“My studio is about 1/2 a mile from my home. I am super lucky to work somewhere that is a short bike ride from my apartment. It’s a really awesome light-filled space (half the ceiling is sky lights) that I share with painter Jamie Vasta. We’re good friends and have been there together for almost three years now (before that we were in another space together for two years). We listen to lots of NPR and books on tape together while we are working! Our studio is in an area of the Mission district of San Francisco that has loads of studios and other art spaces and galleries and there are other really amazing artists in our building so the energy there is really profound.”
San Francisco illustrator and fine artist Lisa Congdon
was raised in both upstate New York and Northern California where she grew to love the trees and animals that surrounded her. Lisa comes from a family of creative people and has been making things with her hands since she was a little girl, but she did not begin painting until she was 33 years old. Ten years later, it is now the most significant part of her life and livelihood. Aside from four painting classes, Lisa is entirely self-taught. Three years ago, she left a career as a leader in the education nonprofit world to pursue a full-time creative life. In 2010 she chronicled all of her collections in her Collection A Day 2010 Project
, a book published in March 2011. You can read more about it here
Lisa lives in the Mission District of San Francisco with her partner, Clay Lauren Walsh, her 10 pound chihuahua, Wilfredo, and her two cats, Barry and Margaret.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
LISA CONGDON: I work in my studio almost every weekday like most people go to their office. That’s where I do all of my painting and drawing.
LC: My studio was the place that I photographed my collections for the project. I didn’t take one photo every day. For the most part I photographed about 3-5 collections at one time on a certain day and then posted them over the course of the next few days. I don’t have a computer in my studio, so I did all the photo editing and blog posting in my home office. Not too much is different now that I am finished except I don’t have the daily pressure of photographing stuff. I had so much fun doing this project, but I am glad it’s over. It was a huge undertaking!
FYD: How the idea to photograph your collections came about?
LC: In December (2009), I wanted to start a project in 2010 that would satisfy my need to up the ante on my daily creative experience. I make my living making a combination of fine art and commercial illustration. I thought about many options for what my 2010 project could be, and decided I would document publicly on the Internet. I made a list of criteria: It had to be 1) something I felt really excited about, 2) something that I had to do every day for the entire year, 3) mostly different from my everyday routine of drawing and painting, and 4) challenging but still manageable in my busy schedule.
My most treasured collection in my house is my vintage mid-century Scandinavian kitchen enamelware collection.
I came up with a few ideas, but A Collection A Day resonated most. It would be a project that would span exactly one year, from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010. On each of those days, I’d post a photograph of one of my own collections or a drawing or painting of an imagined collection on a blog called A Collection a Day. I am a voracious collector and wanted to share some of my collections with the world. For 365 days in 2010 I posted one image each day of one of my collections (or a portion of a collection), arranged neatly on a white backdrop.
FYD: Was it nice to work with photos and step outside your illustrative world?
LC: I’m really inspired by the stuff I collect. Much of it had been stored in flat files and drawers for a few years and so when I would go through the files to decide what to photograph each day, it was like meeting an old friend. That was all part of the creative experience I was looking for.
My world is definitely neon pink.
FYD: Were you able to edit your collections with more ease once they’re organized?
LC: Before I started the project, my collections were pretty disorganized. I am a person who is very left-brained for an artist. I am pretty organized in general. I think it helps us realize what we do and don’t need.
FYD: What collection was most sentimental to you?
LC: The collections image of the erasers. It was the first image I used for Day 1. It’s part of my long-standing, large and unwieldy collection of vintage school supplies!
FYD: What is the appeal of “stuff?” We all have tons of it. Does it keep us entertained or is it sentimental?
LC: Nostalgia. A yearning for something old. Love of typography and vintage packaging. I also think displaying a bunch of “like” objects is very satisfying for humans. As Fritz Karch, who is Collections Editor at Martha Stewart Living and who wrote the forward to my book puts it this way: “Early humans were divided into two basic types: Hunters and gatherers, proving that there have been collectors as long as there have been humans.”
FYD: I hold dear a stamp collection my Grandfather gave me. Is there something a family member helped collect?
LC: My mom definitely got my on the collection track. She gave me my first collection when I was like 5 years old: my Madame Alexander doll collection. It was followed shortly thereafter by plastic Breyer horses. My father put up shelves in my bedroom on which I could display my collections. I would spend hours arranging the dolls and horses (and other treasured knickknacks) on the shelves and on my dresser—even to the exclusion of any other form of organization in my bedroom. I remember my mother patiently telling me that cleaning my room did not mean simply arranging my possessions beautifully; it also meant vacuuming, dusting and making the bed. From an early age, being surrounded by things that I loved was important, as was their display.
I don’t have a computer in my studio, so I did all the photo editing and blog posting in my home office.
FYD: If you had to rush out of your house, what would you grab of your collected items?
LC: That’s a hard question, but my most treasured collection (in my house) is my vintage mid-century Scandinavian kitchen enamelware collection. Most of this collection did not end up in the book (you can see it in the February 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living) because the pieces were for the most part too large to photograph on the white backdrop in my studio.
FYD: The Rolling Stones say, Paint It Black. What color will you paint it?
LC: Color is really important to me! It’s pretty obvious when you look at my artwork that I am drawn to color and use it to express my deepest joys and sorrows. My world is definitely neon pink.
Order A Collection A Day
Lisa’s work can also be purchased via 20×200 here.