A Journey from the Heart—sketchXchange with Lisa Congdon

Layered color, patterns, and abstract shapes are often combined with hand lettering, creating a body of work that is diverse yet recognizable. This is the work of Lisa Congdon. A painter, an illustrator, a writer, a seamstress, a teacher and more. When I first met Lisa I learned she is a compassionate maker whose journey as an artist tells the story of a woman who followed her heart and shared it along the way.

We are thrilled to be hosting Lisa for a very special sketchXchange happening during Design Week Portland just before our celebration, WeMake Celebrates & Put A Bird In It. We hope you will join us as Lisa takes us through her journey as an illustrator, painter, and writer and gives us a glimpse inside the pages of her sketchbooks.

Everyone in attendance will receive a special edition sketchbook created by Lisa and Scout Books and will also have the opportunity to buy her books and have them signed.

Lisa has also contributed to Put A Bird In It as one of the makers who created a birdhouse which will be auctioned off for arts and music education. Be sure to stick around after the sXc to partake in the party!

When: Friday, Oct. 10th, 2014

Time: 5:30 – 7:00pm

Check-in begins at 4:30pm. Doors close at 5:15pm.

Place: LeftBank Annex - 101 N. Weidler Street,  PDX 97227

RSVP on Eventbrite

YPE How long have you been working as a professional illustrator?

LC I’m 46 years old, and I did not pick up a paint brush until I was 31. I didn’t actually sell any of my work until I was 37, and even then I had a full time day job. Art was a hobby then and I was selling a few things on the side, but only because people expressed interest, and not because I had any desire to be a professional artist. I didn’t think it would have been possible then.

You know how you hit a tipping point and you work really hard for a long time, maybe you’re just playing around at first but then you’re like, wait, I really enjoy this! And then you play around some more. In 2007 I started putting my art on the Internet, and people began paying attention.

Over the course of the last 14 years I began incrementally making more work, growing it from a hobby to a little more than a hobby, to a part time career, to a full time career. I’ve been doing it professionally now for 8 years. Most illustrators my age have been doing it since they were 22 or younger. So in some senses I am a late bloomer.

YPE Do you think the internet had a lot to do with your success?

LC: Yes. If I had become an artist when I was 22 I couldn’t have relied on the Internet, because it didn’t exist. I didn’t go through the traditional channels to get to where I am; I took some art classes, because I was going through a difficult time, and I happened to fall into it at the right time, just as the Internet was exploding.

If I had started making art at 25 it may have always been a hobby because back then there was no way to make it unless you were represented by a gallery or illustration agent or you had gone to art school and have connections. It was really hard if you were self taught to figure out a way to show your work to the world before the Internet came along.

So then in about 2005 I did start to show my work on the Internet and also Flickr and through blogging. I started to share it with no intention of becoming a professional artist. I was just sharing.

YPE Do you have a favorite way to share your work now?

LC I keep a blog and I blog almost everyday, five days a week. In addition to sharing my own work on my blog,  I write about other people’s work, things that I’m working on, and I write essays—sometimes about my life or frustrations, or the hard parts about being an artist. I also promote my work, my books and events I’m taking part of. So my blog is my home base, and then I take that blog content and share it on Facebook and on Twitter. I love Instagram, too. I use it mostly for fresh content or random pictures I take throughout the day. It’s a great medium for a visual junky. 

YPE  What direction has your work taken from the beginning to now?

LC When I started I was just a painter. Back then I was only making representational paintings. I loved painting. I was experimenting in flat painting, graphic painting and also deeper, richer, more painterly paintings. Then I started to draw in graphitel. I also have continued to play around with collage over the years. I love to mix mediums.

YPE How did you decide that pattern making and lettering was something you wanted to explore?

LC In 2008 I signed with an illustration agent. I started to get requests for work and realized that illustration was a great way to make a living as an artist.  I didn’t only want to rely on selling original work and having art shows. If I was going to make a full time living as an artist I had to figure out a way to diversify my income. In 2008 I started making repeat patterns. My agent suggested it because she thought my work would transfer well into repeats. I didn’t know how to make repeats, and so I had to teach myself. Since then I’ve learned a lot about the kinds of work that lends itself well to licensing and different kinds of illustration.

YPE Your painting style has obviously evolved. I love your abstracts. Would you consider that your paintings have roots in pattern making?

LC I love pattern and geometrics and repeating imagery. I didn’t start making patterns until 6 years ago. Now I have a line of wallpaper and a couple of lines of fabric, and I’ve also done some textile designs for kids bedding. Even before I started making repeat patterns, patterns were a consistent theme in my work. In my sketchbooks I draw a lot of patterns. They aren’t necessarily exact repeats. There’s something to filling a whole space with imagery, it’s sort of infinite and grows and expands forever. You can do that digitally or you can do it on a surface of a painting or drawing.

About a year ago I also dove into abstract painting in a whole new way. As artists we talk a lot about having an identifiable style and look and there is a lot of emphasis put on making your work recognizable in one or two particular styles. While I believe that’s important to a certain extent, I also think it’s important to play in your work, and to try new things.

YPE I can see the experimenting you’ve done with different styles in your work but when I look at the body of your work as a whole, (like your vintage stuff, your nordic stuff, and even your editorial) it looks like Lisa Congdon, I know that its you.

LC Somehow, despite the fact that I’m always experimenting and trying different things, my work is still fairly cohesive. That’s part of branding yourself as an artist—figuring out a way to package it all together so people understand it’s all part of what you do.

YPE So what’s your favorite thing you’ve been doing lately?

LC Besides the abstract painting, I love hand lettering. I’m a different kind of hand letterer than many out there. My lettering styles are not at all traditional, and I don’t create fonts. I have a few hand lettering styles with very little script. Lettering is one of my favorite things to do.

YPE You are a plethora of books these days! 

LC I had a book of hand lettering quotes come out in April and there’s another one coming out in 2015. I’m also putting together another book that will be a compilation of all the different forms of my work, that comes out in 2016. I love making books.

YPE What started you onto this path of books and how did your relationship with Chronicle Books begin?

LC I had three clients that came all around the same time, and this was before I had an agent: Chronicle Books along with Pottery Barn Teen and Poketo. It all started when I had a solo show in a small gallery in San Francisco in 2006. I was showing some collage work and also some of my birch tree paintings. A women who worked for Chronicle was there, and she went back to her art department and told them they should check out my work. Within two months I had a meeting to show them my “portfolio.” I say that in quotes because I didn’t have a portfolio or a website. I had nothing. I was like, “Oh, shit, I better get my act together for this meeting.” 

YPE You wrote Art Inc. but someone else did the illustrations. Was that different for you?

LC Because the book was a part of a Chronicle Books series, they all had a similar look and feel of vector illustrations. I don’t do that kind of work generally. I was also so engrossed in the writing, it was a great to have Karolin Schnoor do the art work and keep the look and feel in the series really tight.

YPE Is this your first book you’ve written?

LCYes, and it might be the only one I ever write, because it was really hard!

I can write a blog post, or tell a story on my blog, but that’s so different than writing a book—not just a book, but a business book. I learned really quickly that my natural writing style was going to have to be transformed to write a business book. You have to be very precise in the information you give and as accurate as possible. The book has to be written in language that is simple to understand. People are reading it because they’re seeking concrete advice. 

YPE How do you use your sketchbooks? Are they apart of your daily process?

LC Not too long ago, I didn’t think I had time for sketchbooks. I think in my head I thought of sketchbooks as being one kind of practice, but then realized they are actually whatever you want them to be. Once I understood this I really got into them and decided to be more disciplined with them. I keep a bunch of art supplies at home so I can do free-form stuff, and a lot of that stuff ends up in my sketchbooks. I started posting pictures of the things I was drawing, and people seemed to enjoy them. Sketchbooks can be really private too. I don’t show everybody everything in them.

Making art for other people is fun but there’s a certain set of expectations. Making personal work, even if it’s just a sketchbook spread, is so important. That the work is entirely yours takes the pressure off. They’ve become really important to me.

Since 2007, Lisa’s been illustrating for clients including The Museum of Modern Art, Martha Stewart Living Magazine, Chronicle Books, The Land of Nod, and The Obama Campaign among others. Lisa is known for her intricate line drawings and pattern design.

In addition to illustrating full time, Lisa is the author of Whatever You Are, Be a Good One and Art, Inc. The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist. She’ll share with us her path to working with Chronicle Books, writing for the artists, and her process behind the work she does. We’ll learn about her thriving career as a pattern designer, painter, and more.

Everyone in attendance will receive a special edition sketchbook created by Lisa and Scout Books and will also have the opportunity to buy her books and have them signed.

Lisa has also contributed to Put A Bird In It as one of the makers who created a birdhouse which will be auctioned off for arts and music education. Be sure to stick around after the sXc to partake in the party!

When: Friday, Oct. 10th, 2014

Time: 5:30 – 7:00pm

Check-in begins at 4:30pm. Doors close at 5:15pm.

Place: LeftBank Annex - 101 N. Weidler Street,  PDX 97227

RSVP on Eventbrite