So excited to have these words by Brené Brown in my next book of hand lettered quotes. Comes out in September of this year!
You may recall that a few weeks ago I announced that my wife Clay and I are packing up our home & business and moving to Portland, Oregon. This particular change feels even bigger than others I’ve made recently, and that’s because it involves a significant change in place.
If you know me at all, you know that I am am California girl. I love my state (and its flora and fauna) so much that I have the word California (flocked with poppies and a Quail) tattooed on my left forearm. The California Bay Area has been my home for almost forty years. When I was eight years old my family moved from upstate New York to the Silicon Valley (first San Jose, then Los Gatos). When I was 18, I moved to Moraga, California to attend college, and from there, in 1990, I moved to San Francisco, where I lived for 23 years until I moved to Oakland a little over two years ago (which I wrote about here and here).
And for years and years, I said I would never leave San Francisco. It’s where I came of age, came out of the closet, where I became a real adult, worked, laughed, roamed the streets, fell in love for the first time, experienced & recovered from countless bouts of heartbreak, learned to love good food and wine, met most of the important people in my life and became an artist. “I am never leaving this city,” you might have heard me say years ago. “I am staying here till I die.”
But what I didn’t know then is that I would change. And that San Francisco would also change. And that even though I still love the place, I wanted, needed to get out and go somewhere else. I was craving more quiet and San Francisco was getting more crowded and more expensive. So two years ago I moved over to Oakland, a short 12 miles from the big city. And I grew to love it here too. Oakland offered so much of the change I was craving: more quiet, more space, something new and different for my mind to experience. But it was still only 12 miles away, and on average I’ve driven or taken the train into San Francisco at least twice a week since moving to Oakland.
Early in 2014 my wife and I began to talk about my art business. It was growing at an enormously fast pace, and I was struggling to keep up with & manage all of the opportunities by myself. We wondered aloud what it would be like for her to come on and help me with my business, to manage my marketing and operations, strategic decision making and communication. That wondering grew into a plan, and a year later we are making it happen (she started as Head of Marketing and Operations for Lisa Congdon Art & Illustration last week, after leaving her job at California College of the Arts). We also realized that in order to build the studio of our dreams (complete with room for things like art-making, order fulfillment and client meetings) we had to leave the Bay Area. The cost of living here is one of the most expensive in the country.
So we began researching other cities and towns that might be a good fit, places that were economically vibrant, but more affordable, and we kept coming back to Portland, Oregon. There is a rich arts community in Portland, a fantastic outdoors culture (we love to bike and swim and hike), and, best of all, my parents and sister and her family all live there. It’s already been like a second home to me for the past 15 years. After months of visits and weighing options, and lots of hemming and hawing, we decided, despite having to leave California, Portland was the place.
And just like that, I’m leaving the place I once thought I would never leave, and everything I thought would be true about my home is no longer true.
And while you might think that I would feel scared or sad, I am, in fact, enormously excited to leave the Bay Area. And that’s not because I’m angry or disgruntled about the changes in the Bay Area; it’s because I’m excited to try something new. I’m excited to experience an entirely new place first time in my adult life — not just for a few weeks on a vacation, but as a new way of living. I am looking forward to making new friends, hiking new trails, getting to know my family in new ways, making a new home with Clay and planting some roots. I am even looking forward to experiencing new weather, rain and cold winters.
I have no doubt I will miss the abundance of sunshine, the endless hillsides covered in dry grass and dotted with oak trees, the diversity, the culture of innovation, my beautiful friends. I have unending memories of my life here in California, of San Francisco back when it was just a regular bohemian city, and all of the incredible things & people I experienced here over the past 25 years.
But I am excited about our next adventure. I’m excited about being uncomfortable, about new experiences and about getting lost. The older I get, the more I realize how intentional change and placing myself outside my comfort zone fuels my creative process and growth. I have no doubt that the next few months will be an intense and sometimes difficult adjustment for both Clay and me. But I also know that I have not felt this much energy for life (despite my busy work schedule) in a long time.
So, Portland, here we come.
Have a great Thursday, friends.
I just recorded a new episode with none other than Srinivas Rao of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast!
Highlights of the podcast include:
+A painting class that was the catalyst for my career change
+Infusing a spirit of generosity into the art world
+Challenging the starving artist narrative that perpetuates our culture
+Dealing with fear of claiming your identity as an artist
+Identifying the special, important and transformative moments of your life
+The process of self discovery to uncover latent skills
+How we get comfortable with putting our work in front of an audience
+Navigating the emotional journey of your creative career
+Leaning into the discomfort and messiness of your life and work
I hope you will give a listen.
It’s been awhile since I’ve featured an Interview with Someone I Admire here on Today is Going to be Awesome. But I’m back today with a good one. Today I talk to Jen Hewett: artist, pattern designer, print maker & gifted teacher. Full disclosure: she also happens to be one of my closest friends. I love Jen for all kinds of reasons, including her sense of humor and her pragmatism (and of course her adorable dog, Gus). And I think you will also notice here that Jen is humble and reflective about her journey, whip smart, and open hearted about sharing her process. She’s also got a keen and unique aesthetic, mixing pattern and color together in ways I don’t see anywhere else. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview with her!
Lisa: Tell us a bit about how you got started as an artist. Did you study art? Are you self taught? When did your creative “journey” begin and how did it evolve over time?
Jen: I am almost completely self-taught. I have a bachelors degree in English Literature, and a minor in French Language. Not exactly the most marketable degree, but not having a zillion job offers upon graduation made me scrappy. After a few years of working in education, I decided that I wanted to start a stationery company. This was 2000, and the dot.com boom was in full force in San Francisco. My friends were going to work at tech startups, and I was selling paper.
I did all the illustrations and layout for my company. I was very pleased when, at trade shows, buyers would ask me where I went to art school. I’d managed to create a great line that was sold in places like Anthropologie, Paper Source, and Neiman Marcus – without an art degree. But, despite all my scrappiness, I made some business mistakes and sold the business after I finally came to terms with just how much debt I had taken on while growing my business.
I then worked for an e-learning/interactive company doing operations and finance. That allowed me to pay off my debt and save up some money so that by the time that company folded during the height of the Great Recession in 2008, I could survive on unemployment and my savings until I was able to find a job.
I’d taken a screenprinting class at the Mission Cultural Center a few months before I was laid off. It was originally just a creative outlet for me while I worked a non-creative day job, but I was quickly hooked. I posted a couple of pieces I’d printed on Etsy, and they sold. So, when I was laid off and was unable to find a job because the economy was so bad, I’d go to the studio to print, in between job hunting. My work started to get noticed – it was the early days of both blogging and of Etsy – and I realized that I might be able to make a living as a printmaker… eventually.
I did eventually take a full-time “regular” job, but that job was such a bad fit that I quit after five months and started consulting part-time and making art part-time. I was also still so scarred by all the debt I’d amassed in my first business that I decided that I’d have a part-time day job until I absolutely knew I could support myself full-time through my art. It’s nice to be able to pay the bills, and not have to worry about money all the time. And yes, I still have the day job.
Lisa: Tell us about how you got into print making as your “thing.” What kinds of print making techniques do you do and/or are your favorites? Also, what is it about print making that appeals to you over other kinds of art making processes?
Jen: I like the physical, operational, and strangely meditative nature of printmaking. There’s a process – especially with screenprinting – and I love it. I like navigating all the steps that go into creating a print. By the time I actually start printing, I’m ready to switch away from the more cerebral part of the process and instead “think with my hands.” Your mind stops blabbing, and your hands do the work. I was a competitive runner in high school. There was so much training that went into getting ready for a meet. But once the race started, all thought stopped.
I know that other media are like this, that this is what flow is, but I achieve this most often through printmaking.
Lisa: You teach classes on print making, most notably on fabric. How did that start? What do you enjoy most about teaching? Where can people find out about anything new or upcoming you might be offering?
Jen: In 2014, I launched my 52 Weeks of Printmaking project. Every week, I created and shared a new print. I’d originally intended to explore printmaking, and work with a lot of different print media, but I consistently waited until the last minute to do my print so I would only have time to work on a block print. That meant, though, that I got to be pretty decent at block printing, even though I was self-taught.
Block printing is fairly accessible. You don’t need much special equipment, and you’re rewarded immediately for your work. I’d always wanted to teach – I’d led trainings and workshops in my non-art career, and am pretty comfortable talking to small groups. I pitched a block printing class to Makeshift. I loved teaching that first class, and the students really took to block printing, so I lengthened the class and found locations that could hold more students.
Every time I posted a photo of my work, or of a class I was teaching, on Instagram, I’d be asked if I could teach a class in Vancouver/Portland/LA/Sydney. It’s not economically feasible for me to travel to all those places to teach, so in December 2014, I launched an e-course.
I continue to teach in-person classes in the Bay Area, at Handcraft Studio School and at Yonder Shop and I’m offering my e-course again in May. More information about all those classes is here.
Lisa: Your designs are very distinct and very beautiful. I love your use of color. When you are designing prints to adorn bags or clothing, what do you think about or take into consideration? Both in designing (the more aesthetic part) and also in knowing you will be printing by hand? (ie; the more technical part — there must be things you must consider differently than if you were printing digitally).
Jen: I like constructing things, which is also why I love to sew. Printing really appeals to the operational part of my brain. Particularly with screenprinting, I have to think about the number and placement of colors, because each color requires a separate screen, and a separate “pull” (the process of pulling the ink across the screen). I also have to think about how the print will align (“registration” in printing terms), which can be extremely difficult when I’m printing two or more colors. Each color adds another layer of technical complexity. One of the ways that my silkscreened fabric is very different from a lot of other work out there is in the number of colors I use in each print (many small textile printers print just one or two colors). Another difference is that I mix most of my ink myself, instead of using the standard, store-bought ink colors without any alteration. When I run out of a color, I have to mix it again, which means there are variations in color between print runs.
Size is also key – the larger the screenprint, the more difficult it is to print. The largest size I can comfortably print by myself is 18” in width. Anything larger than that requires two people to print simultaneously (both holding the squeegee on either side of the screen). I don’t have the space to screenprint on large pieces of fabric.
Finally, the scale of an image is really important. This has really been driven home this year, as I’ve started to block print yardage for clothing. A print that looks great on a small scale – on a zippered pouch or a dinner napkin, for example – can get lost when used on a larger item, like a skirt. The opposite is also true; a large image that isn’t very interesting on a bag or a napkin can look fantastic on a skirt. Block printing fabric for clothing has been a fun, challenging, learning experience.
Lisa: I love the way you approach your creative process. You also work part time as a human resources consultant, but you still manage to create all kinds of interesting projects every week. You also share a lot of your process, even your mistakes. Tell us about how you approach your creative process, including your thoughts on risk taking, experimentation & work ethic.
Jen: I can’t yet fully support myself from my art and my classes – though this will probably change in the next couple of years – so I need to have a day job. I think that my part-time day job (and, therefore, a steady income) is crucial to my creative process right now. I can create work for its own sake, and I don’t need to worry about whether or not it will sell. I’m allowed to experiment, and to have flops.
For my first few years as a printmaker, I would release a new item whenever I felt like it. It was a great way for me to get lots of practice designing and printing (and it was also great content for my blog and social media), but after a few years of that, I decided that I wanted to create more cohesive collections that I’d release twice per year. My 52 Weeks of Printmaking project was really born out of a need to create and share work during the times when I didn’t have a new collection to show!
I am not the most organized person, but because I have a day job, I make myself create regular schedules – and stick to them. The time that I have to create is precious. It is finite. If I slack off on a studio day, I can’t get that day back. And because printing is so physical, I have to do it regularly to build up my muscle memory.
A lot of my creative process is about discipline, about doing work on a regular basis. I think that a lot of creative people spin in circles – worrying that what they haven’t yet created won’t be good enough, spending a lot of time doing research, thinking about everything that could go wrong. For me, the best way to move forward is to just get started. I do the Pomodoro technique when I’m feeling especially futzy.
I’m also a recovering perfectionist. Until I was in my thirties, I lived with massive amounts of anxiety, and was terrified of making a mistake. After a couple of panic attacks, I finally got help. During our first appointment, my wonderful therapist told me that my assignment was to intentionally go out and make a mistake, and then to let her know what happened. Guess what? The world didn’t fall apart. No one shamed me. Life went on. Over a couple of years, I let go of that perfectionism. There’s no way I would be here today if I hadn’t. When people ask me what I’m most proud of, I tell them that I’m proud that I learned how to be a confident person as an adult.
So, experimenting is much easier if you’re not a perfectionist. Mistakes aren’t fatal. Bad work is just bad work. I sometimes share my flops because I think it’s important for people to know that flops are just another part of the process.
Lisa: Do you have a “dream” project or two? If so, what are they?
Jen: I’d like to do more licensing, so that my work will be on products beyond just those items I create myself. I’d especially like to license for fabric and tabletop. Licensing will be more of a focus next year, after I’ve done some work putting together a portfolio.
Have a great Thursday, friends!
To sweeten the deal for you, we are offering the coupon code VOICES which gives you 25% off your order! Not only that, but shipping for ALL international orders is just $5 (for a limited time).
All orders will be shipped within 30 days.
Learn more about VIDA here.
Enjoy! And thank you for supporting my work!
Hello! I am so excited to share with you my FOURTH Art Inc Lives Among Us Installment! Thank you to everyone who submitted photos of your copy of Art Inc with the hashtag #artinc on Instagram. It was again very hard to choose just 25!
If you are interested in purchasing a copy, you can get one here on Amazon!
Have a great weekend, friends!
Recently I wrote a piece on overwhelm. In it, I suggested that while I may be super busy, I made choices that led to my busi-ness. I worked hard for the opportunities I now experience. In other words, I chose the life I live now, no matter how stressful it sometimes feels.
Last month at Alt, during the Q&A after my keynote address, a woman asked me about saying no. She correctly surmised that, because I am a busy entrepreneur, I must have to say no a lot. After all, I am only one person & I can’t possibly do it all or do it all myself. She wanted to know — how do I deal with that?
This is a question I get a lot. We fear having to let people down, and yet we don’t talk very much about how to handle saying no or how necessary it is. So I told the woman in so many words that saying no was something I have to do a lot — that the word “no” is becoming the most common word in my vocabulary. I also told her that I was getting more comfortable with saying no. I have no choice but to say no. I also talked about working with entrepreneur coach Tiffany Han a few years back when my career first started to get busy, and how we came up with criteria for saying yes and saying no which have helped me for the past five years to determine if an opportunity is a good one. We developed criteria around things like resonance (does the opportunity get me excited?), money (does it pay well?) and time (do I have time to meet the deadline?). I wrote more extensively about developing criteria for saying yes & saying no to opportunities in Art Inc.
In the last few years saying no has been more pragmatic. What it really comes down to is time in many cases — even if an illustration job resonates, I often have to say no because I simple don’t have time to execute. And yesterday I read a short article sent to me by my friend Molly that made me think about saying no in a whole new way. I’d previously thought about saying yes or no to a project or opportunity only as a practical matter — in other words, can I squeeze it into whatever time I have or does it pay well for the time I’ll be committing to it. What the author of this article argues, however, is that saying no is actually essential for creativity.
This has to do with time, of course, but it goes deeper than that. “Saying no”, argues the author Kevin Ashton, “has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.”
Saying no is/protects creative power.
Aha! Time is essential for creativity! Creativity cannot exist without time for ideas to percolate or the opportunity to think. We must say no in order to thrive in our businesses! Saying no is essential to the core of our pursuits: our ideas! This slightly new shift in my thinking made me excited.
So why do we have so much trouble saying no then? In the words of Kevin Ashton, “We are not taught to say ‘no.’ We are taught not to say ‘no.’ ‘No’ is rude. ‘No’ is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. ‘No’ is for drugs and strangers with candy.”
I apologize profusely (and genuinely, I might add), when an opportunity comes my way that I need to say no to or when I have to say no to a request (can I interview you for my project?). In some ways I feel like I owe the stranger my gratitude for their interest. Indeed, the interest of other people in working with me or writing about my work is precisely what keeps my career afloat! So saying no feels painful sometimes. In some ways I never want to be so jaded that I can say no easily. I want to continue to feel the gratitude for what I have. I want to stay humble.
And yet, if I said yes to every opportunity that came my way I could not possibly generate the good work the askers are looking for me to make, And that’s because really good creative endeavors, the kind that generate conversation, are thoughtful, are well-executed, have depth, or have the potential to leave a legacy take time. And for many of us, time feels like a luxury we cannot afford. We ask: what am I giving up by saying no, rather than, more appropriately, what am I gaining by saying no?
The equation is simple for creative people: time = creativity. And the equation begs the question posed by Ashton: How much less will I create unless I say “no?”
Maybe this is just the reminder I needed: that even though I dislike saying no to well meaning askers, saying no is saying yes to continuing to be a good, thoughtful and truly productive artist (and not just someone who mindlessly churns out work) — not to mention a better, more present, more thoughtful wife, friend, sister, aunt & daughter. In the great panorama of my life, what matters most?
Have a good weekend, friends.
I’m super excited to have finally gotten my hands on Print & Pattern Geometric, another fantastic compendium of print & pattern by Marie Perkins, aka Bowie Style. I’m honored to have two full spreads in the book with some of my geometric works, along with the works of tons and tons of other illustrators. This book is a treasure trove of geometric visual inspiration — 460 full color pages in all!
You can purchase the book here.
Have a great Thursday, friends!
We discuss lots of good stuff about my journey and new changes in my career, along with getting started and thriving as an artist. I hope you will give it a listen!
Have a great Wednesday!
Many of you who follow me on Instagram already know this, but I’m happy to officially announce that my wife Clay and I are moving to Portland, Oregon at the end of March!
Clay will be leaving her position as Director of Marketing at California College of the Arts & I am thrilled (beyond words) to announce that she will be joining me at Lisa Congdon Art & Illustration as Head of Marketing and Operations.
Since most of my beloved family is in Portland (sister & brother-in-law, niece, nephew & parents), it has been like a second home to me for 15 years. Clay and I are enormously excited for the opportunities Portland brings, including being close to family, the promise of more affordable home ownership (we’ve got an agent & are currently on a home search), strategic development of my business, connecting with friends & making new ones, enjoying the great outdoors, and taking part in the incredible creative community there.
It goes without saying that this departure is bittersweet (says the girl with the word California tattooed on her arm). But we could not be more ready or more elated for our new adventure. We’ll see you soon, Portland!
Photo by the amazing Sarah Deragon.
As some of you know I had the privilege of delivering the opening keynote address at this year’s Alt Summit in Salt Lake City. A video of my talk is now available for viewing, and I thought I’d share it if any of you are interested. Unfortunately, the slides of my talk were not recorded, so you cannot see them in the video! But fortunately what I have to say doesn’t rely too much on the slides, so it should be easy to follow along. The Q&A after my talk was also recorded (excuse my squinting through this – the lights on the stage were super bright!).
My talk focuses first on all of the things I do as part of my art career (my “art” identity), and then the trajectory of my career (how I got from where I was to where I am now) and finally (and I think this part is the most interesting) I talk about four big lessons I’ve learned over the past several years. I hope you enjoy.