Taking wing

Hannah Werchan standing against a door she painted with wings
Hannah Werchan standing in front of a door she painted with wings

TWU alumna Werchan living her best life

April 22, 2024 – DENTON – Hannah Werchan is living the dream.

Not in the way the phrase "living the dream" is often uttered – sarcastically regarding a bad job, bad marriage, bad whatever.

Despite dealing with a debilitating condition that causes chronic pain, hearing loss and bone and joint abnormalities and has no cure, Werchan is actually, truly, sincerely living the dream. She's doing what she loves and living with those she loves in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

She loves painting and drawing, and she's very good at it. So says the Kennedy Center, which in 2018 named her the winner of the VSA Emerging Young Artists Competition. And so say the clients who pay Werchan for her art.

She loves her mother, Melissa Werchan, who spent much of Hannah's life taking her to doctors' appointments and helping her deal with the effects of Stickler Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder.

And a year ago, Hannah, an alumna of the Texas Woman's University Visual Arts division, joined her mother living on Isla Mujeres, a four-mile long slice of paradise eight miles off the coast of Mexico. The day we spoke, Hannah and her mom were taking the ferry that afternoon to Cancun for groceries and painting supplies.

"When I first went off to college, my mom, who taught for over 20 years, retired from teaching," Werchan said. "She loved this little island down in Mexico, and she's like, 'I'm just going to move down there.' So she did. She moved about eight years ago. Once I finished school, she said, 'You can come stay with me, Hannah, and do art.' I couldn't say no. I've been here a year and it's been wonderful. It's been really exciting.

"I love hanging out with my mom. We've always been very close and spent a lot of time together, so it was easy to come down here and live with her, and it's been great to spend more time with family."

Even Hannah's health has improved since moving to the Caribbean.

"I'm healthier now than I've ever been," she said. "The food is really great. Everything is fresh. I ate a lot of frozen dinner meals in college, Hot Pockets, what have you. But everything down here is freshly made, fresh ingredients. Walking around is great. The sunshine is great. Electronics don't like the warm, humid weather, but bodies do. So, yeah. My body feels great down here. And I have doctors in Cancun, so the medical care is great."

map of Isla Mujeres
Map of Isla Mujeres

She's also learning Spanish and embracing a new culture.

It sounds like the stuff of artistic legend. Paul Gauguin on Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. Andrew Wyeth on the islands of Allen and Benner off the coast of Maine. Ashley Bickerton on Bali.

Isla Mujeres fits alongside those locales. It's extremely walkable. Most of the driving is done in golf carts, which can cover the length of the island in 20 minutes. And its colors are stunning, vibrant and striking.

"I get to see so many amazing sites," Werchan said. "Mexico is so colorful. I'm trying to dedicate much more time to my art, but as far as subject matter, I mean, there's just no limit to inspiration down here. There's so much beauty."

Since graduating from TWU, Werchan had to make the adjustment everyone faces after finishing school: earning a living. Art for art's sake can be far different than art for paying customers.

"In school, a lot of my art was based on a lot of ideas and conceptual backgrounds to the work," she said. "A lot more substance. I just enjoyed that so much. I feel like this is a little bit more kind of chill art that I enjoy. It's not quite as academically rigorous with the ideas behind it. A lot of my art nowadays is just art for the island, whether it's the new mural I just finished or doing painting and drawings on my own time of different spots around the island. I've been making little series, like a collection of food art or a collection of different stores around the island, recognizable places. So it's been really fun capturing parts of the island into little artworks. And, of course, people who come to visit or live here just love it. So working for clients has been really fulfilling and very fun."

She's also expanded her repertoire beyond the canvas. Castillo Del Mar, a six-bedroom home that rents rooms, hired Werchan to paint its front wall and gate.

"I sometimes have trouble with the big paintings because of my connective tissue disorder," Werchan said. "I'm learning how to do bigger paintings but still make it manageable for me physically. I have to wear my back brace if I want to work on murals to physically get around some of my limitations, but make it work and find new ways to do it. I've been doing a lot more bigger work. Being able to work larger and with new types of medium, that's been exciting, and that's a change in my practice."

This is not, however, a retreat from the rest of the world. Werchan still contributes to Lead Dog Digital, a marketing, advertising, web development firm from of her hometown, Tyler, Texas.

"I just continued with them and it's awesome," she said. "I can work from home on my computer, living here, obviously, everything's online. Writing, editing for digital advertising, SEO and search engine optimization. I also do a little bit of freelance writing, editing, starting to do a little bit of graphic work. So my graphic professor, Julie (Libersat, TWU visual arts associated professor), I hope she's happy to hear that."

It's the kind of life that remote work has long promised.

"Just doing some work and enjoying this beautiful island," Werchan said. "I walk around a lot because everything's so walkable, and just walking to go get groceries and saying hello to my neighbors. It's just a very simple but rich and fulfilling life. I've been having a wonderful time.

"My mom and I have to kind of pinch each other. I can't believe we live here and make it work. We don't have a ton of money or anything, but we're careful with our spending and we make it work. It's a nice life."

Hannah Werchan's artwork

Hannah street scene
Hannah with octopus
Hannah with octopus
Castillo Del Mar
Hannah's painting of drink stand
Hannah's painting of food stand
Hannah's painting of cafe
Doors painted with butterfly wings

Media Contact

David Pyke
Digital Content Manager

Page last updated 8:45 AM, March 25, 2024