Thank You

04/23/14

9fd6e846ca7d11e3a8780002c9c83368_8

{I carved a stamp! More on my adventures in stamp carving and block printing coming soon.}

I wanted to take a moment today to say thank you to the people who read my blog and support my work. I get many amazing emails every week, and I don’t always have time to respond to them all (or at least respond quickly). I appreciate each of them, and all of the encouragement and interest that is included in them. I am also grateful for all of the love and support you give on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram. And then there are the good people who contact me because they are interested in hiring me to illustrate things, to invest in my talents or to collaborate with me in some way.

Ten years ago I never could have imagined that I would be doing what I do every day. And without you — the people who read my blog, buy my work & books, take my classes, pay me to draw things for you and spread the word about what I do — I would not be here. So thank you!!!

Off to ship Etsy orders (and use my new THANK YOU stamp).

Have a great Wednesday.

282
shares

Embrace the Abyss Talk :: Now Online

04/15/14

Lisa_Poster_NMA_lowres-1

+++

Many of you have been asking about the talk I’ve been giving over the last couple of months called Embrace the Abyss and Other Lessons, and a recording of it is now online. This version was recorded last week at TYPO International Design Conference in San Francisco, where I gave the talk for the last time (I’ve also previously given versions of the same talk at the Nevada Museum of Art in February and at as the keynote address at Craftcation Conference in early April). Here it is (gulp) with all its imperfections. It’s about 42 minutes. Enjoy.

218
shares

On Trying New Things & Learning From Others

03/27/14

db157ca2b55f11e39b09128581843da2_8

{my first official watercolor painting, made in class last night!}

Last night I took my first ever watercolor class with the amazing Emily Proud. I have written about Emily here before both here and here. I originally met Emily because she came to work as my assistant in 2012. And from there we grew into fast friends. Emily has transitioned into full time art-making in the last few months, and as part of her journey as an artist, she’s begun teaching watercolor classes at Makeshift Society in San Francisco. I’ve been itching to take one of her classes since she started teaching them last year, both because I admire Emily and her work and because I have been wanting to integrate watercolor into my work in a more concerted way. So I was really excited about last night’s class.

I had no idea what to expect from the two hour session, but I was hoping to get some concrete tips. Every time I’ve attempted to paint in watercolor before, I’ve been sorely disappointed with the results. The colors weren’t mixing quite the way I wanted, I had too many brush strokes, on and on. I had always assumed watercolor was really similar to gouache (a medium I use all the time). But I learned quickly it acts very differently!

In the matter of two hours, Emily took us through a series of exercises and demonstrations that addressed (without her knowing) almost every frustration I’d previously had with watercolor. It was the best $60 I’ve spent in a long time.

I am one of those artists who loves the idea of trying new things. But, like many people, I am also afraid of “failing” (I put failing in quotes here because, in truth, I really don’t believe there is such a thing as failure in art-making). I am easily frustrated when I try something new and then it looks nothing like what I’d hoped. And so I often give up.

I am realizing more and more that sometimes it pays off to cut to the chase and take a class instead of flailing around aimlessly in my studio or at my coffee table. Let’s face it — how many times have we bought expensive new materials to try out a new technique or medium only to see those items collecting dust months or years later, because we didn’t have the skill or knowledge we needed to put them to good use? Sometimes it works to teach yourself, sure (I have based most of my career on teaching myself new things); but learning from “experts” (even in a short two hour class or online tutorial) speeds up the process and helps cut through so much of the irritation we might experience experimenting with stuff on our own.

Watching Emily paint last night, watching her talk about how she chooses her brushes, watching how she approaches building up her paintings — gave me so much insight about how I might be a more successful user of watercolor paints myself (she’s an excellent teacher). It also made me realize how much more practice I need. But instead of frustrated practice, I now look forward now to informed practice.

As Abigail Adams once wrote: “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”

Happy Thursday, friends!

383
shares

Wendy MacNaughton :: Meanwhile in San Francisco

03/14/14

MSF_cover

+++

Those of you who know me know that I am a huge fan of illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton. I am also lucky because Wendy is a close friend and confidant. I met Wendy in early 2011 through our mutual friend Jen Bekman and we became fast pals; Wendy has helped me countless times to navigate the topsy turvy world of art and illustration (and sometimes just my general life). She is a treasure.

I have written about Wendy’s work before many times, most notably when her last book came out. And now Wendy has another book, and this one is really special. It’s Wendy’s first “solo” book (ie: it’s all her) and it’s about the city we both love: San Francisco. To write and illustrate Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words (Chronicle, 2014), Wendy has both been an acute observer of the city’s quirks (and this city has many) and roamed its streets for the last several years talking to locals about their lives here.

The result: a really funny, touching and true to life account of the different communities of people who live here. Wendy has a really fantastic and distinct illustration & hand lettering style (she uses watercolor and ink), and her work perfectly captures the people she talked to and their stories. The book is also sprinkled with great (and super hilarious) spreads highlighting some of the cities legendary places, traditions and peculiarities. Here are some of my favorite spreads from the book:

MSF_1

{A map of the famous Dolores Park, an almost-always-packed green space in the Mission}

MSF_6

{The famous bison that roam the western end of  Golden Gate Park.}

MSF_5

{Mission Hipsters: “Ex-girlfriend is dating other ex-girlfriend”}

MSF_3

{Critical Mass, a last Friday of every month ritual for the bicycling community here}

MSF_4

{Dogs, oh the dogs of SF: You know their names, but not their owners’ names…}

This book isn’t just for San Franciscans — it’s for anyone who loves San Francisco. Its 176 pages (yes, it’s that thick) will delight and entertain you. Thank you for making this book, Wendy. I have no doubt it will someday be a collector’s item. Get the book here or at your local book seller.

Have a great weekend, friends!

166
shares

New Blog Design!

03/10/14

thankyousara

+++

Friends, I am so excited to share with you my new blog design! This latest iteration of my blog was created by the amazing Sara Jensen. I have known Sara for a few years and was really excited to collaborate with her. She used my work, including my hand lettering and pattern design, to create a new blog that feels just like me. Thank you, Sara! You were a dream to work with. And also a special thank you to Sara’s husband Thor, who is also brilliant & did all the back-end stuff. These two are the best.

Have a happy Monday, friends!

384
shares

On Messing Around

03/05/14

16e5fa46a3f811e38b8f12030b12c9da_8

{A shot from my studio yesterday; some of this got painted over by the end of the day}

One of the greatest things about making art is that moment when you find you are on a roll with something: you cannot stop, and all you want to do is paint and paint {or whatever it is you do}. This moment (or this extended moment) is really pretty special, because often the opposite is true: that we are stuck or feel like we are onto nothing at all or that everything we do is unoriginal or just generally sucks.

Most of the time when we feel we are onto something potentially great, it happens because we are just messing around. We allow ourselves time to play, without external pressures, requirements or deadlines. I heard something recently (and honestly I don’t remember where I heard it) that play leads to mastery. I think this is why it must be great to go into an MFA program — to literally pay thousands of dollars to buy time to experiment and play and then to get feedback on it (so you can go back and do it over again).

As a full time working illustrator I have found that I just don’t have enough time to mess around in my studio. Lately I have been trying to change that, even if it means taking on fewer illustration jobs. I feel like I haven’t had a breakthrough or been on a good “roll” in a long, long time (even when I took the month of January off). And I think it’s mostly because I don’t have or make time to play in my studio. I truly love most of my “work” (aka illustration jobs), but I also want to push my practice so much further to break out of the habits/methods/motifs that are safe for me. But so far I haven’t felt that I could give sufficient time to both illustration work and zero pressure, playful experimentation. I always feel stretched a bit. Sometimes I feel stretched a lot.

Yesterday I made some time for play in my studio (aka, didn’t do other stuff on my list) and I hit the beginning of some kind of roll  (I think?). But just as I was hitting it, I had to leave the studio to go home for dinner. Sometimes I wish I was one of those artists who sleeps at her studio, and lives and breathes “her work” (aka her personal work, not her client work). But then I think about sleeping on the tiny sofa in my studio and cooking dried ramen on the hot plate for dinner and being away from my significant other, and I think, no, I am too old for that.

I wonder sometimes if the plight of the illustrator is finding this balance between making a living making illustrations for other people/companies/publications and also keeping up with personal creativity and experimentation. Regardless, that is my plight.

Old story here, new words to describe it (aka, balancing illustration & personal work). I am determined to figure it out.

Happy Wednesday, friends.

222
shares

Mindful Magazine & “Filling In” for Maira Kalman

03/03/14

MF-07-Apr14 MindSpace_lowres

 

{Full page illustration I completed for Mindful Magazine, which is featured in the current April 2014 issue.}

I’ve talked about this before, but every now and again an illustration job comes my way that makes me squeal with joy. One such job came my way this past October. I received an email from Jessica, the art director over at Mindful Magazine, the subject line of which read: “new magazine + filling in for Maira Kalman.” It was a busy time for me and I’d vowed not to take any more jobs. But when I read the email, I knew I couldn’t turn down this assignment.

Jessica was writing to let me know about Mindful, a new magazine that focuses on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness in everyday life, and to ask me to contribute to a full back page feature wherein I would meditate and then make an illustration about my experience. The real clincher came when Jessica mentioned that this feature is normally completed every month by well known artist & illustrator Maira Kalman (who happens to be one of my personal heroes), but that she was traveling that month and they needed someone to fill in for her.

And, so, well, they decided to ask ME to fill in for her. How could I say no to that? I think I responded something like, “Well, I am swamped, but let me tell you something — I would NEVER pass up an invitation to fill in for Maira Kalman.”

Here are a couple of Maira’s back page features from previous issues (mine, out this month, is pictured above).

Mindful_MairaKalman-5

+++

Mindful_MairaKalman-1

+++

This assignment was also timely because I was in the midst of attempting to start and maintain a meditation practice. I decided to focus the illustration on my attempt one morning to meditate first thing, without food or coffee. My thoughts are hand lettered around the image of myself meditating. I hope you can see some of the humor!

Speaking of meditating, I promised to fill you in on my attempt to start a practice, and I’ve obviously been avoiding it. And that’s not because I’ve necessarily been avoiding meditation. In fact, I’ve been attempting it fairly regularly. I’m struggling with it for sure, but I am also learning a lot. And one of these days, hopefully soon, I’ll figure out what I want to say about it all.

In the meantime, the April issue of Mindful Magazine is on store shelves now. Also, have a great week, friends!

263
shares

Playing Around with Collage

02/04/14

LIFEcollage1_lowres

+++

I’ve been trying lots of new things in my art practice lately, and to help me do more of that, I’ve been studying again with a small group of artists under the tutelage of well known mixed media artist, Lisa Kokin. Each week, Lisa gives us another mixed media assignment. A week ago, we were instructed to make a collage on the back of a hardback book cover (which makes for a great substrate, BTW). I had been cutting hands out of a collection of 1950′s LIFE Magazines, and decided I wanted to make a collage with them. Normally, I’d have arranged the hands in some grid-like formation (much like I did with my Collection a Day project), but Lisa encouraged me to layer the hands with paper and to break out of my traditional way of arranging things. What resulted is the collage above, which I made last week in her studio.

I was so excited with the result (and the process of layering) that I made two more collages over the weekend, also from collections of things I’d cut from LIFE Magazines. If you’ve ever looked at a LIFE Magazine from the mid-20th century, you know there are a preponderance of certain types of imagery (packaged and canned food, cigarettes, liquor, etc). These collages are themed around that imagery. Next up, cigarettes:
LIFEcollage2_lowres

And televisions:

LIFEcollage3_lowres

+++

I am also using colored paper from the ads, photographs and illustrations in the magazines to create the layered effect. So the colors of the collages also reflect the colors one would find in magazine of the time (full disclosure: I did use some yellow paper in the hands collage that didn’t come from the magazines).  Lisa has been encouraging us to work within constraints — and I’ve loved this challenge (ie: in this case, only using the magazines themselves as the raw material).

After I was finished with the cigarette and TV collages, I noticed I had a lot of interesting scraps on the table from cutting the shapes from the magazines. I used those to make this collage/ink drawing in my sketchbook, which was in some ways more fun than making the collages themselves!

40438da28ce911e39bc4122b889f396a_8

+++

I plan to continue this series and I’ll share them here! Stay tuned for more.

And happy Tuesday.

245
shares

On Making Friends With Emptiness

01/31/14

 

johnmuir

+++

You may recall that on January 2nd I wrote about having a clean slate &  that I was taking January off from illustration work to paint abstracts and read and relax. I’d had a difficult 2013 and I wanted to recharge before diving into 2014. I fantasized about long, luxurious days of bliss, maybe dabbling a bit in my studio, reading 20 books on the sofa and taking long hikes in the woods.

As happens to most of us when we take vacations (or in my case a “staycation”) –  it came and it went way too quickly. And, as many of you may have experienced, at the point this past week when I finally began to relax a little, it was nearly time to go back to work. I could use another month off, sure, but I also need to contribute to my household income. So Monday I’m back, and in full force (more on that in a bit).

I have been thinking a lot lately about what happens when we have emptiness in front of us — time to relax, no plans, blank canvases & sketchbooks, no incoming work, fewer responsibilities than we are used to. I love what I do for a living, but I use my work as a way to distract myself from the nothingness I fear. And so while you might think that having time off from work felt great (and at times it did), I also had a lot of empty time. And without the distractions of work, I was pretty anxious.

So what did I do? I created work for myself, of course. I took on about eight painting commissions. I re-opened my Etsy shop to make a little cash. I started a new sketchbook. I sewed a couple dresses. I negotiated five new illustration assignments that I will start Monday.

My wife said to me more than once, “You know, you really haven’t taken time off this month.” And she’s right. Sure, I didn’t take any illustration work, but I was still working. I didn’t read one book or lie around all day (even when I spent a week at the beach). I did hike three times. But I didn’t ever have that feeling of  bliss.

One of the things I’m working on right now is making friends with emptiness.  I am coming to terms with the illusion of safety I take in staying busy. I am even going to talk about that next month at the Nevada Museum of Art in a lecture I’m giving sponsored by the Reno/Tahoe AIGA. I’ve started meditating (more on that another day) and I’m working on being friends with my thoughts and feelings. I’m staying off the internet (another huge distraction) for intentional periods of time. If there is one thing I learned this past month, it’s that I am not comfortable not having much to do.

But it’s really true that rich creativity comes from a place of nothingness. When we are most open and relaxed and present our best ideas come to us. For me, that mostly happens when I am on airplanes (more on that also another time). Making friends with emptiness is my charge for the year. Sure, I’ll work hard (I am wired to work hard), but I want also to get more friendly with the act of relaxation. I am hoping it will allow me to bring a better, more laid back, even more creative self to my work.

So while I didn’t exactly achieve the level of bliss I’d hoped this past month, I learned something really important about my relationship to bliss: you can’t get to bliss without embracing even a small amount of emptiness.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Next week: a post on the trials of meditation.

Happy weekending, friends.

 

385
shares

Anthology Magazine Feature

01/27/14

anthology_Issue14-Lisa-Congdon

+++

We were pretty excited when Anthology Magazine contacted us last year about featuring our home and a little story about our move to Oakland from San Francisco in their Winter 2014 issue. The issue hits newsstands this week!

anthology cover

+++

Thayer Gowdy shot amazing photos of our home (and interestingly, her SF home is also featured in the same issue!).

To create ambiance on the day of the shoot, we even made a fire. It was 80 degrees out that day, so you can imagine the laughs we had as we tried to imagine it was winter.

Issue14-Lisa-Congdon-4

You can pick up the issue of the current Anthology at any of these stockists or subscribe to this beautiful magazine here.

Issue14-Lisa-Congdon-5

The Winter Issue also includes several other home features (and stories of transitions), a beautiful travel story set in Paris, recipes, and much more (including tons more photos of our home). I hope you will check it out!

Happy Monday, friends!

 

295
shares

On Turning 46

01/17/14

bday_lowres

{43 years ago I had a Raggedy Ann cake!}

Today is my birthday. Today I turn 46 years old. Unlike a lot of people out there, I am excited about getting older. Every year that passes the freer I feel from all of the things that used to keep me up at night: Am I cool enough? Do people like me? Am I a complete dork? Of course, I still worry about those things a little bit, but only a little. And I’ve come to embrace my inner dork (most of the time). I don’t even worry so much about my skin sagging or my already thin hair thinning more or the more frequent aches and pains. I’ve given up finally on looking 30 and accepted that I’m 46.

I’m a little bit of a late bloomer. I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was 29. And now I’m covered in them. I did not pick up a paint brush for the first time until I was about 32 years old. And it wasn’t until I was 37 that I started to show and sell and license my art work. I didn’t find my true love until I was 40 or get married until I was 45.

From the time I graduated from college in 1990, it took me many many years to figure out who I was and to get moving with my life with a clear sense of purpose. But I got there eventually. Then last year happened. Last year was one of the toughest years of my life. I worked way too much, became exhausted, and also some other hard stuff happened. I began to lose that previously clear sense of purpose. I began to question what I was doing with my life, why I was doing it, and why I wasn’t feeling as excited about my work or my career as I once had. For the record, last year also included some of the happiest moments, namely, my wedding and honeymoon.

All of this makes me realize (or re-realize) two things: a) life is never all good or all bad, it’s always a mixture, and rolling with (or persevering through) the hard stuff is part of what we must do as humans and b) I want to regain a sense of purpose this year. So I’m thinking a lot about What do I want from my life? How can I be a better person? What do I want my career to look like? What do I want to create?  You might notice that I am playing around with new styles and mediums in my work. This is all part of the exploration. I’m also spending more time having fun – something I didn’t do enough of last year. I’m stepping back and I’m trying a lot of new things.

Because it’s my birthday, I want to say thank you to everyone who comes here and reads my blog and all of the support and love you give. Today I’m offering 20% off in my Etsy Shop until January 19. Just use coupon code FORTYSIX (sorry I had to change the code because I’d previously used HAPPYBIRTHDAY!).

On that note, have a happy Friday and a happy weekend.

411
shares

Wherever You Are, Make Art

01/13/14

f3a444967ba411e3845812e01f1213ae_8

+++

As some of you may know, I’m taking the month off to step back, reflect and relax a little before I embark on a new year of work. Some questions I’m thinking about: Where do I want to take my work next? What ideas do I have for new creative endeavors? How will I create a more sustainable and positive sense of work/life balance?

I’m at the beach by myself for the next several days. I didn’t come here with an agenda about what I am going to create, but I did bring a lot of art supplies with me in the event that I’m inspired. Over the weekend I found myself collecting smooth rocks from the beach at low tide. When I got back to the beach house, I pulled out some white paint and started painting designs on them. I know I’m not the first to paint on beach rocks (my friend Diana is quite exceptional at it), but it was the first time I’d ever done it myself. And let me tell you, it’s an addictive (and rather inexpensive) hobby!

be1cb41c7bda11e38189121dade5682f_8

+++

I wonder what else I will make while I am here and how it will be influenced by my temporary surroundings? Hopefully I’ll have more to share while I’m here. In the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram.

I hope you will come back to visit tomorrow. I will have a very special post on some incredible new work by Molly Hatch that I am very excited to share with you.

Happy Monday.

680
shares

On Having a Clean Slate

01/02/14

a6b6c20073b911e3a6d80e3c6a64aa63_8

When I saw the drawing above on Instagram this morning (drawn and posted by my talented friend Christopher David Ryan), I realized that the person in the drawing was me. I have been hurriedly trying to finish work and other projects over the past several months so that I could begin January with a clean slate. In fact, I have only one more client project to finish today and then I am taking the rest of the month off. All good and exciting, right? Yes! But I must admit that I am so used to facing my long to-do list and a pile-up of future expectations every morning that I’m feeling something in between fear and mild melancholia about the alternative. I’ve become so used to working and being “busy” that I don’t even know what the opposite feels like. Now that it’s finally here, I wonder what will I do now?

Of course, I’m going to use some of my down time to do things like read and sleep and be otherwise lazy. This alone will require effort, because the voice in my head will be telling me to clean the linen closet or reorganize my portfolio in my down time. What I want most is to dive into my personal art work — the work I make purely for enjoyment and creative exploration, without the distraction of client work or a list of deadlines. I haven’t had the time or luxury of being able to spend hours and hours on personal work in years. And yet I am also frightened by the open-endedness of it all.

I plan to share here on this blog some of what I make and do this coming month. In 2014 I am determined to redefine my relationship to my work (and what work is most important to me) in profound ways, and now — this month of January — is my chance to start.

What now? I’ll keep you posted.

 

173
shares

Painting on Ceramics

12/19/13

f3e51164650c11e3813412641a6a3562_8

+++

Last weekend I went with my friend Mati on a field trip to a place called Brushstrokes in Berkeley, California. It’s a place where you can paint pre-made (but unfired) ceramics — like plates and bowls, mugs and platters. I was really excited to do this (it’s something Mati and I have been talking about doing together forever), but I was admittedly a little intimidated. And it was not like drawing or painting on paper. The paint was thick, and the surface a bit rough and grainy. I had to draw realllly slowly and keep a very steady hand. But I did manage to make the plate pictured above. And I had so a great time that I plan to go back again after Christmas. This plate is now being fired, and when it’s finished, I’ll post a photo so you can see the finished product.

Here’s Mati with her bowl, donning one of her famous cats!

f033565e650a11e3b67c0e2626ce01c4_8

+++

Have a happy Thursday, friends!

342
shares

Ten Mornings

12/13/13

e60b432c35a211e3b13b22000a9e0790_8 3b3e3cbe423711e3877122000a1fbc4f_8 f74c87e6488911e3aecf0ac913b3a2f4_8 be97f35856a911e3a1cb0a9f503f6f11_8 66e74cf25cf411e38f2012ae38007ca3_8

+++

10 different mornings in the last two months (outside my living room window at dawn).

Have a wonderful weekend, friends.

92
shares