Hand Lettering 2012 – Lisa Congdon
This is the first in a series of posts about the artists teaching at the Create Explore Discover Art Retreat this fall. Each artist has chosen to answer a series of questions and talk a little about their creative life. Please join me in welcoming our first artist, Lisa Congdon:
Tell a little about yourself. Where you have lived, what type of creative work
you have done and how you came to build your art career.
I am 44 years old. I have lived in San Francisco since 1990. I moved here the day after I graduated from college, and didn’t know a soul when I arrived! For the first 8 years out of college, I taught elementary school in San Francisco. From there, I went to work at a non-profit organization that worked in Bay Area public schools (that organization now works in public education across California). Around the time I started that job in 1999, I began taking painting classes for fun–mostly to relieve stress (my job was all-consuming). I’d always been a crafty sort of person (my mom is a maker/artist and I was exposed to a lot growing up), but this was the first time I’d taken any formal art classes as an adult. After a few years of playing around with paint and collage, I began in 2005 to share my work on the internet. From there, one thing led to another and I began showing my work in galleries and doing illustration work. In 2007 I left my job and began making art full time. Of course, this sounds so seamless and easy, but it wasn’t! I worked like crazy to develop my painting style and technique and to get people to take me seriously as an artist. so I could sell and license my work.
Reindeer – 2011
Do you think most people are living their creative dreams? Are you living your creative dreams? How?
I don’t think most people are living their creative dreams. I don’t even think most people allow themselves to dream about what they’d really love to be doing. I used to be one of those people. I thought dreaming about living a fulfilled creative life was just an exercise in kidding myself about what I could have. I was sort of a “head down” and “nose to the grindstone” kind of person. I got up everyday and did my job, even though I hated it, because I thought I had no other choice. While I cared a lot about what I was doing, I was miserable, because I was not doing what I wanted to do. In truth, I don’t even think I knew what I really wanted to be doing, because I never let myself even think beyond my miserable life.
I went through a traumatic ending of a long relationship about a year after I left classroom teaching and started my non-profit job. It was then that I sank myself into re-inventing my life. There is nothing like abject misery to propel us into change! With the help of teachers, books and therapists, I began allowing myself to think about the life I wanted to live, to dream about where I wanted to be and the kind of person I wanted to be. I began working (albeit slowly) on breaking away from what made me unhappy and instead surrounding myself with people who made me happy and spending my time doing things I loved. It took me about 7 years to get from there to the kind of life I live now 12 years later — and, even so, I am still working on making my dreams happen everyday.
Book Cover Artwork, Simon & Schuster, 2012
How does family and life experience play into you achieving your goals? Who around you encourages you?
I don’t have children — and that’s by choice. I came into my art and illustration career so late (I was 40 when I started a new career), that I decided it would be best to continue the momentum I had created and focus on career over family. I am in a relationship with a wonderful woman now for four years — and we are getting married next June. She is enormously supportive. At this point, I don’t think I could be with someone who wasn’t so supportive. In some ways, when you are a passionate creative person, work can sometimes trump everything else. It’s important to have close relationships with people who both understand that (and don’t take it personally) and who also demand that you have balance. My partner does that very well. We spend a lot of time together doing stuff that feeds my art, but is not directly related to it, like cycling, traveling, enjoying wine and food together.
Dead Bird – 2012
How do you conquer fear? How do you encourage others to conquer their fears?
I think with experience I have learned that risk-taking pays off. At first, I was taking small risks, and now they are huge. I try to do something every month that scares me — like applying for a residency or a juried exhibition or reaching out to a dream illustration client. In the end, we have nothing to lose by pushing through fear. Staying in fear only keeps us where we are.
What are the steps you follow when you are working towards a goal?
I write my goals down religiously. They are private — I don’t publish them. But I do share them with my partner and once I make them, I give them priority status in my life until I meet them or change my mind about them. Some goals are practical and all you need to do is work toward them, maybe by breaking them down into baby steps and following those steps diligently. Other goals are more amorphous, and you need to just write them down, set your intentions and wait to see what happens. Other goals require big risks — like writing an email you are scared to write, for example. I also think it’s important to let go of a goal if you lose interest. It’s important only to work toward stuff in your life that really excites you.