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story.lead_photo.caption Multi-talented artist Lily Phillips poses with a banjo — one of the many outlets of her creativity. Contributed photo

Sixteen-year-old Lily Phillips is what some might call a modern day Renaissance woman. Engaging in creative pursuits both at home and in her community, she wears many different hats, all of them artists’.

“I think, mostly, I’m defined by what I make,” Phillips said. “It’s just this kind of part of you, I guess.”

Phillips began drawing at age 5, trying to trace her toys on a sketchpad and eventually graduating to cartoon characters she saw on television.

“Around 5, we knew there was a real talent there because she was just making cut-outs of cartoon characters and there was this Spongebob that was spot on with all these little details that I’d never even noticed,” said Haley Phillips, Lily’s mother. “That’s when I was like ‘she’s got an eye.’”

A few years later, she picked up sewing – just basic stitches at first then making dolls and their clothes and quilts.

Haley Phillips noted that Lily had also been born into theater, literally. Haley Phillips was pregnant with Lily when she performed in the 25th Anniversary revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the South Arkansas Arts Center, then proceeded to have Lily when she was directing a production of “1776” at SAAC.

As the years have progressed, so has Lily’s art. She said drawing is still her favorite way to express herself, though she has since picked up clothing and costume design, ukulele and banjo, acting, painting and story-telling, among other crafts, as well.

“I’ve been trying different things out for a long time,” Lily said. “I think drawing is the center of all my stuff that I do because I’ve been doing that the longest.”

Lily said she decided at 12 that she wanted to pursue a career in digital animation; in four years, her goal hasn’t changed. She has begun building her portfolio with short clips that she writes, draws, animates and scores herself. Lately she’s preferred stop motion, though she said she has also tried flipbook animation, where one draws each frame of the scene by hand.

In one stop motion video she made, cut outs form an animal-skull-headed figure wearing vagabond-style clothing who is seen standing in the woods playing banjo and swaying to the music. In addition to drawing the figure and background, photographing each frame of the clip and building the film on the computer, Lily also wrote the accompanying banjo track the figure plays along with.

“I don’t, like, write-write usually. I do stories,” she said. “I try to tell it visually. … I think it’s probably my main inspiration to all the stuff that I do, I just like to tell stories and come up with ideas.”

She also paints, saying she usually sticks to landscapes, though she has recently tried her hand at portraits as well. Laughing, she said she’d painted a few self-portraits because she was the only model that was always on hand.

One of Lily’s drawings was featured in the Arkansas Arts Center’s Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition several years ago. Her fifth-grade class produced a book that year called “Why El Dorado,” where students explored what makes El Dorado special to them. Her pen and ink drawing of Hope Landing’s therapy horses traveled across the state with other featured works.

Recently, Lily got another big break when she had the opportunity to act as costume designer for SAAC’s Teen Drama Club’s production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She had previously been a part of the costume crew for other productions, including “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Music Man,” “The Crucible” and “Into the Woods,” but this was her first chance to be the primary costume designer for a production.

She said she particularly likes making dresses, especially the empire silhouette that was featured in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A bonus to building the costumes for Lily was that she is a big Shakespeare fan.

“I really like how dramatized the whole thing is. It’s become a trope; when something is Shakespearean it’s because it’s really dramatic,” she said, describing why she liked the Bard. “I just really enjoy how complicated things get, and it's fun to think that that was the original, kind of, invention of those kind of conflicts.”

Lily said she recently drew inspiration from reading “Frankenstein.” She said she was interested in the hubris of man as a theme, and thinks it has probably shown up in some of her recent work.

“I just want people to be inspired in the way that I’m inspired when I see art that I like,” she said. “I just want to perpetuate that cycle of creativity.”

Gallery: The artistic works of Lily Phillips

Haley Phillips has homeschooled each of her four children. She said they tried public school with each child, sometimes even more than once, but for their family, homeschooling has always worked out better.

“I don’t know what to say except that school didn’t work out for our dynamic and the specific needs of each of my four kids, which were all different,” she said. “[Home] was a better environment. They were happier. They were happier to do their work, they were happier learning, they were learning a little more.”

Her oldest, Betsy, now attends Rhodes College, where she is majoring in Greek and Roman studies. Her younger two, Walt and Maggie, each have interests of their own they pursue as Lily does art.

“It just makes me happy that they have things they’re passionate about and that I’m able to support it,” she said. “That’s my favorite thing about homeschooling.”

She said she has always been impressed by Lily’s creativity.

“She surpasses herself with every project that she does, every single one – every drawing, every garment, every quilt – they get better every time,” she said. “I look at them and I don’t think they can, but they get better and better and better every single time. … I love that she has so many outlets and I love that she enjoys it so much.”

For Lily, she hopes others find ways to express themselves as she has.

“If it makes you happy then keep doing it, and [don’t] compare yourself to others, but take inspiration and aspire,” she said. “I think that it’s really cool when you get to be a creator and I think that humans, that’s kind of part of what makes us human, is that we can have original thought and that we can express that, can express ourselves through that in different ways.”

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or

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