Lisa Congdon is one of the hardest working artists we’ve had the pleasure to speak with recently, and her work is an absolute pleasure to view. Lisa’s intricate linework and patterns initially caught our eye – her enthusiasm and positivity from her blog keeps us coming back. Our latest Know Your Craft interview sheds light (and color!) on how important persistence is to any endeavor, and that it’s never too late to pursue what you love.
How did you get into your writing and art? Was there a particular event, or a progression from one discipline to another?
Interestingly, I didn’t start painting or drawing until I was 31 years old! I am 47 now, so I have been at it for many years, but I was relatively “old” by the time I picked up a paint brush. It was all just a fun hobby for many years. I had an office job and took a painting class to relieve stress. After that first class, however, I was hooked! And I took lots of classes after that and set up a studio on my kitchen table. After about five years, I started posting images of what I was making on the internet (again, just for fun), and I started getting inquiries from people who wanted to purchase my work or show my work in their gallery. That was in about 2006. I had no idea at the time that art would become my full time job, nor did I have aspirations to become a working artist. I never imagined that was possible. But I loved it so much that I would use every opportunity to draw and paint in my free time. I was very prolific. My hard work paid off. Two years later, I left my job to begin making and selling my work as my full time. It was hard at first, and I struggled financially for the first few years. But I kept at it, and didn’t give up. Along the way, I also started a blog, and started writing regularly about my life and work, and about all the things I was experiencing as a working artist – my struggles, my insecurities, and also my inspirations. People started reading my blog and I began to develop a following, not just for my work, but also for my personal essays. So my writing and art are very interconnected.
Did you have a mentor? How did you learn and practice?
I don’t actually have one formal mentor. There was a spirit of generosity in the art world in San Francisco where I lived when I was starting out, and many people were very good to me and shared their wisdom with me – other artists, other entrepreneurs, gallery owners. I think part of my success is because of all those people who helped and supported me. I also think part of my success is due to the fact that I am a very disciplined person, especially when I am passionate about something. And I had never experienced passion about anything else like I had about making art. I loved doing it and I wanted to get better and better at it. That is a great combination to have. I worked hard, put in many hours, and pushed through my low points and frustrations. I was very determined. There began also to be a market for my work, and that also helps! When you know something will pay the bills, especially something that you enjoy doing, it’s very motivating.
Have you had to take any risks to get to the level you’re at now?
As an artist, you cannot have success without risk. You have to constantly put your work out there for the world to see, and you do not know how people will respond. That can feel very vulnerable. It’s especially hard in the beginning years, when you are still finding your voice, and are experimenting a lot with materials, ideas and techniques. When I was first starting out, social media was a new thing, but I decided to dive in head first. I used all of the channels and my blog to get my work into the world, having no idea if people would respond, or if I would be left feeling disappointed. But that risk paid off and by 2010, I started to get regular illustration work, solo shows, and all the things that added up to a decent career. Of course, I experienced rejection too! And I still do. But I push past it and try to focus on what I am accomplishing and all of the positive stuff I am experiencing in my career. And I still work really hard, of course. I want to my work to continue to be interesting and relevant, so I am always thinking about what’s next.
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
I am excited about having more time to experiment and push my work to a new place. For example, I am about to leave to go on an artist residency in Upstate New York. For three weeks while I am there, I don’t have to worry about client work or anything like that. For three weeks, I get to just experiment and play with paint and ink with no specific goal in mind or no deadline. It feels like a gift! I think some people think that artists and illustrators spend all of their time playing and experimenting, but actually most of the time you are busy juggling many projects, and it doesn’t feel like play! It feels like work. Or you are trying to hustle to get more work. Most of the time I am just trying to meet my deadlines. And that can feel exhausting. That said, I am in a place in my career where I don’t have to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way, so I get to take some time to relax a bit and go back to spending more time experimenting with materials and ideas. I am excited to see where all of that experimenting takes me. I am also going to work on writing and illustrating another book or two. I love making books.