MECA inspired

Posted by on Oct 25, 2013 in Illustration, Maine College of Art | 6 comments

Local Portland illustrator Betsy Thompson visited the Maine College of Art illustration department this week, sharing her professional wisdom and talented work. A former K -2 educator, she quickly turned the tables and asked each student to share what medium they worked in, what area of illustration interested them, and what did they want her to address.


I love when visiting illustrators reinforce what I preach in class. She asked how many students kept sketchbooks, and how many were drawing in them right then. I myself was in the middle of a drawing of senior Miles Cook.


She talked about her process, materials, finding a life/work balance, and her inspirations. Betsy said, “Incubation is important. Not all process leads to product, but it counts.” Junior Kristi McDonald asked, “What butters your toast creatively?” For Betsy, it’s getting outside, cooking/eating, sketching, going to galleries. She also sets concrete goals, and says her intentions out loud. She said, “There’s no such thing as balance, it’s a pendulum.” She collects vintage children’s books, and reads tons of kids’ books to inform her work. She collects paper everywhere. Her collage illustrations are done by scanning each paper element, followed by creative digital assemblage using Photoshop. She stressed the importance of using social media to create community as well as a professional profile, and employing old-fashioned good manners.


Betsy toured the illustration studio and viewed some current student projects. Here junior Katie Ackley asks a question.


Thank you, Betsy! I particularly related to her belief in nature as a stimulant for creative blocks. I find inspiration continuously in the halls at MECA, particularly in the recent display from Gail Spaien’s Sophomore Year Lab students. The Nature Lab exhibit included thoughtful installations such as this one by Danielle Frye of banded stones.



I liked this sculpture as well, which had no label.


It reminded me to go visit The Tree Man, a site-specific outdoor installation by Dao Chau Hai and Nguyen Ngoc Lam, two Visiting Sculptors from Hanoi, Vietnam. Their project concept is based on their feelings and understanding about the position, impact and pressure of society on all of us today. I’d heard them speak a couple of weeks ago in Osher Hall, and trotted over to MECA’s Green Space, at the corner of Casco and Shepley Streets.


The space is sometimes locked but it’s really cool to walk through this sculpture and around the striding tree man, who disappears in the photo above, but can you find him in the photo below?


All this gave me food for thought as I returned to my studio to begin sketches for a book jacket for A Generation of Leaves by Nicole d’Entremont. The novel, set in both rural Nova Scotia and the trenches of Europe, tells the saga of Leonce, a young man eager to prove his bravery in WW1. Nicole suggested a visual motif of a central tree losing its leaves. I start my thinking by drawing.


Once I get going, the variables bubble up.


In this season of falling leaves, I took Betsy Thompson’s advice and went for a walk, where looking gave me even more ideas. Can you see the profile shadow here?


Looking leads to more drawing.


I’d also spotted something else in the Nature Lab display, this felted piece by Hannah Boone, whose Disfigurement in Nature was fascinating.


The idea of a head/tree might work.


These 3 sketches were chosen by Nicole to develop further and refine for the book cover.



Before I head back to the drawing board, perhaps a little walk amongst falling leaves is in order, as I count the blessings a creative community like MECA offers. See you outside!



  1. Merci, Jamie. It’s wonderful to see this process evolve–I’ve always felt book jackets are an evocative and important launch into the story.

  2. terrific! Love your writing & pictures! Thanks for sharing.

  3. terrific! Love your writing & pictures! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I have no doubt in my mind that the cover will be amazing :))

    • Thanks, April! I just mailed you a card finally!

  5. Enjoyed seeing and reading about your thought process.

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