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Episode 151: LISA CONGDON








Lisa Congdon is on the podcast! She's a Portland, Oregon-based fine artist, illustrator and author known internationally for her colorful drawings and hand lettering. Her playful work is recognized for its vibrant palettes, geometric patterns and uplifting messages.


We talk about designing a life that fits who you are today, not who you used to be, how to change things even if (especially if) you own a business, and how ease and joy and simplicity are where it is at.


Here is Lisa's website: https://lisacongdon.com/








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Episode Transcript:



Lisa Slagle

Welcome to Outside By Design. Today, I'm thrilled by who the guest is like. I'm just going to fangirl my heart out. This guest is one of my all time favorite designers, one of my favorite artists. I've followed her for years, admired how she runs her business, how she shows up as herself, and just like how she brings her own personal style to everything.

And yeah, she's a total hero of mine. So what a privilege to be able to ask her whatever I wanted for an hour. Like, Wow. And I am talking about Lisa Congdon. She's the coolest. If you don't know who Lisa Congdon is, immediately go to Instagram and look her up, look at her work. Go to LisaCongdon.com because her style is unique and she's just awesome.

So there now that that's out of the way. I tried to stay cool during the interview, but this woman's just such a badass. So I'm going to stop talking. Enjoy the episode.



Lisa Slagle:

Lisa, thank you so much for being here today.


Lisa Congdon:

Oh, it's my pleasure. I'm so excited to talk to you.



Lisa Slagle:

I'm personally really excited to talk to you because one: Lisa's stick together and two: I've always admired you. Like, I don't have that many women in the creative industry that are just doing a lot, and you're someone I've followed for years and I love your work. It's very exciting to be able to ask you anything for an hour, so the first thing I want to introduce around you is, um, you're an artist and you started when you were nearly 40, right? That's when you became an artist, if you will. How did you get to that point where you were just ready to do something totally different?



Lisa Congdon:

that's such a great question. So I look back on my life, I realize that I probably been an artist way longer than, you know, like longer ago than when I was 40. I'm 55 now, so I've been doing this professionally for 15 years. And then I have been making well, I should say I left my job when I was 40.


I had an art business for a few years before that, so I've been doing it professionally for almost 20 years. And it wasn't until I was probably about 30 or 31 that I first started drawing or painting, and it kind of happened on accident, to be honest. I wonder sometimes if, like this confluence of events in my life hadn't happened, like, would I be where I am now? It's really hard to say.


So when I was in my early thirties, I went through a really big breakup with somebody that I had been in a relationship with for a long time, nearly my entire adult life at that point. We had been together for almost a decade and I was in my early twenties when I met her and I suddenly found myself like a little bit lost. Like my association with adulthood was like being in a relationship. And, you know, we lived together and we shared everything from clothes to expenses. And I, I went on this journey to sort of find myself, which I think happens. I feel like there's like these junctures in life where where you're kind of realize that you're not where you want to be or that there's more to life. And I feel like it happens to a lot of people when they're 30 anyway. So maybe I would have gone through this regardless, and that might have had something to do with why we ended the relationship. But I just started this creative journey and I was also working at the time at a nonprofit job that I loved very much. But it was it was intense and not very creative. And so when I would get off work, I had all this time on my hands because I was single, I was living by myself, and I just became really interested in making stuff. I think it was partly like a way to keep myself busy and partly a way to distract myself and partly a way to heal. Maybe from what I was going through.


So I took some drawing classes at this like local community center. I took some classes and painting classes at UC Berkeley Extension. I was living in San Francisco at the time. I started like reading books about artists. I just became really interested in in art and design. And what's interesting is the person that I was in a relationship with previous to that was an artist.


And so she had sort of introduced me to all of these things, but I never really explored them for myself until our relationship was over. And I just set up a little like studio at my kitchen table and you started making stuff and painting. I was sewing a lot. I had a sewing machine. I was cooking.


It's kind of like I was really into photography. Like I just really devoted myself outside of work to just living a creative life. And I started making new friends and this was like back in the day, like the birth of blogs, like when everyone had a type pad, blog and or blogger was like, the platform. And I started to type, had blog, and I met other people who read my blog.


And then I was on Flickr, which was like this photo sharing site and met other people who were like me, like just kind of exploring different creative pursuits. And I just started to make friends. And some who lived in San Francisco and I would meet up with them and my other friends thought I was completely crazy because I was like going on like, you know, friend dates with people from the Internet, which now everybody does all of the time, right? Like, it's such a normal way to meet people and build community. But it was not normal then. And I think my other friends were sort of like I remember once I had a gathering for a bunch of us who had met on Flickr and we were all like crafters and artists and she's like, You're inviting these people over to your house.


You don't even know them. And I was like, I know it's a little risky, but I did and it was amazing. And I just started this kind of new life with this new community. Meanwhile, I had lots a whole other life. You know, I was a competitive swimmer and had, you know, was coaching and traveling to compete in swimming.

And I, you know, had a whole community around that. And so my life became pretty rich. And then eventually one thing led to another and I was like, I feel like I need to do this. Like, I feel like this needs to be my life. And I know I don't have any training, I don't have any schooling, I don't but I think I can do this. And so this was at the beginning of Etsy. I opened an Etsy shop and started selling some stuff. I had a few kind of like local neighborhood shows in little boutiques and, you know, it's hard to imagine it. It would have been impossible to imagine then that I would be doing what I do now at the scale that I do it. Partly because the technology wasn't there at the time. You know, there was no social media. You know, this was all very like, maybe there was Facebook, but that was it, you know? And then eventually every year, some new thing would come on the scene or something, I would learn some new technology or there was a new way to kind of connect with people. And by 2008, I like signed with an illustration agent. I had sort of built my portfolio and had made enough work that I attracted the attention of a pretty well known agent. And, you know, I make I tell that story. And, you know, less than 5 minutes ago, I was talking about how I had just started. And it really did happen both very quickly and also over the course of five years.



You know, it's not like overnight I became this artist that I am today. It was just like I became good enough that I was willing to, like, put my work out into the world. And there were people who liked it. And that work looks very different than the work I make now. But it was my starting place. And if I'm good at if I'm if I'm good at one thing, it's like not being perfect and not waiting for perfection.





I learned that from my mother and like, I kind of know when something's just good enough to put out into the world and I'm pretty good at taking risks. And and so then over the years, I just sort of like built this art career that is now kind of phenomenally big and, you know, I run a small company, so that's kind of how it started though, like very organically and like because I really just loved it and wanted to do it and I figured it out.


00:09:46:01 - 00:10:05:12

Lisa Slagle:

I think that's so cool and I love that you just went like you went for it without fighting it and you make that journey sound very easy. Like you're kind of going with the flow of what feels good and is like it Was it kind of driven that way of going with like, Yeah, this is working, I'll do more of it?




Lisa Congdon:

yeah, definitely.


And also to be honest, I, mean, there were of course, times when I was like I literally had $10 in the bank account and I was like, I don't know what I'm going to do. You know, I think that the creative flow part, the desire to make work, my ability to like, put myself out there, those are things that all I think both because I was a little bit older, you know, I wasn't fresh out of art school.


I was at the time in my thirties and I was, you know, I had had jobs where I had to put myself out there and communicate with people. And like, I had a certain amount of drive that was either innate or somehow that I had learned in my former career. That really helped me. But, you know, anybody who's a creative person can tell you that you can have all of those things and you can still not be able to pay the bills at the end of the day.


So, you know, those things came easily to me and those things flowed. But, you know, I really did struggle in the beginning with like, how am I going to make this work? Like, you know, And one of the things I did was I sort of like left my job very slowly. I had a full time job and I and then I went to part time and then I consulted on the side for several years before I went full time, I opened a store with my friend, which was another source of income that was less reliant on my own talents, but more just like attracting customers. So I figured out a way to sort of incrementally get from the place where I was making a full time living to being an artist, making a full time living by doing kind of like cobbling together different ways of paying bills because you can have all of the drive and motivation and creativity in the world. But if you're not, you know, making an income from your work, you can't you have to have a you know, you have to have another job or a way to support yourself. And so there were definitely struggles in there. And times when I didn't know what I was doing and there was a big learning curve, but and the Internet wasn't full of classes and articles on how to make a living as an artist.


Like there are today. So I don't mean to make it sound easy, but it was once I figured, once I discover that this is what I wanted to do in some way or another, it really did flow for me. And but that doesn't mean that, like I immediately found success. That part took a while.


Lisa Slagle:

So okay, So I started my company when I was 22, and I started hiring people when I was 25.



Lisa Congdon:

Wow.



Lisa Slagle:

Yeah, And I mean, I'm 36 and I have creative directed for 350 brands. And sometimes I have an existential crisis around what am I, a parrot? I can talk like a ski company. I can talk like a watch company. I can talk like a bank. And so I found the book you wrote, Find Your Artistic Voice, and I was like Oh my gosh I need this book. And I love how you explain bringing yourself into your work. And so my question to you is because you have such a strong style, how do you work with brands where you are meeting those brand goals but you're also bringing yourself into it (because I so admire how you do that)?



Lisa Congdon:

It's pretty tricky. But what's interesting now is that in most of the brand collaborations that I get are, if not all of them, they come to me because they want my style, they want me, they want my voice infused into it. I mean, that's not always true, but but it is often true.




So there's that. I think the the other part of it is that, I mean, there is always this tension. For example, I did this job recently for a major. I can't I can't say who it is yet because the thing hasn't come out, but it's like a major alcohol brand and it was packaging and they wanted like full buyout of the imagery that was going on the packaging and but it included a lot of iconic things that I use in my work. Like people want the symbols that I use and they want all of the things that are associated with me. And we were like, No, you can't own that, right? Like, that's part of Lisa's style. And so you have a choice. And if you want that, you have, you know, A, she's never going to give it to you, even if you paid her a lot of money because like, that's how she makes her livelihood.



So sometimes we have to have hard conversations. You know, I think that I am like I said, I'm really lucky because a lot of times brands will come to me and I actually like once the product comes out, I'm I'm wearing it or I'm doing a photoshoot with it. Like they want me to be associated with it. And so and they want my personal story.


They want to know, you know, why pride is meaningful to me or like, why, you know, I look why I love to ride my bike. It's like brands understand that story. You know, this storytelling is it's like such a powerful tool and getting people to relate to whatever whatever it is that you're trying to sell.



And I think because before I ever had a brand collaboration, my brand became about not just my visual link, like my visual vocabulary, my visual language, but also like who I was the person and what I stand for. Right? And and so most of the time, you know, every now and again, you know, I'll hear from some potential client and I'm like, You're asking me to do work for you. Like you stand for all the things that you obviously haven't done your research right. Like you stand for all the things that I'm like not, you know, and but 95% of the time, I, you know, I get to work with brands that share values, you know, that share the same values as I do. And so it isn't too much of a struggle.


I did I did a really big job for Amazon last year, and I was designing all of these icons and things that were going to go on their back to school pages of the Amazon website to, you know, for both college and elementary and high school. And it was a super fun job. But I'm just like, you have to somewhere we have to do something where you tell people that I did this work because people are going to accuse you of ripping me off, right? Because my name wasn't on work is so recognizable that when we do kind of when I am behind the scenes, but I'm making artwork for a major brand, you know, like we have to talk about it out loud in the open because people are going to come at me and say, Amazon's ripping you off or, you know, whatever.


So it's like it's gotten to the point now where we almost always like, I'm part of that bigger conversation when a product comes out, when my art is on it, because that's my style is so recognizable.



Lisa Slagle:

That is really interesting and I think it's awesome that your community is like, don't rip her off.


00:17:54:26 - 00:18:10:11

Lisa Congdon

yeah, yeah. I know. Well, one time recently there was like a company that designed a beer can and like, basically, you know how like, art is on wine cans and beer cans all the time now, which is cool but like somebody, some agency was working with this brewery and, like, totally copied one of my designs and put it on the can. Like, I'm like, don't understand. Like, I was like, oh, some junior art or some junior designer just got fired today and we contacted them. We're like, Hello. And of course the brewery didn't know anything about it.


They just they didn't knew who I was. Like the designer had, you know, used my work or copied my work, traced my work and put it on the can. And I was like, either stupid or lazy or both. I'm not sure because literally the day the can was like in the New Seasons, which is the grocery store here in Portland, people were texting me pictures like, Congratulations on this beautiful can.


Lisa Slagle:

Oh my gosh


Lisa Congdon:

And I was like, Oh, actually I had I did not make that. So the opposite also happens. Like people will stand up for me, but also, you know, you know, that's the thing these days, like when you have a style that is so iconic, it's, you know, people will notice if you copy, you know, and we all do that when we're starting out, right? Like everybody is like, influenced and imitates, you know,


Lisa Slagle:

Oh, I know. I was obsessed with Aaron Draplin. I loved everything.


Lisa Congdon:

Oh yeah, Aaron is amazing too. And he's so prolific that like there's so much to absorb.


Lisa Slagle:

Oh I was like drawing snakes on everything and was like snakes are not really me. But cool. So thanks for that, Aaron. I remember in college being so into him. But you grow out of that. To be professional, it's very different.


Lisa Congdon:

Yeah everyone goes through that, but yeah to be professional not no longer a good idea.



Lisa Slagle:

Okay, I want to talk to you about cycling because our audience loves, you know, it's an outdoor industry podcast, so I think it's really cool you just got sponsored by Smith. You have a bunch of cycling goals this year. I think I saw the Oregon triple Crown. How's your cycling season? What's going on there?



Lisa Congdon:

never so far so good I, I hired a coach who happens to also be a friend of mine and that is like made a huge difference. I've been cycling since I was 28 and so a very long time, but I never really took it very seriously. And I mentioned earlier that I think people go through existential crisis crises when they're 30. I think it also happens when you're 50. And so for me it was like I think just sort of like, well, it was like being in my early fifties and pandemic, I think really just impacted my... I also had breast cancer in 2020. They caught it really early and like I was fine and my treatment was not you know, I didn't have to have chemo, I had radiation.


But I, I think it's sort of like, you know, that trifecta for me just really made me say like, how do I want to live my life? What do I want to be doing? How do I want to be spending my time? I already have this dream career, but what is outside of work that I love? And I couldn't necessarily answer that question. And I was already on a cycling team and was riding, but I just got really had a lot of free time because all my travel was canceled. Like so much that used to be fill up my days was no longer filling up my days because we were all at home not really knowing what's going on. And I had less work. So I just started riding more and I got a gravel bike and I started racing gravel and I had never really raced bikes at all before. And my way of sort of training was like I would just go out and ride my bike a lot.



And I got really strong in 2021, which was like my first full year of gravel racing and fell more in love with they got really involved in the community. My friends met the woman who's now my coach and and then, you know, I just realized that I kind of hit this plateau and I was like, I really want to learn how to get faster. Is it even possible at my age? I don't know. Like, am I have I kind of peaked already in my life? And so I just was like, I'm going to do everything I can to see like how strong a cyclist I can become with you for last year. And so I heard my friend Serena to coach me.



I started eating more. I realized I had been sort of under fueling. I got on a strategic training plan. I started going to a gym where I'm like, lifting and it's weight training gym, basically. So I go there twice a week and, and I don't know, I, started like, I only work four days a week now, so I have Fridays to train and I just I've kind of like poured myself into cycling. And so far it's been amazing. I still haven't beaten all of my like pass from 2021 one, which is the year I kind of started getting into it. But I am getting stronger and at a recent race I like beat my time by 22 minutes the time from last year. And then I recently had a double header weekend at another couple of gravel races and podiums on both of those races. And I'm racing the Oregon Triple Crown or I'm sorry that I am racing the Oregon Triple Crown. Two of the races are already over and I'm doing the Oregon Grand Fondo a week from this weekend. So once I complete that, I will have completed the Triple Crown and and that will be another interesting one for me. It's 117 miles.


It's a road race, not a gravel race, but so I'm I'm already seeing like my athletic, you know, performance and like changing and getting so much better. And I'm racing faster and it's really exciting. And I've also I think what's even more exciting for me is just that, that I feel like I'm part of the cycling community.


The gravel cycling community is super unconventional, like compared to road cycling and which is why I was like so unintimidated by it when I first started doing it. Like people are like, Yeah, you just go, It's like a ride. It's not even you don't even have to race if you want. If you don't want to, it's just go have fun and like that appealed to me. And now, of course, you know, I'm a Capricorn, so like, you know, that was fun for a year, but now I want to win. So now I'm just like creating a lot harder and I mean, I'm still having a blast, but like, there is one race that's coming up the Oregon Trail gravel grinder, which I've done twice, which is a five day stage race, and I was just like, done with it.


Like it's very technical and it's very hard and I don't even know how I completed it two years in a row. But like now I'm going to run the information booth for Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. Like I'm finding ways to stay involved. You know, I'm going to drive my my coaches van for her because, you know, she's going to be riding from point to point so she needs somebody to drive her van. So like, there's these ways that I've gotten really involved in cycling to the point where like, yeah, I have a sponsor now and which is kind of crazy and that all kind of happened because the guy who runs the marketing team for Smith follows me and has followed me, but saw that I got this new bike built by Argonaut, this bike brand in Bend, and like I was super stoked to see how stoked I was to have this new bike which I had custom built.


It has my artwork all over it like they hand-painted it for me and he saw how excited I was about my bike and how I was talking about it. And he was like, Oh, we need her on our team, right? To, you know, to talk about our stuff. And so we had this like, you know, it took a couple of months, but then I finally, like, you know, signed with them and that was cool. But yeah, it's weird. Like I'm this like 55 year old, like middle aged woman, and I just got my first bike sponsor.


Lisa Slagle

Yeah! It's so cool. I'm really good friends with Rebecca Rush, and I love Rebecca. She's who I call for cycling advice, and I just got a gravel bike and I'm like is it supposed to be this terrifying? Like, it's so much scarier than mountain biking. And she's just laughing at me.


Lisa Congdon:

Oh, cool. Yeah, it's scary. Well, I don't know, Rebecca, but I probably will talk to her. I'm doing this project with Dominique Powers, who's a cycling photographer. She's a cyclist, but also, like, photographs. She's one of the people who photographs all the big races. And we are doing this project together where we're photographing. And I will interview and then do some artwork that relates to the photos, but basically women and non-binary folks and trans folks who are leaders in gravel cycling and Rebecca's one hopefully going to be one of our subjects. So, you know, and my coach is also friends with her and races her big race every year and stuff. But yeah she is a force. She is a force.



Lisa Slagle:

k. The next thing I want to ask you about, of course, loud quitting


Lisa Congdon:

Yes.


Lisa Slagle:

I just like how you live. I like how you're just like okay I did this podcast for 2 years. K. Not gonna do it anymore. So I guess explain in your words loud quitting. I think it is so cool.


Lisa Congdon:

Thank you. So I kind of had this like, like a reckoning with myself last year. It was really horrible.

It started off fine, but 2022 was one of those years that was super challenging for me. It was challenging in so many ways. Like, lots of things went wrong last year in my business, in my personal life, and everything's fine now. But there were moments when I was like, not sure everything was going to be fine. And I got really burnt out and, you know, was really struggling in lots of parts of my life.

Like didn't ride very much last year and was super anxious and I had this moment where I was like, what am I doing? You know, I work so hard, I'm so burned out. There are all these things that I love to do, but I'm not really doing them enough. I don't sleep well. I wake up anxious every day.


Like from the outside it looks like, you know, I'm living the dream, but I'm not super happy. And my employee, Amy, she always says that the thing she loves about me the most is that I'm very decisive. And it's true. It's like once I decide I'm done with something, I really will just say goodbye to it.


And I just woke up one morning and was like, I'm done being stressed out. I'm done. Like I had convinced myself for so long that all of the stress I was experiencing was worth it because I had built this business and, you know, this life. And and I was like, okay, well, now it's time for something new.


And so I started making this list of everything that I spent time doing that maybe I loved, but also had an element of stressing me out. The podcast is a really great example of that. I loved podcasting and I did it for two years, but but I was noticing every time I had to record a podcast, I would get nervous and I would feel like I didn't have time to prepare as well as I wanted to.


And then even after I had these amazing conversations and then I had to go through and listen to it and tell the editor how to edit it. And if there was, you know, and so it was just like this thing that I was doing and I was like, I just don't know if this is adding anything to my life.


I love the conversations, but beyond that, it felt like a lot of administrative stuff. And so I was like, Cut that out. I actually quit drinking. And, you know, I'm somebody who was like a few glasses of wine every night kind of person, which also led me to start sleeping better and like feeling better in my body.


I was on all these boards of directors and I quit all of them. I, I just started eliminating things that didn't feel meaningful. I used to say yes to pretty much every podcast, every project. And now I'm really picky about what I say yes to. And, and I've even had to say no to some opportunities that were really cool and exciting because I knew that it was going to make me feel squeezed and, and I think I lived my life feeling like I was in a sardine can or like in a hamster wheel for so long. Right. Like just pressure. I was like in a pressure cooker and I just, you know, I think from the outside most people would see that I am a very positive person and like I'm, you know, pretty exuberant and that's real. That's me. I think underneath all of that, I was pretty stressed out and questioning a lot of my life choices.


And I was like, Oh, just because you have this successful business doesn't mean you have to keep running it in the same way that you have all these years. Just because you reached this level of success doesn't mean that you have to continue doing living your life in the same way. In fact, you might even have more freedom now to like, change things up.


So let's look at that. Let's take advantage of that.


And I ended up going down to a four day work week, which I implemented in January of this year. So I'm on almost month five, the end of month five. And it has been amazing. And and I really have changed my relationship to work and really only commit to relationships, friendships and obligations that feel exciting to me. And usually that's somewhere in the intersection of cycling, creativity and community. Like those are kind of like pillars of my life and, and anything that sort of like fits in that sweet spot. They're like, if that was a Venn diagram then. I mean, obviously I do a lot of things in my work life that have nothing to do with cycling. That would be a pretty narrow thing for me to focus on. But you get what I'm saying. It's like, you know, here's what makes me happy. Here's what brings me the most joy. What can I do? How can I live my life in a way that supports more of that? And I just started like saying no, eliminating things from my life.



And I even got rid of a bunch of stuff like physical stuff and, you know, like my dog, one of my dogs died last August, and like, the old me would have immediately gone out and gotten another dog. I already have another dogs so we had two dogs. And then I was like, No, I don't need another dog.

This one dog I have is amazing. Like, all getting another animal is going to do is just, you know what? I'm sure you know, the right dog would have brought me more joy, I'm sure. But it also is like more bills and more responsibility and more vet appointments. And so I've just really been in this phase of like questioning why more of anything, you know, just like really paring down and simplifying my life to just like the stuff that that makes me happy and, and that I already have and being satisfied with that instead of more work, more friends, more this, more that- like it's just less and I've never felt so happy in my entire life.


So yeah, loud quitting let me let me just go back to that question- loud quitting is like. It's kind of like it's not the opposite of a quiet quitting, which is basically, you know, that's sort of like a phenomenon right now of people not going above and beyond at work, which I also support in most cases, it's not the opposite of that. It's just me just being like I'm actually I'm not quietly quitting. I'm loud. I'm like, I'm quitting. I'm telling people that I'm quitting. Like I'm quitting this thing. I'm not doing this kind of work anymore. I'm not going to serve on this board anymore because I need more time for myself and just sort of doing that unapologetically.



You know, I've been in this position and somebody who's an influencer and like is well known and I get asked to do things a lot for people and I always have felt this obligation to say yes, and which gets me into relationships and, you know, kind of cycles of work that I'm not even very interested in. But, you know, I'm sort of like I'm a people pleaser.


Right? So, yes, yes, yes. I got this. I can do that. That won't take me very long. Sure. I'll help you with that, you know. Sure. I'll help you with that. And then the next thing I know, I'm just, like, completely overwhelmed and I'm not taking any time for myself and I'm not very happy. And so I'm not doing that anymore.



I'm quitting all of it. And and that's not to say that I'm not taking on new projects, that I'm not continuing projects that are meaningful to me and that I'm not working hard. It's just that I'm much more focused on a few things and, doing those few things really well. You know, my life is like I've got two projects this year. They're big projects, but I've got two projects, I've got cycling and I do work pretty intensively with my coach on helping her with this gravel camp that she runs. And, you know, I'm in my relationship and I have my dog. And I've got like a handful of really great friends and that's it. That's my life. And if I had told you, if I had kind of tried to describe my life a couple of years ago, it would have felt way bigger and messier than that.



That's loud quitting.


Lisa Slagle:

I love that.


I am on a similar thing where I am turning my life from a latte into an espresso shot.


Because lattes have so much stuff in them and they're delicious but there are so many ingredients and I want something smaller that is higher octane. Pure.


And it feels good. Because I think when you create for a living I think that no matter what you do you have to bring all of yourself to what you're making and you have to be fully present to create, and it is super beautiful, but it is exhausting to do that on command constantly.


How do you like to feel when you start a project?



Lisa Congdon:

I like to feel excited and, like, connected and I think that's part of what I've done this year is I really started to shift the focus to personal work and I just so happened to like, have 2 big exhibitions at the in the fall that I'm working on right now.


And you know when you have your as an artist, when you have your own exhibition, you get to drive what you make, you get to create the body of work. And so much of my career has been working with clients and being directed and, I had so much fun doing that. You know, it pays the bills. It's been great, but I am taking a break from that this year.


I've done a few small client jobs this year, but like for the most part, this is the first year in my entire career where I most of my work is self-directed and I have opportunities that are goal oriented and that will eventually might make me money. But that is so motivating and exciting to me, you know, and when I do client work, especially now, I mean, I used to just sort of say yes to everything, but now it's really about like, do I share values with this client?


Like, am I excited about this project? Can I see myself in it? Is my style conducive to what what it is they want? And I ask a lot of questions before I sign anything with the client to make sure that that connection is there and that that what they're dreaming of for me to do is something that resonates with me.


And I think it takes a lot of self-control sometimes to stop and ask those questions. You know, the inclination, I think, for all of us is like either yes or no. And I think often for me, it's a maybe I'm like going through that exploration. Is this the right project for me? Because I do really want to feel excited when I start a project.


I do really want to feel connected so that when I get up in the morning, I'm excited to work on it. And that is, oftentimes client projects start off that way and then they get really like get in the weeds, you know, and things can get really difficult and, you know, once the client wants a million changes or they think they know what they want, but then you make what they ask you to make and then they realize that's not what they wanted in the first place.


And, you know, it's it's it can be exhausting, as I'm sure you, you know. But, you know, I like I love that. I mean, I imagine, you know, for you that most of your career has been working with folks in the outdoor industry, right. That you really found this niche. And I had sort of a much more like, I think this is true for a lot of illustrators, like and there are some niche illustrators, but like most of us will take whatever work, right?


So we work in a variety of industries and I'm sort of like imagining my future. You know, I'm 55. I'm probably never going to stop making art, but like at some point I'm going to retire from like owning this business and, you know, and I'm like, what do I want the next ten years of my life to look like?


And I'm getting there, but I'm starting to think, oh, you know, mostly I want to be working in the bike or outdoor industry. And because those are things that are personally interesting to me and that's where I spend a lot of my time outside of my job. And I also want to be making personal work that's making a difference in the world.


And fortunately, I can do those things, some of those things now. But when I think about like really focusing in on what I want over the next ten years, like that's really what I'm thinking about. And, and that's exciting to me that like, I've gotten to the place where I can actually be that picky about the work that I take.


Lisa Slagle:

I think the outdoor industry needs a little more color and pizzaz and joy that you bring, so I think that is a wonderful fit. What's different for you when you have a personal project? Like what's the difference in what you bring to the table or to the studio between like when it's yours and when it's client work?


Lisa Congdon:

well, typically when it's client work, there's always a creative brief with, you know, art direction and, you know, there's usually like a PDF that has the color palette or like the tag lines.


And then like, then there's inspiration images that are sometimes my work, like what's attracts them to what I do and then other imagery that might be other work of other artists or photographs or like the vibe that they're going for and sometimes that work is really easy because they're basically like, We want you to do this. And I'm like, Great, and I'm done in two weeks.


Maybe there's a little back and forth and sometimes it's a little more difficult than that. But you're always, even though you're using your own style, your own way of drawing things, you're always trying to create something that makes the client happy and that they want to see and get excited about. And I love making clients happy. Like I make that I might, you know, that might come off as negative, but it's not necessarily like I actually think I'm really well cut out for client work because I love taking a client's vision and then like infusing my own creativity into it and I love ideating with art directors and creative directors about ideas. That work has been so fulfilling for me and I've learned so much. And the fact like I have to pinch myself sometimes, like the fact that I can make something that, you know, some creative director of some big brand that they love and are excited to put out into the world.


Like, how cool is that? Like, I really do love that I can execute on somebody else's vision. That's a skill, right? And it's a skill I've developed over the last 20 years that I've been doing this. But it's always this sort of collaborative effort with I mean, most of the time it's collaborative. Sometimes it's not so collaborative, but, you know, it's always and I love that part of the job, like it keeps it from not being so lonely.


Personal work is so different, and sometimes there is this weird intersection like, I just did this poster for the Library of Congress for the National Book Festival. It hasn't come out yet, but it it was just like they basically were like, We love what you do. The Librarian of Congress has selected you for this project and we would like you to just do you.


So we want you to design this poster. And I literally designed a poster and they approved it because they loved it. And then they're going to take elements from the poster and use it for other things at the festival. But it was kind of this amazing job where I was like, okay, what would I want the poster to look like, or visuals for the for this book festival? And I kind of got to be a student almost doing a student project, where I had some art direction house had these words on. It needs to relate to books and you know writing. But I got to do this thing and I was really proud of it.



I loved it and they loved it. And, you know, that was like this rare kind of opportunity that sometimes happens. But really with personal work, it's like any quirky thing that I'm obsessed with out in the world or for me, anything that's part of.. like I'm just a inspiration collector. I love folk art.


I love outdoor imagery. I love anything that's mid-century vibe. And so, for example, recently I went to Japan for this residency and I came back and my job was to create some work about this trip. And two of the posters are going to be released soon that I created, with inspiration from my trip and then I have a show in Philadelphia in October that's also related to this trip to Japan. So my job was to go to Japan and take pictures and just soak in every visual thing that was interesting to me and then come home and make art about it. Like, how cool is that, right? Like somebody paid for me to go to Japan so that I can go to this country that is like so visually stimulating, observe all of these amazing things, come back and make work that was inspired by that.


And so that's just one example of, it's just fun because there's no rules. Like I get to do whatever I want. The one thing was the screenprint, one of the screen prints could only be three colors. So I had to choose the three colors that I was going to use to create this art that was going to be screen printed into this poster. That was like the only constraint, right? Otherwise I could do whatever I wanted. And I think part of what I love about personal work is that I can do whatever I want and I can use my own, you know, so much of my work has like messages in it. And so it's just my platform for talking about stuff that I think matters in the world.


And and that's the coolest thing. Like, I it never gets old. I never run out of ideas. I'm always excited to make new work. And it just uses this whole different part of my brain, the working on client work. I mean, they're both great, but they're just really different.


Lisa Slagle:

Oh, yes, I love your whole explanation of that. And I also think you've done a really good job treating yourself as like, in a way, like a nonrenewable, not-sustainable resource and been really, really intelligent about having books and card decks and like, a product-izing your work so that people can enjoy it. And it's not dependent upon an exchange of like you for money.


Lisa Congdon:

Yeah, exactly. And that's a whole other arm of my business that we haven't talked about.


It's like I do client work, I do personal work, but so much of my personal work is creating things that I can sell and monetize, like prints and books and cards and puzzles and tote bags and things like that that give people joy and also allow me to run a business. And it's, this way of like, you know, having personal work, but also creating things that people can either use or want or that bring people joy.


You know, like people say to me all the time, you're your art makes me so happy, you know? And and I'm so glad that I have things that people can can have or purchase that remind them, you know, to tap into their own joy.


Lisa Slagle:

yeah, I think I mean, I think you've done it so well.


Lisa Congdon:

Thank you


Lisa Slagle:

Yeah, and I don't believe in the Starving Artist story.


Lisa Congdon:

me neither


Lisa Slagle:

I think that you're someone who has really done a good job to use your talent to run an actual business.


Lisa Congdon:

And I think that's like becoming more and more common now when I was starting out, I think part of this I wrote this book, this other book before Find Your Artistic Vice called Art Inc The Essential Guide to Building your Career as an Artist.


And I wrote that when I was still like my business hadn't grown as big as it is now. And I knew a thing or two about like, you know, I hadn't had any training, Like I didn't go to school to learn how to make art. I had never taken a professional practice class, and yet I had sort of figured out how to hold together this living for myself.


And I think there is something about, you know, I'm kind of like scrappy in that way. I just sort of was like, it's not an option for me to not do not survive or it's not an option for me to starve. I mean, there were times when I only had $20 in my bank account, but I figured it out right.


I'm going to always focus on the next thing that I can do that's going to help me do this full time. And and I figured it out in a relatively short period of time to the point where this publisher was like, we want you to write a book about this? And ten years later, the ten year anniversary of the book is coming up.


But like ten years later, of course, I would write the book differently. But like, I kind of appreciate that it was written from the perspective of somebody who was really in the first ten years of her career and was still kind of in the process of figuring things out because I think it made the book really relatable for people who are and still makes the book relatable for people who are first starting out.


Like there is a bit of you know, a bit of scrappiness to the book even. And this idea that you can't put all your eggs in one basket. You have to constantly be thinking about all the different ways that you can get your work into the world and all the ways, different ways you can make a little bit of money here and there in order to survive and thrive eventually.


Lisa Slagle:

Yeah, I once worked with a rancher, and he basically said the same thing. He's like, If this field isn't producing, I need this field, you know? And he is like, So you have a bunch of buckets and anyway, you're nailing it on the buckets.


My last question is is there anything I have not asked you that you'd like to share with our audience?


Lisa Congdon:

Oh gosh.


Lisa Slagle:

That's a big one.


Lisa Congdon:

I can't think of anything. You've asked me so many good questions.


Lisa Slagle:

I was really excited to talk to you on so many levels and I think the audience is going to adore this, so where can they find you? Where can they hire you? Where can they check out your work?


Lisa Congdon:

So first and foremost, my my work lives and my shop lives on my website, which is just my name. Lisa Conklin dot com And there are links there to classes I teach in my books and all of my products and information about pretty much everything that I do.


The other place that I hang out is Instagram, so it's my name @ Lisa Congdon and note post every day. But I do post several times a week and I'm more active on stories than anything, snippets of my life and my practice. And yeah, I also have a shop in Portland. It's in front of my studio right now, although we're moving into the there's a second fantastic like shop full of shops in Portland called Cargo.


And so we're moving into the Cargo Emporium in July and so I'll be at a different location but you can always check out where we are when you come, if you come to visit Portland. So you can kind of like dive into all of the amazing products that we have to offer.


Lisa Slagle:

Well, thank you so much and I really appreciate with ask your loud quitting that you said yes to this.


Lisa Congdon:

I was excited because I read about the description of your of your podcast and I was like that this fits into my Venn diagram.


So there you go.


Lisa Slagle:

Well, thank you so much, Lisa, for being on the show. That meant a lot to me personally and all my nerdy design friends. We were all just freaking out and I would maybe love to work with you at some point. So thank you. And to our audience, I hope you got a lot out of that, too. I feel like I learned a lot in this one, and I'm on kind of a oddly similar path in a different way, so that feels really good to see your experience mirrored in someone else.


And yeah, I just love that one. So. To our listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast, feel free to leave a comment. Give it five stars. Help it get into the ears of more humans. And as always, thank you for being here.




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