"Are you an 'artist'?" with Lisa Congdon
Ever get the feeling that it’s too late to do what you love? In this episode, even our host admits to feeling that way sometimes, thinking it’s “too late” because she’s already thirty. But thirty is around the magical time that artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon had her artistic revival. After working many years in education, she felt like a part of her wasn’t being fed. On a fluke she took an art class with her brother, and the experience changed her life.
Lisa is best known for her colorful abstract paintings, intricate line drawings, pattern design and hand lettering, as well as her work as an author. She and Majo cover some topics Lisa hasn’t shared on a podcast before, including the unsexy parts of her work and challenges she still grapples with, and discuss why some women can be so afraid to step into their creative power.
Majo: How did you know that creative expression was what was missing?
Lisa: It was actually kind of a fluke. My brother and I both broke up with long-time partners around the same time, and we were both living in San Francisco. He was exploring a new career path and was taking classes at UC Berkeley Extension. And so he was like, “Hey Lisa, there’s this painting class I really want to take, come and take it with me.” I was thirty at the time. And taking that class woke something up in me. I realized I looked forward to class more than I looked forward to anything. When the class was over I knew I didn’t want it to stop, so I kept taking classes.
I think it would’ve happened regardless. There was definitely something inside of me… earlier you asked if I had been a creative kid, which, no I never thought of myself as being very creative but there were definitely signs throughout my entire life that I was interested in being a maker. I think it’s a difference between how I perceived myself and what was actually happening, which I think a lot of people can relate to, and I think that’s why when I became a professional artist I bumped up against a lot of internal resistance about whether or not I even deserved to be there.
Majo: Let’s go there. Let’s talk about the identity piece — feeling that you are a creative. How did you make the shift?
Lisa: The more I put my work into the world and the more I bumped up against this feeling of my work not being valid, and feeling less-than as an artist… there was a point at which I became a thought leader in that world, because I started talking about my own experience with making, being open about my insecurities and writing about them on my blog. It really helped me. And when you show vulnerability, what happens is other people who have always been afraid to say that they’re scared of something will show up and say, “I’m scared, too.” When you show your humanity it allows other people to do the same, and so my following grew. I was also expressing a lot of confidence and joy, but I think the act of being a real person allowed people to respond to me and my following grew really quickly.
Majo: Yeah, vulnerability is something we really value. I especially value it, in fact it’s one of the reasons why I created the podcast, to share real and vulnerable stories. I’m curious to hear, in your life journey, what have been some of the biggest challenges for you and how have those fed your art?
Lisa: I went through a period of incredible growth in my late thirties, early forties, where I was single for the first time in my life for a number of years. And that was really when my art career took off. During that time I was doing a lot of travelling, taking trips by myself, reading a lot of books about things I was interested in, and really just embracing that period. Because I knew I wasn’t going to be single forever, I’m definitely someone who likes being in a relationship, but I wanted to take advantage of that time.
I think what happened was I opened myself up to a whole new world, and all of that really fed my art. I went from being this person who kept herself very small and didn’t really go outside her comfort zone to the bold little girl I used to be with all the chutzpah.
- Lisa’s early years: A young girl eager to please and figure out her place, her awkward teenage years, and the layers of self-doubt and insecurity she had to shed. [4:34]
- “Is this really what I want to be doing?” Lisa’s insights on her early career and the creative outlet she sought to feel “fed”. [10:58]
- The fluke that triggered her creativity and path to becoming an artist. [15:02]
- On deserving to be a creative, exploring loneliness, and opening oneself up to the world. [18:34]
- Some of the internal challenges Lisa faced, including thinking of herself as a victim. [24:41]
- Lisa’s advice to Majo on coming out of the creative closet. [28:46]
- What defines an artist? Plus, conflicting thoughts on sharing your work via social media. [33:33]
- The unsexy parts of Lisa’s world as an artist. [37:24]
- Still “in process”: Lisa shares things she’s never discussed on a podcast before, including her plans to connect her work with activism and some of the vulnerabilities she still grapples with. [42:51]
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