Air­space sculptor Janet Echelman draws inspi­ra­tion from French artist Henri Matisse, who, she said, was in his 80s when he “invented a new way of cre­ating art” by designing cut paper collages.

This is an idea of the kind of life I wanted,” Echelman explained. “I wanted to be chal­lenged at every point and have no one to blame but myself if I wasn’t challenged.”

She spoke to more than 200 stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff who filled the Raytheon Amphithe­ater on Thursday for this second event in North­eastern University’s Pres­i­den­tial Speaker Series enti­tled Pro­files in Inno­va­tion. iRobot cofounder and CEO Colin Angle was the inau­gural speaker on Nov. 3.

Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun hosted the pro­gram, which is designed to bring the world’s most cre­ative minds to campus for con­ver­sa­tions on inno­va­tion and entre­pre­neur­ship. More than 100 people watched the hour-​​long event live on Face­book or on a screen in a sep­a­rate room accom­mo­dating the over­flow audience.

Echelman’s work dove­tails with Northeastern’s focus, Aoun said. “Janet’s work is inter­dis­ci­pli­nary by nature,” he explained. “It fits very well with what we are doing at Northeastern.”

Echelman trans­forms urban space by cre­ating building-​​scale sculp­tures that fuse with the forces of nature, including wind, water and light. Com­bining tra­di­tional craft with cutting-​​edge tech­nology, the inno­v­a­tive artist taps the poten­tial of unlikely mate­rials — from fishing nets to atom­ized water par­ti­cles — to create dynamic, acces­sible expe­ri­ences in cities worldwide.

Some of her most promi­nent instal­la­tions include “Her Secret is Patience,” which spans two city blocks in down­town Phoenix; “Water Sky Garden,” which pre­miered for the 2010 Van­couver Winter Olympics; and “She Changes,” which anchors a water­front plaza in Porto, Portugal.

Echelman summed up the essence of her art by telling a story about a home­less man who asked the artist to explain the meaning behind one of her sculptures.

Everyone gets to make his own meaning out of my work,” she told the man. He walked away and then turned back. “It’s a bird!” he exclaimed.

After the lec­ture, Echelman fielded ques­tions from mem­bers of the audi­ence and Face­book and Twitter users.

Echelman, who was rejected by all seven art schools to which she applied, responded to one Twitter user who ques­tioned how an aspiring artist could follow his or her pas­sion when pro­fes­sional wisdom sug­gested he or she won’t succeed.

It’s about con­tin­uing to work and being open to change and not giving up,” she said. “Be open to let­ting your dream adapt and unfold. It takes a long time to find your voice.”

She encour­aged bud­ding artists to explore as many edu­ca­tional fields as pos­sible. “Study…linguistics, his­tory, mate­rials sci­ence and engi­neering,” she said. “Study any­thing (you) can to develop your voice.”

Prior to Echelman’s address, Aoun played a fun video about a series of net abduc­tions on Northeastern’s campus. In the video, a news­caster reports that a copycat sculptor has pil­fered hair­nets, fishing nets and bas­ket­ball nets in an effort to imi­tate Echelman’s work in honor of her appear­ance at the university.

At the end of the video, Aoun is revealed to be the per­pe­trator. Echelman got a kick out of the video. “That was the most orig­inal and humorous intro­duc­tion I have ever received,” she told Aoun and then quipped, “I knew you were a man of many talents.”