"Step back, embrace your own experience and stay grounded in that."
INTRO: Lisa Congdon is an artist, illustrator, author, collector, teacher and all-around trailblazer. Her work has been widely featured in publications, blogs, videos and design & illustration conferences. She is constantly churning out new work: paintings, books, tutorials, prints, classes, illustrations and drawings.
I am currently reading her latest book, Art, Inc., and it is chock full of practical wisdom. Throughout the pages, she debunks myths, interviews fellow artists and shares detailed notes for sustaining a day-to-day art practice. The book demystifies the life of a professional artist and touches on topics that have, in my opinion, remained largely undiscussed. When Lisa inquired about my own endeavors, I expressed a personal fear of labels like "artist" and "writer." She quickly advised that an essential first step in the journey is to raise your hand and say, "I am an artist." Here is one of my favorite quotes from Art, Inc.:
"If you feel anxious about your talent, it's important to understand that almost all artists experience insecurity at some point in their careers—and often throughout their careers. Maybe you don't feel worthy of success because you haven't attended art school or because you're starting your career later in life. Maybe you feel apprehensive because you aren't sure your work is good enough. But just remember that established, successful artists were once in your shoes, too. It's important to not let these fears seize your productivity or your will to work."
The diversity of Lisa's art practice mirrors the diversity of her past jobs. Before becoming a full-time artist, she worked at a law firm, taught elementary school and worked for two different nonprofit organizations. At age 32, in search for an outlet for creativity and a distraction from a breakup, she started taking classes and pursuing art as a hobby. She experimented with all kinds of techniques and media, usually in the quiet of her home. A few years later, she began sharing work on Flickr and Blogger. Through this decision, she met future buyers, collaborators, gallerists and friends.
Her art career began as a personal experience with no intentions to make it a full-time gig. Thanks to her prolific nature and online traction, she eventually ventured off on her own to begin her life as a self-employed, self-made artist.
DAILY PROCESS + GEOGRAPHY
For Lisa, no day is "typical." With such a variety of work, each task or project requires a different mindset. "In order to keep things interesting, I try to constantly be attempting new things. Process becomes about exploration, not execution of a certain thing." The techniques she employs vary depending on the nature of the project. If she's working on an abstract painting, she works intuitively with a color scheme in mind. If she is working on an illustration for a client, there is research and prep work involved.
Her days begin at 6:30 a.m. with coffee, email and administrative tasks. Midday through late afternoon is reserved for working on art. Her studio is close by, and she works from there 3+ days a week. She also has a computer, scanner and printer set up at home so that she can work on small scale projects and conduct research. She typically wraps around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., and she is finding ways to create balance between work and life. Lisa is also an athlete, and she makes time to exercise everyday. Whether that's swimming or spinning, the routine provides energy and relieves anxiety. On the day we spoke, she was thrilled to have made time for a midday hike.
Lisa was born in New York and moved to California at age 8. She finds California to be somewhat indescribable, with so many different things happening in each area. There is natural beauty all around and each town is home to a lot of smart, creative people. Due to the "spirit of generosity" and the feeling that "you're in it together," Lisa finds it a great place to be a working artist. The culture and community fuel her creativity.
PERSPECTIVE + RECENT WORK
Lisa lives with a guiding practice of "always looking" and keeps an eye out for objects of interest. She describes herself as a "visual junkie," which is demonstrated perfectly through her beautiful collections. She is constantly feeding her brain by visiting new places, experiencing art in real spaces and reading books on art, design, architecture and more.
She takes intentional vacations and always returns with renewed energy and excitement. She travels with a sketchbook so she can take advantage of the moments when she's feeling extra creative. Long flights are a particularly good opportunity to get away from her usual environment and gain clarity on projects at hand.
Lisa openly talks about the inevitable creative roadblocks she experiences via her social media outlets and blog. When fending off distractions and discouragement, built-in structures like meeting deadlines keep her on track. She rarely has a shortage of ideas for personal projects enjoys working on things for herself and loved ones. "There's something about making work that no one's going to edit."
In addition to the field notes in Art Inc., those interested in learning more can take her "Become a Working Artist" class through online learning platform CreativeLive. It is a self-paced, 22 video class with exclusive insight on the ins and outs of getting started as a professional artist. If you already follow Lisa's art practice online, you know how busy she stays with new projects. Just in the last couple of months, she completed a soon-to-be-released book of hand-lettered quotes, started showing work with a new gallery, interviewed fellow artists, worked on her 7th sewing project, began a new book about her love for swimming and many, many more.
For studio listening, Lisa chooses podcasts and audiobooks. "I find that I can lose myself in my work so easily when I am listening to a good book." Her most recent literary adventure: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
For parting wisdom, I will again quote Art, Inc.
"While there have certainly been a few inexplicable, magical moments in my career, most of what has gotten me to where I am today are more basic things like curiosity, patience, risk-taking, and hard work."