Erin Hammill selects a pen and leans over a drafting table in her family’s Manitou Beach home. On the piece of art paper placed on the table, a picture of a pair of elephants is taking shape.
She uses the pen — a 005, with the finest of points — to create a series of dots within the penciled-out sketch of the two animals. And slowly, the baby elephant’s ear begins to fill in, with the dots creating the most subtle of shadings of light and dark.
The technique, called stippling, uses dots to create the desired effects within the design. Similar to the way an Impressionist painting when viewed up close might look like a series of short paint strokes but when looked at from a distance is a complete picture, the dots in Hammill’s artwork create the details and shading within the overall image.
Hammill specializes in surreal artwork, full of symbols that are very personal to her. Much of her images have environmental or nature-oriented themes. For example, for one piece, which she’s titled “Awakening” and which shows a tree whose roots grow down into a clock face with two dragons on either side, she’s written the following for her Web site:
“From the time we are born to the moment we finally confront our last breaths, we are absorbed with the pursuit of understanding our environment, ourselves and the nature of the reality that exists beyond. The tree shows the purpose of nature … to hold us together, without it we could not exist. So why, for something so important as this, do we treat it so badly? Without thought we destroy. The clock is a symbol of time. We need to understand that time is precious, something we cannot get back, alter or change; we must use it wisely. All together we are a whole, so we need to start acting as one. No longer a world of opposites … start taking care of each other, this earth, its animals, our home. The only one we know and share … our gift.”
Already, Hammill’s work has found its way into collections nationwide, and she’s won several awards and been featured in national publications. Some of her images have been auctioned off for local benefits. She’s also attracted the attention of artists around the world including Paul Kaiser, who grew up in Michigan and now works in the New York City area. When Kaiser made a recent trip back to Hastings, she modeled for him for some of his own art.
Many of her images are mathematically based, with laboriously plotted out geometric figures. “It takes a lot of mathematics to figure out the proportions,” she says. And it often means needing things around the house to create the exact shapes she needs.
Page 2 of 3 - “She’ll be running around the house saying ‘I need a circle!’ ” her mother, Amy, said with a laugh.
When it comes to the dragons that populate a number of her pieces, “I’ve always been in love with dragons and stuff like that,” Erin Hammill says, “and I’ve always had a love for Eastern and world cultures.”
And even creatures like the dragons can have a nature-based twist to them. In another of her images, titled “The Visionary,” a dragon staring into a ball — Hammill has written for her Web site that he is watching “pieces of the future unfold” — has a tail that morphs into a fern.
Given the style of Hammill’s art, it’s apparent, as she readily acknowledges, that the late artist M.C. Escher is a major inspiration for her. Escher, a Dutch graphic artist, used mathematics and geometric shapes in his work.
At the same time, “I’ve always been into things that are out of the norm,” she says. “I like (the surrealist) Dali because the things you see (in his art) make you think a bit.”
Each of her drawings starts out with a pencil sketch that she then laboriously stipples with her variety of black ink pens: wider tips for bigger dots, finer tips for smaller ones. Graphite pencils might also be used for shading. Some of her images then get a watercolor wash to add just a little color.
It’s painstaking work … and pretty unforgiving. “With ink, you can’t make mistakes,” her mother says. “The most you can do is work (the mistake) in.”
Depending on the size of the picture, it might take anywhere from a week to a couple of months, sometimes 100 or more hours, to complete a piece. “She can sit for hours stippling,” Amy Hammill says.
But as meticulous as she has to be, Erin Hammill enjoys working with this technique. When she was starting out as an artist, she experimented with oils and watercolors, but fell in love with ink and the stippling process, which her mother first showed her how to do.
“Something about it just seems fun to me,” she says.
“You can create more details. It just makes it pop.”
Hammill has spent a lot of time trying to decide exactly what to do with her life as a professional artist. For a while when she was a child, she had her heart set on being an animator for Disney, but now she’s set on doing illustrative work.
“I’ve always wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book,” she says. She even has a plotline developed, about a caper carried out by a group of laboratory animals who have special abilities.
Page 3 of 3 - Eventually, she also wants to open her own art gallery, which she’s calling Erin’s House, that’s specifically for artists who, for a variety of reasons, would never get their work into a traditional gallery.
“There are so many extremely talented artists. It’s unreal what they can do,” she says, “and some are struggling, some are single parents, some are homeless.”
Right now, her next step is to make her art available as high-quality, limited-edition, hand-signed Giclee prints, which will be available through her Web site and will come boxed, rather than rolled up in a tube, so that they will lie flat.
The site, www.erinhammill.com, is slated to launch Jan. 30.
Hammill says she’s been drawing since before she learned to talk. And she quickly displayed a real knack for noticing detail in the world around her. Her mother tells the story of how, when Erin was very little, they saw a T-shirt in a store depicting a cartoon character.
“We couldn’t afford to buy it,” she says. “She stared and stared at it, and when we got home she got out a piece of paper and drew (the character). Every detail that was on that character, she had to a T. … She’s the kind of person who looks at a tree and sees the design in the bark and the veins in the leaves, and she’s been that way since she was little.”
“I do tend to look closely at details,” Erin Hammill says.
Much of what makes its way into her art starts out as either careful examination of the world around her or from research done on the Internet. For artwork like her pair of elephants, she studies pictures of animals to determine the smallest of details, like how an elephant’s trunk wrinkles, and what its surroundings look like so she can get the grass around the animals exactly right.
She looks down again at her drafting table and the gradually-coming-into-realistic detail animals on the paper, and says, rather understatedly:
“I am a little bit of a perfectionist.”
Daily Telegram (Adrian, Mich.)