Thursday, June 10, 2010

Staying Nourished and Alive: Lisa Congdon

Next up in the artist interview series is the lovely Lisa Congdon. I've been following Lisa's work for awhile now and have fallen in love with pretty much every new piece that I see by her! She's also a twitter pal, and I've come to not only love her artwork but also really respect her as a genuine and compassionate person. I absolutely love her use of bold shape and colour, but my favourite might just be her beautifully emotive animal portraits. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? The journey you took to be where you are and what you're doing at the moment?

I started out waaaay back in the 1990's as a school teacher. I taught elementary school for about seven years, and I loved it, but I was really dismayed with the state of public education in the inner city where I worked. Inevitably I went to work for a non-profit educational change organization in the San Francisco Bay Area where I stayed for a decade. I worked with teacher leaders and principals to improve what they did for kids. I also wrote and did some research and program development. Simultaneously, about 10 years ago, to feed the more creative part of myself, I started taking painting classes and began making art in my free time. Five years ago I began showing and selling my work in shops and galleries. Almost three years ago, I left my job to live a more full time creative life. I opened the store Rare Device in San Francisco with my friend Rena and more recently I signed with the illustration agency, Lilla Rogers Studio. My time right now is split between my studio where I paint and draw (both for my illustration work and for fine art shows), my home where I do some digital illustration work on the computer, and Rare Device where I keep shop.

2. Why do you create? What is it about being creative (in whatever sense) that makes it something important for you to do?

I've only been painting and making collage for about 10 years, but I've always been a maker--since I was a little kid. Now being creative is such an integral part of my life, that even thinking about how or why it is important feels weird. It's like eating or sleeping. It's part of what I do to stay nourished and alive. That said, other parts of my life feel equally as important as being creative--my relationships are important, and physical activity is important (I am very athletic and swam competitively most of my life until four years ago and am currently training for a triathlon). It's important to me to have a balance of all those things and being creative (making stuff, thinking of new stuff to make, day dreaming, scheming, collaborating with others, etc), is part of that balance for me.

3. Where do you look for inspiration? Who or what inspires you?

I live in San Francisco and this city is a constant source of inspiration. There are amazing cultures here, color everywhere, interesting people, delicious food, writers, fashion, art and music everywhere. I am never bored. It's impossible. So I just take it all in. And then right outside the city is the gorgeous natural landscape of Northern California--trees, hills, mountains, ocean, lakes, birds, animals. My work is very inspired by nature, and the California landscape.

4. I'm sure on the outside, creativity often seems like it always flows easily but I imagine this isn't always the case! Are there ever times when being expected to be creative for work or on demand feels overwhelming? How do you work through those feelings?

I don't necessarily have a problem with being creative. I have no shortage of ideas. My problem comes in executing them in the way that they exist in my imagination. Sometimes I get some ideas and I try to draw, paint or make them and I have to scrap them, either because I don't have the technical skill (I never went to art school so sometimes I feel like my lack of technical art skills hold me back) or the money or time or space to execute them. That is the frustrating part for me. Sometimes things are just prettier or grander in your imagination than they are when you try to make them real.

When I do experience frustration, I work through it by trying to see what I can learn, even when things get messy or don't turn out the way I planned. I think part of the reason I have been able to make art with very little training is that I use my experience as my guide, and that includes taking stock of what didn't go well or what I wasn't able to execute. I either decide to figure out how to learn what I don't know or to give up and move on to something else. I don't allow myself to stay in a place of frustration for long.

5. What are the most rewarding and most difficult parts of your work as an artist and your creative life in general?

The most difficult part for me is the constant need to "pimp" my work so I can make a living. It gets exhausting. Self promotion is a necessary part of self employment and I do what I can so that I can make a living, but for me it feels hard and most of the time I'd rather just crawl into my hobbit hole and have some tea by the fire.

The most rewarding part of what I do is when people let me know that they love my work or that they are inspired by what I make. I get emails a lot from people letting me know this, or people come into my store and tell me. That makes all the work and effort worthwhile.

6. If you weren't doing what you're doing now, what would you like to be doing?

I cannot imagine anything else, except maybe to be a world traveler. I'd like to do what I do now AND travel the world.

Thanks so much, Lisa! Be sure to check out Lisa's awesome Collections Project and also her store if you'd like to snap up one of her prints for yourself!
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