Troy Litten

11/21/14

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Travel passes from Troy’s first trips abroad

If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time here, you may remember my friend Troy Litten. I’ve written about Troy before (almost a year ago to the day, as a matter of fact!) and his various projects and you may have even met him at one of my art openings (he’s a devoted friend). When we became friends, Troy and I instantly bonded over our love for travel, for design and for collecting old stuff. I finally had the chance to sit down with Troy and interview him for my Interviews with People I Admire series, and I was so excited, because Troy is one of the most interesting and talented people I have ever met. For most of his adult life, Troy has traveled the world more frequently than most of us, and early on — before the internet or Instagram  — he began documenting his travels in ways that have now become iconic. For many years Troy made his living as a designer, but along the way has dedicated hours and hours to his greatest passion: travel and photography. He now makes his living using his stockpile of images to create beautiful products — games, home decor, and stationery to name a few.

I sat down to ask Troy about how his obsession with travel and documenting began, where it has taken him, and a little bit about how his mind works. This is the longest interview I’ve ever published, and it’s filled with gems (including incredible images) from start to finish. Enjoy!

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Lisa: You’ve been traveling most of your adult life, and you are now in your late forties. How old were you when you became interested in traveling the world? What was your first trip out of the country and what do you remember about it? At what point did you begin the style of documenting your travels that you have become known for?

Troy: Hailing from the rather rarefied confines of Northwest Ohio, I didn’t experience much of the world outside my immediate existence (the family road trip to Disney World doesn’t count) until I backpacked around Western Europe during the summer of 1987 while in college, the definitive start of my interest in traveling the world. Among many memories are discovering my love of watching the world pass by from a speeding train, surviving on bread and cheese, realizing not everyone speaks English, youth hostel co-ed showers are a thing, meeting people my age from all over the world, replacing a stolen passport is a pain in the ass, spending nights in train stations awaiting the first train out, Europe is full of old stuff and American tourists, and that I wanted to see much, much more of the world.

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Pre-flight entertainment on Bangkok Airways, 1998

After graduating design school in 1989 I lived and worked in London for a few years and in 1992 set out for a six month trip with my friend Grit, starting in Berlin and traveling through Poland, The Baltics, Finland, Russia, China, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Afterwards I worked in Hong Kong for a while before returning to the US, first to New York then to San Francisco a few years later, continuing to travel and see the world at every opportunity.

Throughout my travels I was finding so much of interest to document, and my love of sharing what I was seeing of the world around me inspired me to begin creating postcards and mail art to share with friends and family. This was the beginning of my style of documenting my travels I’ve become known for.

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Hand-made postcard featuring Japanese street characters, created after Troy’s first trip to Tokyo in 1997

Lisa: Back in 2005 you published your first travel book called “Wanderlust” (of which I proudly have first edition copy!). In it you documented your travels through unconventional photos of regular things like signage, airline food, cheap hotel beds, train tickets and rotary telephones. This kind of collecting and documenting of the “mundane” has become popular in the last ten years but you were one of the first (if not the first) to share it widely. How did people react to your style of photography and documentation ten years ago compared to how they react today? What has changed?

Troy: Wanting to make something with all the photos and ephemera I’d collected on my travels, I created my first book proposal, titled “One-Way Non-Stop Hello Kitty”, in 1998. Two years later my somewhat more realistic proposal for an engagement calendar caught the eye of my first editor at Chronicle Books and “Wanderlust” was born. A set of 30 postcards and four journals were quickly followed by an address book (with images of public telephones from around the world), a travel journal, an engagement calendar, and in 2005 the “Wanderlust” book.

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Fueled by an appreciation of and fascination for all forms of visual culture, communication, and expression, Troy travels the world documenting hisexperiences and adventures. The result is “Wanderlust”, Troy’s series of travel-themed books, journals, postcards, notecards, and more.

I’ve continued to add to the “Wanderlust” series ever since, a total of 18 titles in 12 years, with the most recent being the “Skulls” and “Streets” journals published last year.

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Wanderlust “Skulls” and “Streets” journals

Through a unique presentation of travel photos, ephemera, and design, “Wanderlust” created a travel experience that anyone who’s ever traveled could relate to by focusing on the commonplace experiences (or “mundane”) such as trying to sleep on an airplanes, waking up in nondescript hotel rooms, ordering meals in foreign countries, finding your way around a new city, the people you meet along the way, and the souvenirs and mementos you return home with. As one reviewer at the time put it, “Wanderlust” “…created one of the most realistic accounts of the beauty, adventure, frustration, boredom and wonder of travel.”.

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Spreads from “Wanderlust”

I believe the premise of my work—that the joy of travel isn’t about getting there, but about all the fun you can have along the way—is as relevant now as it was when the book was published, as is my style of photography, documentation, and design. Now of course with camera phones and social media there are many more people documenting and sharing their daily lives and travels through photos, although I find an intriguing narrative, and the discipline to combine photos into a story to arrive at engaging universal experiences, is often lacking (I’m trying really hard not to use the word over-sharing).

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Troy’s morning travel ritual: cups of coffee from around the world, print available in his Etsy shop

Lisa: Do you know where your obsession with the “mundane” or “ugly beautiful” (as I like to call it) comes from? When did it begin for you? What role does the idea of obsolescence have in your work or how you think about your work?

Troy: I consider myself a bit of a loner/outsider/introvert and often tend to prefer observation to participation when I travel. Being instinctively drawn to the details around me that get overlooked or ignored or are thought of as inconsequential/unimportant/unappealing (the “mundane” or “ugly beautiful”), I find I can enjoy, appreciate, or simply find humor in just about anything (from cheap hotel rooms to bad meals to extended airport delays), which really comes in handy when I find myself in unfamiliar environments and situations. As Paul Theroux (one of my favorite travel writers) said, “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.”

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Off the beaten track in Tokyo, 1997

Last year I found myself traveling to a very different place when I spent two weeks in ICU at hospital with my Mom. I found myself drawn to documenting the unfamiliar and rather scary surroundings—the beeping machines and high-tech medical equipment, antiseptic hallways and waiting rooms, the signage and seriousness of it all—in an attempt to understand my thoughts, emotions, and fears. Sharing this experience through the photos I posted on Instagram and the interactions with my followers really helped me cope with the situation and taught me a lot about the importance of the visual world around me and the impact it has on me, wherever I may find myself.

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Instagramming from the ICU, 2013

The idea of obsolescence in my work is something I’m increasingly thinking about. Many of the places I’ve visited over the years have seen dramatic changes in the visual landscape and more and more of what I’ve documented no longer exists. For example, I’ve always loved old neon signage and have a large collection I shot throughout Eastern Europe in the 1990s, much of which no longer exists. And my collection of public telephones from around the world, now a mostly irrelevant technology, I consider important as historical documentation of a moment in time fast disappearing.
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Illuminating Eastern European neon signage circa 1990s

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Public telephones from around the world, print available in Troy’s Etsy shop

Lisa: You also have an obsession with Eastern Europe. Tell us about what appeals to you about that region of the world, visually and otherwise.

Troy: I first visited Eastern Europe in the early 90s while living in London. The Berlin Wall had just come down so I visited my friend Grit in Berlin and we spent all our time exploring East Berlin on bicycles. I also visited Prague at this time, which was just beginning to dust itself off.

What first struck me about this part of the world was the “time warp” feeling, and my realization that it won’t last, that the things that made it interesting to me would not survive the approaching wave of westernization and standardization, the papering over of the beauty I found with Coca Cola and Marlboro billboards and glitzy marketing and advertising (such as you can now find on the sides of the trundling old-school trams). The no-frills graphic and product design, utilitarian architecture, and quaint signage—often naive, flimsy, unadorned, poorly printed/constructed, out-of-date—were by virtue of their flaws touchingly human and original and like nothing I’d seen throughout my travels thus far.

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Colorful Ladas, Skodas, Trabis, and more on the streets of Eastern Europe

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Earth tones and extra hard bristles, the only toothbrushes available at the central department store in Prague in 1991

Over the last 20+ years I’ve visited Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Georgia, and Armenia. This past summer I returned to Eastern Europe, sharing my travels via daily posts on Instagram (@troylitten, #trippingwithtroy_europe2014). Although much has changed, I still find this part of the world inspiring and love documenting what remains from the past era as well as the changes I see.

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Instragamming Eastern Europe, 2014

Lisa: You are also an avid collector of the things you find on your travels. What are some of your favorite collections? What are some of the weirdest?

Troy: Yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to collecting things I find on my travels. This harks back to my approach to finding beauty in the details of a journey and how every interaction with a place, including the things you find along the way, contributes to a better understanding and appreciation of the experience. Buying packaging in the shops, scouring the sidewalks and gutters for discarded pieces of paper, collecting airmail stamps at post offices, searching out vintage postcards, and collecting old stuff at flea markets are an integral part of my everyday life on the road. Many an old rotary phone has returned home with me in the bottom of my backpack.

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Vintage rotary phones at a Minsk flea market, the blue beauty hitched a ride home with Troy

One of my favorite travel collections are the scrapbooks and journals I filled during my trip around the world in 1992. The China chapter of my scrapbook reminds me of evenings spent emptying my pockets of tickets and bits of paper in dimly lit hotel rooms, removing labels from stuff I’d bought, and drinking warm local beer while documenting the day’s treasures and adventures.

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Traveling China with a blank book and a gluestick, 1992

I’m fascinated with travel tickets and collect them everywhere I go. It’s unfortunately getting harder and harder to find unique tickets due to the increasing modernization and standardization of transport systems the world over.
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Calcutta bus tickets printed on reused bits of paper, 2001

My collection of cigarette packaging from around the world is an interesting comment on the choice of English brand names for foreign products, and the often humorous and inappropriate results.

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Light up a “Stewardess”? Drag on a “Disco”? A pack of “Yak”?

I also consider my photo series as collections (you were the first to point this out!) and I have many series I’ve been documenting for years—from figure signage to “You Are Here” signs, cheap accommodation, train/subway/bus travel, markets, post boxes, and wall murals—that I add to whenever I visit a new place. One of my favorite photo collections is hand-drawn signage.

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Markets + hand-drawn signage = happiness

When I travel I’m always on the lookout for details that capture something about the culture of the place I’m visiting, such as my series of photos of buzzers and bells at the entrances to buildings in Istanbul. The colors, conditions, and often rather shoddy workmanship are one of my favorite impressions of wandering the streets of such an ancient, crowded, disheveled, and amazing city.

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Istanbul buzzers and bells, print available in Troy’s Etsy shop

As for my weirdest collections I must admit I photograph the colorful splash guards in public urinals and can’t quite bring myself to throw away the lint I rescue from my clothes dryer after every load. Don’t ask why.

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A pile of dryer lint

Lisa: You and I share a love for images of ordinary things arranged neatly on a grid. Why is this so appealing to us?

Troy: I blame (and thank!) my love of things arranged on a grid on my Swiss-influenced design school education. Order, color, form, composition—basic design principles that I learned in school and honed throughout the years—still very much frame my approach to both my professional work as a graphic designer and my personal work. I’m always searching for structure in the world around me and aim to compose images that make sense to me visually and satisfy some inherent urge to understand, rationalize, and control my environment. I believe this is a discipline we both share, albeit arrived at through different educational and professional practices and personal experiences.

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T-shirts organized by color at Troy’s favorite Ohio thrift store, 2013

Arranging ordinary things neatly on a grid (a “Troygrid” in Troyspeak) is also for me a way to present my photos in a straightforward manner that allows for easy comparing and contrasting. I also think that utilizing grids to present similar images can result in an impression of a particular thing, place, or experience that one single photograph can’t quite capture.

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Groovy Shanghai tour buses, 2007

Lisa: What is a favorite place you’ve visited and why?

Troy: I may be interpreting your question a bit differently than intended, my favorite place I’ve visited is a place I can visit over and over again regardless of where I am, the place between departure and arrival. Traveling by air—above the earth and suspended in the sky—inspires me to contemplate where I’m coming from and where I’m going as I leave one place behind and anticipate the adventures that await upon arrival. It never ceases to amaze me that I can board a plane in one place and 12 hours later find myself on the other side of the world.

And ever since traveling overland from Berlin to Hong Kong in 1992 (including seven days on the Transiberian from Moscow to Beijing) I’ve loved traveling by train, watching the landscape speed by, observing and meeting other passengers, and moving deeper and deeper into the unknown.

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Troy’s seatmates on the train to Jaipur, India, 2001

Lisa: What are some of your recent travel-related projects?

Troy: My first puzzle, “Transit Graphics”, was published by Galison this past spring. The artwork is a collage of drawings of travel signage I’ve documented throughout my travels and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my love of signage through this new format. “Muchos Autos”, my next puzzle with Galison, will be published early next year and features photos of cars on the colorful streets of Latin America.

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“Transit Graphics 1000 Piece Puzzle” available at galison.com and other fine retailers

This year I’ve begun exhibiting my work in gallery shows around the country, including Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek CA, Kiernan Gallery in Lexington VA, and Black Box Gallery in Portland OR.

Next year The Art Group in the UK, one of the world’s leading art publishers, will be releasing four of my pieces as fine art prints and canvas wall art. My favorites are “Air Mail”, a collection of air mail stamps and stickers from around the world, and “Late Night TV” featuring photos of TV screens with off-air test patterns and graphics from various locales including Japan, Hungary, China, Spain, and Morocco.

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“Air Mail” and “Late Night TV” fine art prints soon to be published by The Art Group

Lisa: What are you currently working on and what are some of your dream projects?

Troy: I’m currently doing some thinking outside the grid and exploring ways to combine the photos and graphics I collect to capture a sense of place through unexpected juxtapositions and arrangements, such as combinations of photos of distressed wall surfaces and drawings of graphic motifs documented while exploring Istanbul.

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Impressions of Istanbul, 2013

Some projects I’m working on a bit closer to home are documenting the garages of San Francisco (where it’s nigh impossible to find a parking space) and a typographic homage to the San Francisco street corner. Street names in SF are stamped into the concrete at street corners, and the impact of the natural and man-made environment on the letter forms—leaves and flowers from the many trees, trash and cigarette butts, moss, broken car window glass—captures for me the unique beauty and grit of the city.

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The garages of San Francisco

I’ve also begun to explore drawing as a new medium through which to share my collections and my love of things like signage, ephemera, and even hardware stores (one of my favorite places to browse). And it’s also nice to spend some time away from the computer for a change.

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Drawings of stop signs from Troy’s photo archive

A current dream project is creating a book of impressions of Eastern Europe in the 1990s through photographs, ephemera, and writings in collaboration with two good friends and travel companions, Grit and Sean, who have also traveled extensively through Eastern Europe and share my appreciation for the visual aesthetic and historical importance of this unique time and place.

I would love to curate/create an immersive gallery exhibition that explores our connection with travel and the world around us through the presentation of common travel experiences utilizing both still and interactive elements that allow viewers to react with the content, share their experiences, and respond to the experiences of others. I also hope to continue to find new ways to share my love of travel and design through new publishing formats, editorial endeavors, and surface and product design applications of my photographs and drawings.

And of course keep traveling.

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Troy’s trusty travel companion, 22 years and still going strong

Visit Troy’s website & blog here and his Etsy shop here. And don’t forget to follow him on Instagram. You will not be disappointed!

Thank you, Troy, for sharing this incredible interview and your beautiful images with us!

Have a great weekend, friends!

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New Gallery :: My Work at Uprise Art

11/20/14

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Friends, I’m very excited to announce that I am now selling abstract works through New York gallery Uprise Art. You can find my available pieces here and read an interview they did with me here.

I am thrilled to be working with this gallery to show & sell my abstract work (see larger images below for what we’re offering now) and to be listed next to such an amazing cadre of artists on their roster.

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Hope everyone is having a great Thursday!

CATEGORIES: For Sale | Paintings
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Holiday Etsy Sale!

11/19/14

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Friends, I’m have a 15% off EARLYBIRD holiday sale in my Etsy Shop starting today through December 2!

Here’s how it works: go to my Etsy Shop, select your items, and enter EARLYBIRD in the coupon code section for 15% off.

I have added EIGHTEEN original pieces to my shop, so if you are interested in original works, now is the time to purchase.

If there is a book you would like that you don’t see in my shop, that means it is temporarily sold out. I should be getting more coloring books in stock by the end of November, so stay tuned! You can get all of my books on Amazon as well.

As always, email me or send me an Etsy Convo if you have any questions at all!

Happy shopping!

XO Lisa

CATEGORIES: For Sale | New in my Shop
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For the Love of the Swim

11/18/14

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Every now and again images of what I’m working on pop up on my Instagram feed. And you may have noticed a few swimming related images popping up, including the one above. And that’s because I’ve started working on a new book, as yet unnamed, about…you guessed it: SWIMMING! I have been passionate about swimming since I was a kid and it’s always been a huge part of my life, and so I am very excited to be working on this book. The book will cover swimming history, fashion, culture, innovations, lore & so much more. It will also include profiles of swimmers, some famous, some not. The book will include mostly my artwork & hand lettering, with some photos and a couple of essays .

I am still looking for a bit more content for the book: Do you have a collection of old swimming medals or ribbons I could photograph (and return to you)? Do you have a collection of any swimming gear that is vintage (1980’s or previous)? Do you have vintage photos of swimmers I could use? Do you have an exceptional swimming story or history or know someone (dead or alive) who does? I am also looking for a few African American or Latino swimmers of all ages or genders as subjects to profile in the book (I already have many White and Asian swimmers). My subjects just need to love swimming and do it regularly (and do not need to be fast competitive swimmers). Email me at lisacongdon@gmail.com if you think you may have something to contribute. I cannot guarantee I will be able to use what you send my way, but I’d love to hear from you in the event that it’s a good fit (and it just might be!).

Look out for the book to be released in early Spring 2016 by Chronicle Books.

Have a happy Tuesday, friends! Stay tuned tomorrow for information on a big sale in my Etsy Shop!

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On Doing the Work

11/17/14

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I am often asked by people starting out in the business of selling art what are two or three things they can do to begin making an income from their work. Of course, since I wrote a book about making art for a living and offer an online class on it too, I have some opinions about the topic. But the thing that I also want people to know is that, most of the time, even when you are doing all the things I recommend and even when you are doing them well, success and opportunity take time. So in some ways my three pieces of advice are: 1) this could take awhile so get started now (ie: don’t wait!)  2) show up and do the work everyday 3) be patient.

In his new book, Things a Little Bird Told Me, Twitter founder Biz Stone says, “Timing, perseverance and 10 years of really hard work will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” This quote resonated for me, as I am sure it does for a lot of successful people. Before I continue, I want to give a big fat disclaimer here: I am in no way comparing myself to Biz Stone. While I make a steady and respectable income as an artist and work with a great set of clients, I am not a millionaire (or even remotely close), and I have not near the fame or financial success as Biz. What resonated for me is this notion that to people who don’t know me or who have just started following my work, it may appear as though I walked quickly, easily and swiftly into my successful career as an artist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Recently I wrote this essay in which I spoke about my determination — and how that energy and resolve eventually led to my own tipping point — in which regular opportunities began to flow my way. That tipping point for successful people is often when others begin paying attention, and so it can often look like their success miraculously occurred. Who is this person I am now seeing everywhere on the Internets? He/she must have come out of nowhere! When, in fact, that person has been working hard for years and years to get where they are. Furthermore, those people just starting out (and we were all there once) may then infer that this same “overnight success” (albeit false) can happen for them. Fact is, only a very small portion of the artist population experiences overnight success. It’s so rare that it’s practically non-existent.

What gets artists and writers (and anyone) to success (however you define it) is usually a combination of lots of different factors and strategies, and pretty much always includes showing up and doing the work — all the work, and not just the stuff that’s fun or easy. Whenever I think about this notion of doing the work I think about Cheryl Strayed’s brilliant essay in Dear Sugar/The Rumpus called Write Like a Motherfucker. I’ll leave it to you to read it (and I highly recommend it), but essentially she’s telling a young female aspiring writer that if she wants to get anywhere as a writer she needs to get off her ass and write. To become a good writer, you must write. To become a good painter, you must paint. To become good at selling your work, you must do the work of putting your work into the world — not once or twice, but over and over and over. Success and opportunity never come to those who sit back and wish things were different. They come to those who do stuff.

Not to confuse the issue, but while doing the stuff (the work, the self promotion, all of it) is really important, I also believe that so are more “woo-woo” things like having positive intentions and envisioning yourself being successful. You must believe it’s possible in order to do the work. Simply envisioning yourself being successful without doing the work will get you nowhere. In the end, having positive intentions and showing up and doing the work go hand in hand.

For more nuts and bolts information about making a living from your art, order my book Art, Inc or take my online class Become a Working Artist.

Have a great week, friends!

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New Phone & Laptop Cases Available!

11/14/14

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Friends, I’ve added a new phone/laptop/device case/skin to my shop! This one is called “Tornado” and it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes for tons of different phones, laptops and devices. You can get this cover here or peruse my entire selection of designs here.

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Have a great weekend!

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Studio Shots by Sarah Deragon

11/13/14

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One of the things I am working on at the moment is redesigning my main portfolio website (new site coming by the end of the year!). I wanted to have some photos on my new site that showed my studio — work in progress, my materials, my random collections, my shelf displays, the light and color in the space. I asked my dear and talented friend Sarah Deragon to come take those photos, and I am so thrilled with what she caught. Sarah is mostly known for her portrait photography (she took my new headshots earlier this fall), but I’m here to testify that she’s pretty skilled at capturing the beauty of a place too.  This is just a handful of the shots she took, but they are some of my favorites. Enjoy.

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Have a great Thursday, friends.

CATEGORIES: Collections | My Studio
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Words for the Day :: No. 48

11/12/14

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Have a happy Wednesday, friends.

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For Sale :: Art for Good Mail Day Show

11/11/14

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I was very honored when Lisa Solomon and Susan Schwake asked me to be part of the Good Mail Day show at Susan’s gallery Artstream Studios in New Hampshire this month.

In the Good Mail Day show 60 artists create 4×6 inch artwork, all originals!

I created the two pieces above.  I have always loved vintage postcards, especially those that contain hand written correspondence. What better way to celebrate the beauty of mail than to use vintage postcards as my canvas. Each of these pieces is made with a vintage postcard, neon pink gouache paint and a tiny tipped micron pen.

These two one of a kind pieces can be purchased online here and here.  SOLD OUT! But many more by other artists still available over here.

Have a great Tuesday, friends!

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Words for the Day :: No. 47

11/07/14

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Have a great weekend, friends.

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My Doodling Manifesto

11/06/14

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Earlier this year I designed this Doodling Manifesto and I realized the other day I had never shared here on the blog! If you’ve taken my line drawing class with Creativebug, you’ve probably heard me talk about some of these principles.

1) In doodling, there are no rules. We all have that voice in our head that says, on occasion, “you should be doing it this way.” And when we doodle, it’s important to tell those voices to shut up. Rules play a really important role in some forms of art making: how to hold your brush, what materials to use, how to create a lush background, on and on. But in doodling, you get to draw whatever you want however you want. And, furthermore, no one but you ever has to see what you doodle. So you have all the freedom.

2) Carry pens and paper with you everywhere. This is important because you never know when the opportunity (or inspiration) will strike. In line at the bank? The waiting room at the doctor? Make your down time (even the boring stuff) less boring with doodles.

3) Make time to doodle every day. Even if you only doodle for a few minutes a day, free form drawing can loosen up your creative juju and even help you process other more difficult stuff, like working through creative blocks or thinking about solutions to life’s problems.

4) Think of everything as lines and circles. You don’t have to “know how to draw” to doodle. Make shapes! Create lines! And if you do want to draw flowers or people or buildings, think of them more abstractly as a collection of lines and circles.

5) You are the boss of your art. You get to draw what inspires you. You get to draw what you want to draw, even if it’s the same stuff you always draw. If you keep a sketchbook to doodle (which I highly recommend), your sketchbook (unless you choose to share it) is your own private place that no one else ever has to see.

6) Imperfection rules. Do you know that Japanese term Wabi Sabi? It translates to something like “beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” The idea here is that it is actually the “imperfections” that make something beautiful or interesting. What I often describe as “wonkiness” in art is to me what makes something really cool or different. Embrace imperfection in your doodling.

7) Doodling is art (end of story). Many of the large abstract paintings I make in my studio and sell to clients begin as doodles in pen in my sketchbook. Many of the repeat patterns I create that adorn fabric began as doodles in my sketchbook. Doodling itself, even if it’s never translated to things like canvas or surface design, is art. Every great artist doodles and every great doodler is an artist.

8) Black and white are beautiful colors. While I do use colored pens and watercolor paints in my sketchbook when I doodle, my favorite tools are black Micron pens and white paper. I encourage you to embrace the simplicity of using just one color (even if it’s not black) and even if it’s just every now and again. When you draw in black on white you will find great beauty in the monotony.

9) Negative space is as important as positive space. Whenever I teach line drawing, I remind my students that it’s important to pay attention not just to the marks you are making on the page (the positive space), but also to the white (negative) space that surrounds it. Composition is made up of negative and positive space and how they interact together, so ponder both as you doodle.

10) Everything you draw (even the stuff you don’t like) is part of your journey. It’s important to remember that even when you want to rip something out of your sketchbook because it is SO UGLY (and even if you do, and you can), the exercise of “making mistakes” or pushing something on the page too far when you should have just left it alone (sound familiar?) is all part of the journey of making art (regardless if you are a doodler or a professional artist). We learn & grow from those experiences. It’s important to learn to embrace the ugly, the mistakes, the “that looked so good until I added that color” moments. It’s all part of your path.

Have a happy Thursday, friends!

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Danielle Krysa, aka The Jealous Curator

11/05/14

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{*Rosa’s Garden, 16″x20″, above, left (detail, right) from Danielle’s new collection of work, featured today as part of this interview. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for more information about this collage series.}

On January 10, 2010 I first became acquainted with someone who has become a really important person in my world: Danielle Krysa. At the time, I mostly knew her as The Jealous Curator, and we “met” because she wrote to me to let me know that she’d written about my then brand new Collection a Day project. She was, incidentally, one of the first people to write about my project — she wrote about it just 10 days after I began (the project lasted a year and was written about later by extensively by magazines, bloggers and newspapers). Anyhow, fast forward a couple of months and we had more contact, and then she began including some of my artwork in her blog, and then again featured my work on her blog the following year when I had my first major solo show in 2011. Our friendship was solidified in 2012 when she asked me to host a San Francisco Girl Crush party in my studio, an event where women signed up to come to my studio and spend the day eating and talking about the creative process. Danielle came to San Francisco from Vancouver to help organize and set up the event, which was a really fantastic (and led to many lasting relationships among the women in the room that day). At that party Danielle met an editor from Chronicle who was also in attendance — and since then has made two beautiful books with the publisher, Creative Block and Collage. I am so honored to be part of both of those books. And so happy the kismet of that event has led to so many amazing opportunities and friendships for both of us.

What most people know about Danielle is that she writes a popular blog called The Jealous Curator. Through her blog, Danielle shares the work of artists she admires (er, is jealous of…more on that in a second). Danielle has, four years after starting her blog, become a really important voice in sharing the work of emerging and newly established artists from around the world with thousands of people who read her blog everyday.

What’s interesting is that Danielle launched The Jealous Curator in February 2009 as a place to show artwork that “made her jealous in a bad, toxic, soul-crushing way,” she says. “I was literally getting stopped in my tracks every time I saw work that I loved. It was awful.” But luckily for Danielle she worked through all of that, and five years later, that ‘jealousy’ she says “has turned magically, wonderfully, and thankfully into inspiration.”

And that’s a good thing, because what most people don’t know about Danielle is that she’s also an artist — a really, really talented artist. And she’s recently begun making a brand new body of work after a hiatus. Danielle’s journey as both an artist and a blogger is the focus of my interview. This interview is part of  my Interviews with People I Admire series here on Today is Going to be Awesome.

Without further ado, let’s get this interview with Danielle started!

Lisa: You are a designer and an artist, and you are obviously quite passionate about art in general and the work of other artists. I imagine at some points (maybe even daily) you spend more time writing about other people’s work on your popular blog than you do making your own work. How does writing about art (especially the work of artists you admire) both hinder and help your own creative process? What have you learned about how to manage all of that since you started your blog in 2009?

Danielle: In the beginning, finding art that I loved really hindered my own work. I was discovering amazing, inspiring, fantastic work every single day, and it felt like everything had been done in every color, and all of it was so much better than anything I could ever make (or so I told myself). But as time went by, and my bookmarks list grew, I realized something very important. It dawned on me that the world is a pretty big place, and there is in fact enough room for anyone that wants to create. Sure, your work might not suit every gallery, or every homeowner’s wall, but there will be a place for it. So make it! And now I do. Here’s a strange little tidbit for you though. Whenever I finish a piece I’ll look at it and think “would the Jealous Curator write about this?” If the answer is “no” I keep playing. Weird?

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Lisa: Not necessarily weird, but really interesting! Let’s talk more about that. Recently you’ve reignited your studio practice. What prompted that for you?

Danielle: For years I’ve been telling myself: “Oh, I’m too busy with The Jealous Curator to think about my own art,” but it wasn’t until I started working on my book, Creative Block, that I realized I was totally using that as an excuse to chicken out. Before the book even hit shelves, I started trying the unblocking projects that the artists had given at the end of their interviews. They’re all so good! That got me started, but what really motivated me were all of the conversations I was having with my readers at book signing events AFTER the book came out. All of these people were really putting themselves out there. Pushing through blocks and trying new things “thanks to Creative Block.” I was so inspired by all of them, and I realized it was time to put that whole “practice what you preach” thing into action.

Lisa:  Tell us about the work you are making now. What have you learned, if anything, since you began making more of your own work again?

Danielle: Oh, this is a long answer so I apologize now. Ready? I was a painting major in University. Right before I graduated I had a terrible professor tell me (in the middle of a huge, humiliating critique in front of my classmates) that I should “never paint again.” And I believed him, I guess, because I haven’t painted in 19 years. I didn’t stop making art, but I switched to collage because it was easy and fun and totally didn’t count as art in my mind, because it was easy and fun. Anyway, in June of this year I decided to face my fears head on (practice/preach thing again) and start painting. It was awful. It was not fun. I kept trying, but found myself wandering off to the thrift shop to look for good collage material. I realized I was excited to make collages, and so I wondered, why wasn’t I just doing that? Because it was too easy and too fun.

Then my second book,  Collage, hit shelves in September. I got dozens of emails from painters and photographers saying “Oh, I love collage, but I’m not very good at it. It’s so hard!” What? It’s not hard. It’s easy and fun and not real art… right? A week or two later I was having coffee with an artist in Vancouver, and was telling her the story about the terrible painting critique when I was in university. She asked what the work looked like, and so I described it. “Oh, I was cutting pieces of the canvas out, sewing them back on, gluing pieces of textures paper over it, etc.” She stared blankly, paused and said… “So you mean, collage.” Holy crap. I’d been a collage artist for 19 years and had no idea! A-ha!!!! I have never felt so free, and so excited about making art.

My name is Danielle, and I am a collage artist. Bam!
Sorry. Longest answer ever, but I just had to share.

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Lisa: I love that story so much!!! What is it about collage that you are so drawn to? Both in your own work and in other people’s work?

Danielle: It probably stems from the fact that I’m a graphic designer by day. I love bold/graphic images, and strong composition, and a good collage has both. I also think it’s really exciting when an existing image is given a whole new purpose, and a brand new story, especially when the new narrative has a bit of a wink or cleverness to it.

Lisa: What is your favorite part of your own creative process, the part that is the most exciting to you?

Danielle: It’s all about found images for me. I could spend hours in thrift shops looking through old books. Once I’ve found “the perfect pages” I run home as fast as I can, and then spend hours (literally) cutting and cutting and cutting. At that stage they’re just funny/random clipped images, but very soon they’ll be assembled into a new story that never would have existed anywhere else had I not found them, snipped them, and glued them together. That is very exciting to me!

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Lisa: You published a book with Chronicle Books called Creative Block where you talk to successful artists about their own creative blocks. Why is it important to talk openly about creative blocks? What do you hope people get out of the book?

Danielle: It’s funny how rarely people actually talk about blocks. And you almost never hear people admit that they have inner-critics and self doubt, but everyone does. I think talking about it just makes all of us realize that we’re not alone. As I got the interviews for the book back from artists, I was so relieved to read that even very accomplished, successful artists doubt themselves from time to time. I want people to read the book and know that if they’re feeling stuck or insecure that they shouldn’t give up. They’re part of something bigger: a huge, supportive, like-minded community of creative people who also get stuck sometimes. I want them to do all of the unblocking projects, and I want them to have fun making, because there’s nothing more satisfying to a creative person than making something you love!

Lisa: How do you work through your own creative blocks?

Danielle: Slowly. But they don’t stop me any more. I’ve learned that blocks are just part of the deal when you’re a creative person. I take a breath, realize it’s not the end of the world, and just keep playing around in the studio. There is a quote in the book that I love, by Laura McKellar (an artist from Australia). She said “You should never stop experimenting. That is how you become a genius.” I love that and totally believe it! Playing, failing, experimenting: those are the keys to finding your way out of a block, and the direct route to stronger work.

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Lisa: You write about and promote at the work of other artists every day. Tell us a story about a time when a post you wrote about another artist led to something really cool.

Danielle: Yes! This is absolutely my most favorite part of having The Jealous Curator. Here’s a story that just happened this past spring. An American painter named Anna Jensen sent me a link to her work and I loved it and wrote about it right away. Literally the day after I wrote about her, I got an email from a gallery in Paris. They had seen the post and asked if I could connect them to Anna, as they wanted to give her a solo show… IN PARIS?! So, I e-introduced them and off they went! But that’s not the end of the story. Anna set up a Kickstarter project because she couldn’t afford to get herself, and all of her paintings, to Paris. She had raised a bit of money, but not quite enough, so I wrote another post asking my readers to help get Anna to France, and they did, (and then some)! Her show opened in July and, boy oh boy, I wish I’d been there with her. It was so, so, so exciting!

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Thank you, Danielle, for sharing your story with us! And for sharing your own work and the work of other artists with the world everyday. Thank you also for your beautiful books. You make the world a better place.

{*About Danielle’s work, pictured throughout this post, in Danielle’s own words: This series is called “Rosa’s Garden” and each piece is named after a rose. My great grandmother’s name was Rosa and she lived in a little mint house with lots of roses in the garden. She also lived through the roaring 20’s and had a bit of an edge to her. Yet another reason to love her! These pieces all started with hours and hours of cutting out roses, all the while thinking of her and my grandmother and her daughter, Blanche. The other bits and pieces (including an image of the house I lived in when I was little) found their way into this ode to the women in my family.}

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Tote Bag for Team Sue!

11/04/14

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I am so honored to be part of Team Sue Loves You. Team Sue Loves You is a collective of American artists. We have teamed up to design limited edition tote bags to support our dear friend, artist Sue Eggen of Giant Dwarf, who was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year. The intention of the project is to raise awareness to colon cancer and raise money to support Sue as she recovers. Each of the 14 tote bag designs draw inspiration from Sue’s brave journey with the disease. You can see my tote design above.

Sue is one of the kindest, bravest, most positive people I know, and I am so happy to be part of this effort to support her. You can view and purchase any of the tote bags here (and see thumbnails of each of the amazing designs below).

Funds will support Sue’s medical bills and a portion of the proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society, as their support has been paramount to Sue’s recovery during her treatment via Philly Patient Ride.

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Thank you and have a great Tuesday, friends.

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New Poster and Holiday Cards for 826 Valencia!

11/03/14

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If you don’t already know about 826 Valencia, you probably should. Founded in 2002 by writer and artist Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari, it is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages six to eighteen with their creative and expository writing skills and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Their services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

To help fund their program, 826 Valencia has a store called The Pirate Store, which is filled with all kinds of pirate themed stuff. Every year, they ask a designer or illustrator to donate their time make a poster or tea shirt to benefit the organization, and this year they asked me! I was so honored and so excited. We decided to go with the theme of Pirate Tea, as famous teatotaling pirate Bartholemew Roberts (aka, Black Bart) loved his tea. The result is what you see above, and these posters are on sale both at the pirate store at 826 Valencia in SF and online here.  This limited edition poster is 18″ x 24″ screen printed with gold and white ink on black paper and for sale for just $20. Get one while they last!

I also designed this year’s holiday card for the 826 Pirate Store, which you can see below and purchase at the store or here online. Each letterpressed bundle contains six cards with envelopes for $20. Cards are blank white inside.

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If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, mark your calendars for a poster sale and pirate tea party this Friday, November 7 from 6-8 pm! RSVP on the Facebook page or just stop by! I’ll be there to say hello and celebrate the release of my new poster and cards. Come for all things pirate and some tea!

Have a great Monday, friends!

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Art Inc. Lives Among Us :: Installment 2

10/31/14

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You may recall that I wrote a post back in September sharing some of the photos that people had been taking and posting of Art Inc. on Instagram. I  never get tired of seeing them! I’m collecting them as we go (tag your photos with #artinc and with my username @lisacongdon) and each month I’ll make a different montage with 25 of my favorites.

This month’s montage includes two different cats (admittedly one is my own, I couldn’t resist), a graffiti covered bathroom wall in Edinburg, Scotland (in the coffeehouse where JK Rowling wrote parts of the Potter series), several cups of coffee (I should have devoted a chapter of the book to coffee) and one tablet device (love this one). Thank you to everyone who contributed! It was hard to choose just 25.

Whether you’ve picked up the book or not, I wanted to remind you that you can now access my online class Beceome a Working Artist and watch all 22 segments (two days worth of content that you can watch at your own pace) for just $99.  The class is based on Art Inc., I cover important aspects of building your career as an artist like self promotion, managing your time, understanding the fine art, illustration and licensing worlds and selling your work online.

Have a great Friday, friends! And remember to tag #artinc for the next installment.

CATEGORIES: Art Inc
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