Picture as Portal, LLC is a venture between 2 professional medical illustrators, Betsy Palay and Tami Tolpa. Our mission is to empower anyone—through a simple course of training—to create clear, compelling pictures that communicate about science, technology, and other subjects, no matter how complex.

Betsy Palay

Betsy has over 30 years of experience creating visual communications for science researchers, educators, major biotech companies, and entrepreneurs. She is the founder and former president of a design firm that specialized in investor communications, assisting clients to raise over half a billion dollars in Initial Public Offerings (IPO’s). Betsy has an MS in medical and biological illustration from the University of Michigan, is a Board-Certified Medical Illustrator, and is a Fellow and a past president of the Association of Medical Illustrators.

Tami Tolpa

Tami has over 20 years of experience in scientific illustration and animation for clients including: Scientific American Magazine, The Scientist Magazine, Science News, MIT's Technology Review, Harvard University, and the University of Washington, as well as numerous physicians and biotechnology companies. Tami has an MFA in medical illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She’s a past board member and current Fellow of the Association of Medical Illustrators. Tami has spoken about science communication using visuals on twitter, at the University of Washington, at Science Talk '18, at ComSciCon-PNW, and as part of the Biotweeps BTCon'18 twitter conference, and on the Mostly Science livecast following the conference. You can read an interview with Tami on Debbie Irwin's website. Her professional website is www.tolpa.com, @tolpastudios.

SPARK is the culmination of many years of collaboration between Betsy and Tami. It evolved from similar lectures, workshops, and courses taught in-person through Stanford Continuing Studies; the University of California, San Francisco; the Stanford SIMILE program; the Stanford Hume Center for Writing and Speaking; and the Anatomy Division and Lane Medical Library at the Stanford School of Medicine.

The enthusiasm of our students in these earlier efforts was the inspiration to create this online version of SPARK. And their input has been invaluable in refining it. Here are some of their comments:

“Amazing course. I’ve never seen anything quite like this and was thrilled to get such great instruction on a challenging and rarely taught topic.”

“The course far exceeded my expectations because it taught me a new way to see.” 

“… the best thing I learned was how powerful it is to communicate concepts by visuals.” 

"This was an extremely practical, hands on class. The techniques I learned will definitely help me on the job.” 


100% of respondents answered “yes” when asked in an anonymous survey, “Do you think you will be able to use what you learned in this course?”