I am writing this interview under a big fantastic tree. I am surrounded by green, and this is the perfect colour for the artist I am going to interview. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Lisa Congdon, illustrator and fine artist from San Francisco, California.
Lisa, you grew up in both upstate New York and Northern California. Could you tell us how much the place you were raised has influenced your work?
I grew up mostly in Northern California, which is where I still live today. It’s one of the most beautiful places you can imagine here. In San Francisco, we are surrounded by water on three sides, and the landscape is mountainous and there are beautiful trees and wild life all over the area, even in the city.
When I first started painting and drawing, I automatically found myself drawing trees, forests and animals. I have since branched out to other subject matter, but I think I started there because trees and animals felt so familiar to me. I could draw them most of the time without even looking at pictures.
I still gravitate toward the natural work in my work, and I think that’s because I feel a certain kinship with trees, plants, flowers and animals.
You are a full-time artist but I read in an interview that you started drawing and painting at 30 (more or less). I think this is wonderful because people sometimes are stuck on their age and unable to move or act because of this. What did you do before? How have you come up with the idea of being a full-time artist?
Before I was a working artist, I worked in education. When I was 23 I started teaching elementary school, and then later I worked for a non-profit organization that worked with public schools. When I was about 30 I started taking art classes and the more I drew and painted, the more I attached I got to making art. I had no idea at the time that I would end up making a living doing this.
For many years making art was just a hobby. But then about 7 years ago, people started offering to show my work in their galleries and people wanted to pay money for it. I realized then that it might be possible to do this for a living. It took me many years (I am 44 now), but eventually I was making enough money from my artwork to quit my job. It was very exciting.
What does “collecting things” mean for you? (In March 2011 Lisa published a book called A Collection A Day out of her Collection a Day 2010 Project.)
I have been a collector since I was a little girl. I have always been enamoured by old things, things with a history, things that are worn or used. When I was in my early 20’s I began going to flea markets and starting collections of things I loved – old books, pottery, etc. I have never really stopped collecting and now I have hundreds of collections.
In 2010 I decided to document one of my collections every day for 365 days. That project was called A Collection a Day, and in 2011 the project was published into a book.
Do you think your habits (like cycling, swimming or being vegan) have somehow influenced your work?
I don’t think those things influence my work artistically. I do think that eating healthy and moving my body gives me higher energy and helps me to be really productive. Also, when I am out cycling, I do often see scenery that I would like to paint!
Where do you take inspiration from?
I am really inspired right now by Scandinavia and Iceland – the landscapes, ancient folk cultures and Sami peoples, the music, animals of the region, etc. I am going to visit Scandinavia and Iceland for the first time this coming September, and it is like a dream come true.
In general, as I mentioned, I am very influenced by nature but I also love geometrics and folk pattern and you will see those a lot in my work. I love looking at pictures, taking walks, riding my bike, seeing films, listening to music and reading books. All of these things give me inspiration.
Today is going to be awesome is your blog title. What makes your days awesome?
I have a great life and am so grateful that I figured out that I was supposed to make art, even though it happened sort of late in my life. I guess that’s why I’m so grateful, because it makes me happier than anything I did before. When I make a piece of work that I love, or get a great illustration job with a great client, or people tell me that they admire my work, these all make my day awesome.
What is your favourite place in the world?
Your last project is called 365 Days of Hand Lettering. Could you tell us something about it? I have the impression that this project is about lettering as much as about the message on (almost) each print. Is it just a personal impression?
365 Days of Hand Lettering is my latest project. Like A Collection a Day from 2010, this project is something I work on every day. It gives me a chance to practice hand lettering. I have always been in love with typography and hand lettering and calligraphy, so it’s a personal challenge to make one hand lettered thing every day.
But you are right, it’s also an opportunity for me to “talk about” some of the things I love and value, through words, poems and quotes and inspirational sayings.
Is it easy for you to find room for it everyday?
Sometimes it’s hard, like when I am going on vacation or am working on a tight illustration deadline. But most days I get up and draw something for my hand lettering project every morning. I have found that it’s a great way to start the day along with my coffee.
How do you manage your time daily?
I am someone who likes a routine. So I work really hard to make a routine for myself that is consistent and predictable. Being self-employed is hard because no one tells you what to do. Yes, this is nice, of course! But it can also get me in trouble. I have to be really disciplined so I make lots of lists and try really hard to check things off every day.
Mort is one of your latest prints. Could you tell us something about it? It reminded me so much of the bird funeral scene in The Hours –which is one of my favourite films.
I have always loved birds, and there is something about imagery of dead birds that touches me. They are so delicate and helpless. Sometimes I see them on the sidewalk and take photos of them. I want to draw more of them in the future.
Your favourite recipe:
I love simple grilled asparagus. You just coat the asparagus with olive oil and then put it on the grill until it browns a bit. And then add salt. So simple and delicious.
Thank you so much Lisa !
☛ discover Lisa’s studio and work in this amazing video.
some useful links
Lisa’s blog Today is going to be awesome