Chances are you’ll recognize her work, but if not, Lisa Congdon is a fine artist, illustrator, and designer you’ll want to get to know! I’ve been a fan of Lisa’s work for years. It’s bright, cheerful, and inspirational. Her work has been featured in numerous publications and she is the author of over 7 books! Her illustrations were featured in one of our last book club books, “Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History.” Getting a later start in the art world, Lisa is an amazing example of following your dreams and working hard for them. Make sure you get the book art she illustrated for us inspired by our very own “Craft the Rainbow!”
We hope you enjoy this inspiring look into Lisa Congdon’s creative process!
Interview with Lisa Congdon
How did your illustrative style develop? How has it developed and changed over the course of your career?
With lots and lots and lots of practice! I am self-taught – I didn’t go to school to study art. I also didn’t start drawing or painting until I was 31 years old. Now I am 50, so I’ve been at it awhile, but I got a late start. For me, the most essential thing has been the discipline of drawing or painting almost every day for the past 12 years. You can’t do something every day and not eventually get pretty good at it, and also develop your own style or approach. My style has definitely evolved over the past 12 years, but there are aspects that have remained very consistent. For example, my work has always been very colorful, and I’ve used mostly the same seven or nine colors for most of those years. My work has always been influenced by a sense of nostalgia, by folk art, and by midcentury design. But it’s also evolved over time. And I hope it keeps evolving. Otherwise, I’d get really, really bored.
What do you doodle when you aren’t making anything for a specific project or client?
Oh gosh, most of my work that people see on my Instagram feed is personal work (ie: not client work). I do lots and lots of client work, but it’s not what drives me the most. So mostly what I doodle is the stuff I’m dying to draw, an idea that has been gnawing at me or a phrase I can’t stop thinking about. Sometimes when something really disturbing or hateful happens in the world, I make a point to draw or hand letter something about that. Sometimes when I’m brain-dead I just draw flowers. When all else fails, draw some botanicals, right? Mostly, I just love to draw. It makes me feel alive.
How do you stay original, and what tips on the subject do you have for other creatives?
The way to develop your own style is just to keep working at it, steadfastly, over time. If you fear that you are emulating other artists too much and haven’t developed your own voice, always ask yourself: “What am I doing to innovate? How am I making this art my own?” It takes time and practice to be “original.” I put the word “original” in quotes because nothing is actually original. All art builds on what came before it. Also, it’s good to have many influences instead of one. Eventually, you’ll make a mash-up of all of them.
Along those lines, how do you react when you sense that other people are copying your work?
It’s hard when someone copies you, but I also know 95% of the time it’s not intentionally evil. Here’s the thing: we are all inspired by other artists. We can’t avoid it. Art is inspiring! And I am no exception to that. Every now and again I fall in love with an artist I discover, and I think, “Oh, I wish I could be that person or make work like they do!” But when I find that I am influenced, I am always asking myself how I am using that influence. How can I take the best from that influence, transform that influence, and make something new? We all need to be asking ourselves how we are innovating or adding something new to the conversation or genre. Making work that is just like someone else’s is ultimately completely inauthentic and boring. What creative person wants that?
Where and how do you get inspiration?
I am an inspiration junkie. I look for it literally everywhere, from walking or driving down the street, to books to film to the internet. Nothing is off limits. I look for what makes me feel something. Then I use the stuff that evokes emotion to drive my work.
If you weren’t an illustrator, say, in an alternate universe, what would be your creative outlet?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an archaeologist. If you follow me online, you know I love old things, and I collect lots of old treasures and that I have so many collections of old things (which are also a big part of my work). And when I was little, I dreamt of going to junkyards and unearthing treasures. So I think I would be some sort of archaeologist. I love the hunt for rare things.
What does your studio or workspace mean to you?
I am lucky because I have two workspaces. I have a home illustration studio and a larger painting studio outside my home. This summer I am opening a new painting studio in Portland that will be open to the public and include a retail space and workshops. I love creating an inspiring space to work in, and my home studio is filled with books and collections that have been super influential in my work over the years. I am really excited about opening a large public space because I also love sharing my work with the world, teaching, and inspiring other people to be creative. Being in an inspiring creative space is my happy place.
Do you feel that attending art or design school is crucial for an artist to “make it” in 2018?
Not at all. I am self-taught and I didn’t even start my artistic journey until I was in my early 30’s. I think what helps you “make it” is a passion for what you do, a work ethic, discipline, a willingness to learn and improve, and a high level of professionalism. Sure talent matters, but talent is developed through practice. It’s not something you are born with except in very rare cases. Also, you need to be willing to share your work and parts of your life and creative experience with the world. You have to let people into your creative experience in all of its messiness.
All other photos not noted are by Lisa Congdon