South Portland woman finds path to her 'creative spirit'

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SOUTH PORTLAND — When Jennifer Lawson set out to walk 500 miles for a milestone birthday in 2014, little did she know she would emerge as an artist and author.

Lawson and her friend Patricia Lennon decided to celebrate their 60th birthdays by walking along the Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied de Point, France, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Lawson, a South Portland resident, took 32 days to walk the trail by covering 12 to 27 miles a day. She used a set of hiking poles and had a 20-pound pack on her back with art supplies that included mechanical pencils, pen, brushes, a small watercolor kit, and sketchbooks. Scallop shells hung from the backpack to identify her as a pilgrim. 

Lawson spent 20 years as vice president of creative design for L.L. Bean in Freeport, followed by 10 years as a freelance creative director-designer and illustrator. Lawson said after leaving Bean she found something was missing in her life.

 “Nothing in my life was feeding my creative spirit,” she said.

So Lawson picked up a pencil and sketchbook and began to draw, but never called herself an artist. She decided to sketch every day on the Camino using watercolors over ink. 

“I learned it has taken me a while to understand the significance of my pilgrimage on the Camino,” she said. “This 500-mile journey taught me to believe in my real artist self: I make art, therefore I am.”

After arriving back in the United States, a friend suggested she complete a PechaKucha, which is a presentation of 20 slides, with 20 seconds to talk about each one, so she joined eight other people at the Asylum in Portland. Lawson received a standing ovation and people wanted to know when her book would be out.

The answer came in 2015, when she did a second presentation and posted sketches on Facebook, which started her book journey. 

“I love to draw; I really enjoyed remembering and writing the story,” Lawson said. “The story didn’t go away, it was always in my head. It was nice to put it down on paper. It was a nice break from the illustrations.”

The 90-page book, “Walking in Watercolor: An Artist’s Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago,” contains more than 200 beautiful, original watercolor sketches. 

The first printing of the book was in April, and on May 25 a book launch was held. It’s for sale on Amazon.com and on her website, jlawsonart.com.

Lawson, who in the past hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro and New Hampshire’s White Mountains, has more recently walked 165 miles along the Camino Portugues, known as the Portuguese Way. In April, Lawson walked  200 miles along the Via Francigena in Italy. 

She has also sketched and painted up and down the Maine coast and throughout the U.S., and also in Paris, Barcelona, and on the island of Bali.

“I absolutely love walking and sketching,” she said. “You get to see the landscape and towns and meet the people. Being a pilgrim is a really interesting experience.”

Lawson said she dreams of returning to Italy to walk more of the Via Francigena, which runs from France to Rome.

“I think I have more walks and more books in me,” she said.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter@melaniesochan

Jennifer Lawson of South Portland is the author and illustrator of “Walking in Watercolor: An Artist’s Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.”

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