Artist Profile: Lisa Congdon


Q: What's the story on how and why you began illustrating?

A: I didn’t start making art until I was about 30 years old. I’d been really “crafty” most of my life, but making stuff was always a hobby. I made lots of stuff for people as gifts, but that was about it. In my 20’s and into my 30’s I had a couple different jobs, both in education (first as an elementary school teacher, then working at an education non profit), and after awhile, I got burned out and I was looking for something in my life to keep me feeling inspired and helping me to feel good about getting out of bed in the morning. I took a few painting classes and then after awhile I started making paintings and collages during all my free time at home. This was all about when the internet was getting huge for independent artists and craftspeople, and so I started a blog (which no longer exists) in which I chronicled the stuff I was making. Soon I got my first show, then another and another. I got a studio and kept making art while still doing my full time job. Then I got to the point where I went part time at my job, then three years ago I left my job. I came to consider myself a working artist, and I fell into illustration on accident. I was contacted by a couple companies (Poketo and Chronicle Books were my first clients) to use my imagery on their products. I went for it, and then last year I signed with an illustration agent, and illustration pretty much my full time gig now. I still do gallery shows quite a bit and make a significant part of my income from art sales. I think I’d be miserable if I only did illustration without a fine art practice in which I can create my own rules about what I make.

Q: Your work includes paintings, illustrations, collages, etc. Which medium did you begin working with first, and what inspired you to branch out?

A: I definitely started with collage as my main thing, but as my painting and drawing skills became better with practice (and I painted and drew pretty much every day), I did less collage and more paintings and drawings. I love collage, but I find painting and drawing more satisfying because it’s much more exact and less abstract. I feel a much greater sense of satisfaction when I am finished.


Q: Where do you draw your inspiration? How do you choose the subjects in your art?

A: I am a self-proclaimed visual junkie, and so I am constantly paying attention to everything around me.  Like most visual people, I’ve developed a love for certain types of imagery. For me, those include forests, animals, mid-century design, vintage typography and packaging, certain color palettes. And so within my own visual filter, I find inspiration all around me in my favorite places, here on the streets of San Francisco, out in nature, in books, and flea markets. I always choose my animal subjects based on the look in their eyes.

Q: What's your relationship to color, and how do you choose the colors in your work?

A: I love color. Even when I make pencil drawings I feel this need to place bursts of color in the background. Color makes me happy, and I am particularly attracted to certain palettes, which are pretty obvious in my work. I love the juxtaposition between super muted grays and sepia toned browns with bright neon or pastel colors, so I mix those up in my work a lot. I also mix imagery in the same way: nature (earth tones) or vintage imagery with bright, almost “man made” colors in geometric shapes.

Q: Being an artist in San Francisco, what's your take on the city's art community?

A: I love being part of the art community here. It was hard to break into at first. I didn’t go to art school and I was older when I started, so I didn’t have all the usual connections that some young artists make in school and right out of school. Now I am starting to show in more galleries here and all over the country, and I’m on the board of directors at Southern Exposure, and I love the work we do there. I opened my own art/design shop/gallery with my friend Rena in 2007 called Rare Device (on Market and Guerrero) and so I also have my hand in curating shows of other artists’ work now, which is really inspiring to me. It’s all been very positive.


Q: What's the Collections Projects, and how did that come into being?

A: I was looking for something to keep me doing something creative everyday over the course of the year. I love making art and illustration, but I needed something that was outside that world a bit. There has been a really amazing response, and the whole project is going to become a book in early 2011. My intention was to do something to keep myself motivated, but the outcome has been a huge positive response to the project that has been overwhelming and really changed my life in ways I never imagined. People can read about and view my project at

Q: Anything else to add?

A: Thank you for interviewing me! I love your shop and gallery.

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