Hungry for Louisiana, Louisiana, LSU, The Writing Life

About artist Betsy Neely, Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey illustrator

May 18, 2015

I’m so grateful to Louisiana artist Betsy Neely for creating the charming original black & white drawings that lead off each chapter in Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey. Betsy and I had a great time connecting over this project. Our process was to meet and discuss the tone and intention of each chapter, and in those meetings, I shared some of the things that stood out most during my research. As we talked, a single image would generally emerge between the two of us that seemed to sum it all up. Then Betsy would head off to her studio to start sketching.

Shortly after the book came out this spring, I visited Betsy at her home and studio. I wanted to find out more about her process as an artist. Finishing a book has given me new appreciation for all artistic forms and what drives creatives to pursue their crafts (….because I understand how consuming it is, and how hard it is to fit it into regular life…!) I’m so lacking in visual skills – give me words – so I loved hearing about how an image comes into focus for an artist.

Betsy’s studio has north light, the kind of consistent light most artists prefer to work in because it doesn’t change dramatically as the position of the sun shifts. A native of Alexandria, Louisiana, Betsy is primarily a painter, working in oils, acrylics and watercolor. However, she has also illustrated two other LSU Press titles, River Road Rambler, by my friend Mary Ann Sternberg and The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs by Katherine K. Schlosser.

For the snoball chapter, I asked Betsy to take this photo of my daughter at age 2 and work it into the drawing.


We wanted to pair it with an image of a traditional snoball stand in the background, and while we looked at numerous images of photos around the state, we ended up settling on the snoball stand in my neighborhood. My friends in Baton Rouge will recognize it as the Country Corner, a Vietnamese-owned convenience store in the Garden District where you can pick up a newspaper, cold drink, meat pie, boiled crawfish, bottle of wine and a snoball.  I totally love that place.


Betsy earned an MFA in painting and drawing at LSU, studying under well-known artists including Ed Pramuk and the late Michael Crespo. She’s worked for nearly 35 years in graphic design but has always painted, often en plein air at the beach or in New Orleans. She loves how light and shadow play in human spaces – a hallway in a home, or a dining room in a restaurant or other places that occupy people as they go about the business of living. Lately, she’s got a thing for restaurants, like the cover image on this post, which she calls Dinner at Antoine’s.

Here are some more of her working sketches for the book. This was for the oyster chapter.

BetsyNeely1 BetsyNeely2

There was nothing more terrifying than dropping off original drawings (of which there are no duplicates) to the LSU Press when we go to the production stage. It’s a funny thing to hold a piece of original art in a world defined by electronic copies.

I love how the images turned out, and hope you enjoy them as well.

Thank you, Betsy!



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