October 12, 2006

Lisa Congdon

Website: Lisa Congdon
Where are you located? San Francisco

What do you create?
I create both art and craft. There is a slight distinction in my mind between the two—and I make this distinction for my own sense of organization about my work, not because I think that my work necessarily falls into these categories as the world defines them. In the “art” category, I make paintings, drawings, screen prints {traditional and Gocco} and collage. Much of my collage is three dimensional {when I can find shadowboxes to work in that aren’t that expensive!} In the “craft” category, I make all sorts of things out of contemporary and vintage fabric and trim: pillows, birds, baby bibs, headbands, wrist cuffs, etc. I am always thinking of new ways to use fabrics together. Right now I am really into colorful quilted patchwork designs.

When and why did you decide to start your business?
I started my business in a very haphazard way back in 2003. I was in a relationship at the time with someone who really pushed me {in a good way} to put my work out to the public. She was instrumental in helping me to have a long-term vision for my work. Previously I made stuff only as gifts for friends and family. In addition, I had recently started a blog and people were asking me if they could buy some of the crafts I was making and displaying on Bird in the Hand {namely my “modbird” design}, and the business really began there. A few months later, I was asked to show my modbirds at a gallery along with some of my other work, and then everything sort of exploded for me after that. Three years later and I am planning to leave my full time job to make stuff in my studio full time. It feels crazy how it’s all happened so fast.

Where do you get your inspiration for your projects?
I am one of those people who walks around looking at the world as if everything is framed like a potential photograph. So I think I get my inspiration just from noticing things, like color, street art, nature. I think this is very common for artists. I notice when I am hanging out with my artist friends we are always saying things like “look at the sky right now” or “check out that rusty gate” or “look at the way the light is hitting that building.” My non-artist friends just think I am a kook! I also get inspiration from other artists. I feel lucky to call many artists friends, and my sister, who is my best friend, is also an artist and craftsperson. Seeing the work of my friends and family, talking to them about the process, going to look at other art together is part of how I stay inspired and work on improving my craft.

Which of the tools you use is your favorite?
I have a love/hate relationship with the sewing machine. I love what it can do, but it also drives me crazy because it’s tedious and loud, and my machine cracks under pressure sometimes. I need to take it in for repairs and a tune-up but I am afraid that while it is gone I will not know what to do with myself!

You work in several mediums. Which is your favorite?
That’s a toss up between ephemera (paper) and fabric. I absolutely love to do collage and shadowboxes with vintage and found ephemera, but I also love to put fabrics together for patchwork pieces. I suppose, either way it’s about using the medium to create something that is visually and graphically appealing and balanced, yet sweet, completely unique, personal and emotion-evoking at the same time. I want my work to reflect my own personal style, but also to speak to others—to remind them of something from their past or to appeal to their visual sensibilities. That is most challenging with paper and fabric because they are not mediums specifically designed to paint a picture or tell a story like paint and brushes. I like the challenge of working with paper and fabric.

You divide your work into art and craft. How do you define which is which?
As I described above, it’s actually a blurry line, but for the sake of keeping things consistent, I define my art as collage, screen printing drawings and paintings. And my craft is the work I do with fabric—machine and hand sewing, fusing, three dimensional textile pieces.

What keeps you motivated?
Being part of a community of artists and crafters (and people who appreciate art and craft) who share their work, provide feedback and encouragement and support one another. It also helps that people actually like what I make and want to buy it!! That feels really awesome.

How did you get the word out about your business when you first started?
My blog has been instrumental. If it weren’t for my blog {and the interest and support of the people who read it, along with my friends here in san francisco} I would not be a working artist. Other than my blog {and being featured on other people’s blogs} I haven’t really done much promotion for myself except for announcing my shows and updates to my shop to everyone I know through email. Email is a great medium for promotion.

What is your main goal for this year?
My main goal this year is to leave my full time job {I’ll be staying on in some capacity part time to make ends meet} and work on lisa congdon art+craft 60-80% of my time. I also need to find a bigger studio, which might mean moving out of San Francisco. That alone will require a lot of my time and energy! I’d love to have more shows. Installations are my favorite thing to do and prepare for.

What advice would you give to someone starting a creative business?
Start a blog. Show your best work. Make connections with artists who you admire. Keep your prices fair {fair to you and fair to the consumer}. Ask people you trust for feedback on your work. Keep your receipts organized. Put yourself out there even if you think you might face rejection. Work hard and do it because you love it.

Little Extras

What's your favorite quote?
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
-Robert Frost

Can you recommend a good book or great music?
I highly recommend the book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach. It changed the way I approach my life.

Who is your favorite indie designer/artist?
I am always inspired by Jill Bliss. We have somewhat different styles, but I so admire how she’s made a business out of creating unique, inventive, handmade things out of recycled materials. I also love her attention to detail in her drawings. They are so intricate. I have so little patience in drawing, so I truly admire this ability to take hours just to cover a page. I have the privilege to know Jill too, and she is incredibly real and humble despite the success she’s having. I always try to keep this in mind.


{evy} said...

Just found your blog. This is fantastic.

Crafty Synergy said...

Thanks Evy. Welcome! :)

lisa s said...

what a great interview on lisa... now that i've found you i'll be perusing the archives!

Abigail said...

Loved reading this interview..bravo! {both of you!} :)