Interview with Lisa Congdon: Illustrator, Fine artist, Crafter + Collector

Lisa Congdon 1

I’m so excited to share this interview I just did with the talented Lisa Congdon. Her book A Collection a Day just launched. Lisa illustrates for a range of clients from stores to books. She also shows her fine art in galleries. I am not sure where she finds the time but she’s also a cyclist. I’m drawn to her bold/expressive color and rich textures. Check out her blog, pick up her book and read this interview… without further adieu:

When you were little what was your favorite material to use?

I wasn’t much of an artist when I was a kid, so I didn’t touch many art supplies except in school–and even then I thought I was a horrible artist! I didn’t actually start painting or drawing until I was in my early 30’s. So when I was little, my creative outlet was sewing and I loved working with a needle and thread. I’d make clothing for my dolls, mostly. My mom is a textile artist so I grew up around a loom (she was a weaver when I was a kid) and we did lots of sewing and crafts.

Do you still like working that way?

Up until about four years ago I was a prolific sewer. That’s actually how I got my start as an artist–I was making quilted pillows and soft birds and selling them. A few of my designs were published in magazines and books. As I was consumed with sewing, I caught the general “maker” bug and started to experiment with collage and then finally got really into painting and drawing. It was the painting and drawing that stuck for me and that was the most compelling. I still love to sew but now that I am so busy with illustration I don’t have enough time for it. My sewing machine is sadly getting a little rusty!

Your mom and sister are also artists…right? Do you think you feed off of each other?

That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure we feed off of each other, but I would say we are constantly looking at each others work and inspire each other a great deal to continue to live a creative life. While we all started as sewers, at this point we do very different kinds art. My mom as I mentioned is a textile artist — for the past 15 years she has been an “art quilter” which means she makes quilts that are pieces of art (not made for laying on a bed). Most are not at all traditional quilts. She has insane technical skill and basically uses fabric to create both abstract and realistic pieces. My sister is an accomplished photographer/designer/stylist/maker (co author of 3191: A Year of Mornings and 3191: A Year of Evenings, along with the 3191 Quarterly journal). She designs and makes incredible stuff with her hands. I love what both my mom and sister do, and I think we have a true bond & appreciation for each other even though our work is very different (and it’s possible that bond and appreciation is there precisely because our work is very different!)

What made you decide to become a professional illustrator?

It’s interesting–I didn’t really decide to become an illustrator! It just sort of happened! I was painting and drawing a lot, mostly for fine art shows I was having. In 2007 I caught the attention of both Chronicle Books and Poketo, who both approached me about using my work for their products. I’d never considered illustration before that! I had so much fun working for both these clients that I began taking more illustration work. In 2009 I signed with my illustration agent, Lilla Rogers, and now it’s how I make the majority of my living.

Do you prefer working on assignments or personal work?

I love both. I love the constraints of illustration work–working within the parameters that art directors give me for assignments and having deadlines. I love drawing and painting things I wouldn’t normally make in my personal work, which happens a lot when you are an illustrator. I just love getting up and making art every day. I do also love having a personal fine art practice. I’ve been showing my work in shops and galleries since 2006 in relatively small scales, but I am currently working with a gallery in San Francisco for my first major solo show ever, which will open in July. I am so excited about putting together a body of work that is 100% me and my vision. It is enormously exciting. I feel so grateful to do what I do.

You seem to love San Francisco. What’s inspiring to you about the city?

I do love San Francisco so much! It’s a really wonderful and colorful city, richly diverse culturally. There is a fantastic and vibrant art scene here: both for emerging and established artists. There is amazing food everywhere, and incredible natural beauty both within the city limits and for miles outside the city. The weather is great (never gets too hot or too cold). People are really kind here for the most part, but I think Californians are pretty casual and good-natured over all. It’s an expensive place to live, and if I end up leaving that will be the reason why! I want badly to have a house with a yard–and you can have that in San Francisco for sure, but it costs a lot of money. So my partner and I may end up in Portland someday, where most of my family lives and is a lot less expensive–but also a great place to live.

Where do you go when you have artist’s block?

I lean heavily on books. I collect books, old and new, and I peruse them constantly–especially photography books, pictorial history books and books about different cultures and different eras in design and architecture. I also love the library. We have amazing libraries here in SF. I go to the big main library here and spend lots of time looking through books.

You are about to go on a book tour with your Collection a Day project/book. What inspired you to document your collections?

I was looking for a project that would be challenging creatively in a different way than my typical art practice is. I have been a voracious collector since I was young and so I have a lot of interesting things. I thought it would be fun to photograph them and share them with the world. That’s how it all began. The next thing I knew, publishers were contacting me and now it’s a book!

Do you think you will need to move to a bigger house to store all of the collections or can you part with them after documenting them?

I have plenty of room for my collections currently (I owned most of them before beginning the Collection a Day project); most of them are store in my studio neatly in boxes and flat files. I do plan on parting with some of them now that the project is over though!

Any plans for another book you are willing to share with Maquette readers?

I currently have no plans for another book! I am lucky to illustrate other people’s books as part of my illustration practice (right now I am working on four different books!), so books will always be part of what I do. Maybe someday I will make another book of my own? Right now I am content just to enjoy this one!