Treading the line between fantasy and reality

Lillian Hammen (C’19) displays one of her sketches. Photo by Mandy Moe Pwint Tu (C’21).

By Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Executive Staff

Lillian Hammen (C’19) got into art at a very young age. Growing up, her mother, an art aficionado herself, used to put newspaper and some paints on the floor or on the table for Hammen and her sister. While making sure that they never painted on the walls, she allowed them to express their creativity, fostering a love of all things artistic.

“[My mom] was a big believer in ‘children are children, they’re going to make a mess, but if you just put newspaper down first, you’ll be fine,’” said Hammen.

Despite her early start, Hammen did not begin developing her artwork until she reached third grade. In middle school, she started taking studio classes, which convinced her to pursue art. She placed in the advanced levels in high school and attended a few AP studio classes, which she enjoyed, but also found “oddly academic.”

Knowing that she was interested in wire wrapping, her mother signed her up for a class through the Houston Gem and Mineral Society, which hosted a workshop that she could attend. With some wire, Hammen was off, experimenting with lapidary and faceting. She also started sewing when she was in second grade, after spending much of her childhood helping her mother make the bobbin on the sewing machine or assisting with decorative stitches.

Today Hammen wears most of her creations to class, in the form of wire-wrapped necklaces or floor-length dresses.

“There’s something so satisfying when you start with literally a rock or literally a flappy piece of fabric,” she explained, “and by the time you’re done, you have this three dimensional sort of polished, technically accomplished piece.”

“I think in the end that’s what ended up drawing me to artistic things in general,” she continued, “because I like creation, whether that is aesthetic or functional, or whether that is something entirely silly or attempting to compose a poem in alliterative Anglo-Saxon verse to go with a D&D character I did the design for.”

But Hammen’s artistic endeavours do not stop there. On hiking trips with her family, she snaps photographs of scenic landscapes to render into paintings upon her return. One of her favorite pieces is a watercolour painting of Ediza Lake, which lies in the Minaret Range in California. Hammen photographed it early in the morning, when the lake was still, and when she got back home to Houston, Texas, she painted.

“It’s almost hard to tell which way is supposed to be up because the mountains are reflected in the lake,” she said.

The other category that her paintings fall in are geared towards the fantastical. A lover of all things J.R.R. Tolkien, Hammen strives to depict imagined landscapes, tales yet unwritten, and fictional characters that exist in a Dungeons & Dragons game. However, Hammen’s primary goal, whatever the subject matter, is to make it seem as realistic as possible.

She still struggles with properly representing human beings on canvas without a reference. Her reliance on references is the reason she believes that she is more accomplished in real landscape painting as opposed to fantastical.

“I want it to feel real even if the thing itself is a water nymph that is playing with a baby otter or whether it is of some elf warrior with her hippogriff or whether if it’s supposed to be a picture of me,” she said.

Despite her affinity for creative expression across different media, Hammen has no intention of turning a profit from her endeavours. After she graduates in May, she plans to pursue a career in education, obtain her doctorate, and then hopefully become a college professor. While she is open to sponsoring an artistic club at whichever college she ends up teaching at, she prefers to keep her personal creations just that: personal.

“The reason I love it is because I get to sit down, decide on what I’m doing, and carry it out until I’ve taken something that was almost nothing beforehand and then something beautiful by the time I’m done,” she said. “I need it as a creative outlet, I really do. I see myself continuing to do all of these creative and artistic things for as long as I can manage and afford it. But I don’t see it going much beyond that, ever.”