Inside the Whimsical and Wonderful World of Lisa Congdon
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 09/13/2021 | 5 Minute Read
We dare you to look through Lisa Congdon’s portfolio of work and not smile.
Go on. It’s just about impossible.
Lisa’s bold, graphic style radiates positivity, so it’s no wonder companies like REI, Amazon, Madewell, Comme des Garcons, and (one of our personal favorites) method have collaborated with this illustrator and storyteller to bring some joy and beauty to their brands.
Lisa comes from a background as an elementary school teacher and, later, as a nonprofit manager. She didn’t set out in college to become an artist—she started exploring her creativity in her 30s by making art at home and for her eyes only. She then shared her work on a personal blog and then onto Flickr (“the original Instagram,” as she called it) and Etsy.
“I just started this entrepreneurial endeavor while I was still pretty much finding my voice as an artist,” Lisa said. “I never went to school. I took classes here and there, but I didn’t do the full four-year art college or anything. So I was teaching myself to draw and developing my own style, and then eventually, I was able to go full-time. My career just started to grow and expand and explode.”
Lisa’s style is one that’s graphic, bold, and playful. The animals she creates aren’t just adorable; they have character and personality expressed through stoic poses and gentle, human-like eyes. Ferns, cacti, and flowers are as vibrant and varying as nature itself. Impactful words are made even more so through carefully handcrafted letters. And yes, while her work might fill you with an overall feeling of positivity (rainbows! sunshine!), she’s not afraid to take on serious topics with her design.
“I spent a lot of my younger years feeling really confused and depressed about who I was as a young woman and what my purpose in life was,” said Lisa. “A lot of my work is about the stuff that I've learned in life that's helped me feel happier and more whole, and my art really reflects that in terms of the vibe that it gives off. A lot of my work is about mental health, social justice, being queer, and being a woman. And while all of those things can feel really dark and hard sometimes, there is a certain amount of joy that I feel, and that's always what I want to try to express to the world.”
As we continue to grapple with a global pandemic, joy is something people need—which is why the method collaborations couldn’t have come at a better time. The soap maker had connected with her, inquiring about licensing some of her previous work. Lisa has filled her portfolio not only with designs she created specifically for brands but also personal pieces she simply wanted to make. Ultimately, it can lead to a brand collaboration, like with method, or it entices brands to reach out and request something custom.
“For me, the core of this collaboration—and many others that have also happened in the last few years—is just kind of me putting my message and my artistic style out there and creating work that is personal to me,” Lisa said. “And then having brands say, ‘That resonates with us, and we'd like to work with you.’”
She admitted there are mixed feelings when she works in either of these capacities. As a creative person, she feels the pressure to constantly create—plus, there’s that nagging thought that her best work would be current, fresh, and reflective of her skills today. On the flip side, reviving older pieces is incredibly gratifying. Ultimately, method was enthusiastic about the past work she presented to them that she let go of the idea she had to make something new and instead focused on the best options for this particular client.
The method collaborations were intriguing for her because the soap bottles are curved, meaning that Lisa’s designs had to be tweaked. “In almost all of my bottles, we had to kind of mess around with the image, and where it was going to curve, so it didn’t look messy,” she said. “So much of that was done by their design team. They have some really brilliant people working there who took my work and, at every phase of the design process, they would send me pictures and say, ‘Okay, this is how it’s going to wrap around the bottle. That is where it’s going to fold in a little bit. Does this look okay to you?’ And that was really great.”
Considering these recently released method collaborations, other upcoming partnerships like with a major athletic brand in the spring, in addition to two new book releases (You Will Leave a Trail of Stars and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Elements), and another book in progress, Lisa is a shining example of the value of art and how a creative career is sustainable. That balance of art and business can be tricky. For Lisa, though, her past careers, her willingness to ask questions, and the sheer fact that she pursued art once she had gotten some life experiences under her belt have helped set her up for success. Time management and the art of selling art aren’t skills people pick up in a still-life drawing class.
Most importantly, Lisa knows when to lean on others for support. “I’m still a work in progress, and I’m still learning,” she said. “I’m working with a coach who’s helping me refine what I say yes to, how many projects to take on at one time, and how much money I need to make so that I can support my life but also have enough time to enjoy my life. I also have an amazing employee, and I’m about to hire a new studio manager.
“Delegating is so important because you cannot do it all yourself. As artists, we can feel so alone and think we have to do everything ourselves, but we don’t.”