Champion of Craft: Lisa Congdon

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As we celebrate the influence of art and design on perception with the recently released Mohawk Maker Quarterly, we’re taking a closer look at the group of talented makers featured in issue five. 

Today we followup with Oakland-based artist, designer and illustrator, Lisa Congdon, whose illustrations appear in the current Maker Quarterly. Read on to learn more about Lisa’s thoughts around design and perception.

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One could look at your work through a variety of lenses, from fine art to illustration to design. How would you like your work to be perceived?

It’s funny — people are always asking me: Are you a fine artist? Are you an illustrator? Are you a designer? And I usually answer that I am all three. It used to be in the not too recent history that you had to choose one course or one identity as an artist (at least in theory) and stick to it. If you were a fine artist, you couldn’t be a commercial illustrator or vice versa. I am so happy to have become an artist in a time when there is more freedom to do everything that interests you without apology. And so I make giant abstract paintings, but I also do a lot of editorial illustration, and I also do a fair amount of pattern and surface design. I want people to see me as someone who does what interests her. I don’t really care too much about the rules of identity in the art world.

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Do you think we experience work differently when we can see the hand of the artist? Does it change our relationship to the work?

We live in such an interesting time. So much in the world of graphic design and illustration — and now even in the fine art world — is digitally rendered and the artist’s hand, while most certainly there, isn’t as obvious. I do think we experience work differently when we can see the artist’s hand. I often tell my students when I am teaching painting or drawing: imperfections are your friends and they are what make your work unique and interesting. I have made a career out of making my “hand” obvious — with quirks, uneven, hand drawn line work, stylized renderings, abstract expressions. All of those things communicate my humanity, and hopefully help others connect with what I am drawing or painting or hand lettering.

Perceived value can get a bad rap, but the idea can also be applied to much outside of commerce. It can be something intensely personal. Where do you see value out in the world? How does this influence your work?

Our individual worlds are made up of our perceptions and experiences, right? I think everything we experience has value — even the stuff that makes us remorseful or sad or angry. In her book Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed says, “Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.” I love this quote.

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The art world is a scary place for a lot of artists because the value of your work is completely subjective. So you have to find value in the process of making, of being inspired, and even in messing up and making mistakes. If we bring all of our experience to our work, our work will at least be more meaningful, even if it has no value to others. I try to bring my whole experience to my work. Like if I’m having a bad day, I try to use that. Or if I’m feeling really inspired by something I saw the day before, I try to use that. But it’s not always easy.

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 In any given illustration job I might just be worrying about trying to please a client. Or if I am preparing for an exhibition, I might just be worrying that no one will like or buy my paintings. So there is always this tension between the very personal experience of making art and the public experience of making art. But just being aware of the tension has value and then feeds back into what you make. Life is a big circle.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Mandy Behrens on 12.9.14 at 1:01 pm

    Lisa’s work is absolutely amazing and her words, inspiring. Great article!

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