leads a satisfying life – keeping herself busy with marketing, a large part of the job these days. And having a delightful Instagram account certainly helps. “You have to present a professional package,” she says, “and keep going at it.” Being active on the right platforms gives one access to markets unimaginable only a decade or two ago, like the huge American wedding-card industry for instance. Being based in Skukuza certainly isn’t a handicap any longer.

Get in touch
Follow her on Instagram (@hanriecoetzee) or send a mail to


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