Lisa Congdon’s passion for illustrating and taking pictures came together for a project she recently completed for a photography journal commissioned by Compendium Incorporated known for their unique gift designs. Illustrations of various vintage cameras and hand lettered inspirational quotes from famous photographers, such as Imogen Cunningham, Aaron Siskind, Cecil Beaton, Walker Evans, Joel Strasser, Ansel Adams, Marc Riboud along with author Henry David Thoreau, are dispersed throughout the journal.
“I think they commissioned me because I love vintage cameras and I had painted a series of them about four years ago and the images were in my portfolio,” said Congdon, who currently lives in Oakland, California. “They saw them and contacted my agent and asked if I would be interested.”
Compendium regularly produces journals with personalized themes and this time around decided to highlight the subject of photography. Congdon let the company use some of her already existing painted camera images while also offering up some new ones.
Before she began pursuing a career in illustration Congdon was immersed in the world of photography from a young age. She decided to take a photography class in high school and from then on was hooked. “My father gave me his Minolta and I started then and developed my own photos in the darkroom and got really into photography,” said Congdon. “I think I was 16 or 17. I had my own camera for a really long time. As a matter of fact, I was a photographer’s assistant for a year because I thought that I might want to become a professional photographer.” She eventually advanced to owning a Holga, Diana and then her own non-digital Minolta.
She learned a lot about photography from traveling and taking pictures alongside her friend Su Evers, who specialized in wedding photography at the time. They even took a trip to Thailand together where Congdon learned the fundamentals of how to shoot and experiment with lighting in photos. In the end, even though she loved photography, it evolved as more of a hobby for her than a profession. “I decided that even though I was really interested in photography I didn’t want to make it my career,” said Congdon. “I loved it, but I realized that I didn’t necessarily have what it took.”
Like photography she first became captivated in the art of illustration after taking a class. She had been working at a non-profit organization and had only intended to take up drawing and painting for fun, although later she realized she had found her true calling. Each year Congdon continued to illustrate, her work progressed and she eventually began to sell her work. She now works as a self-employed artist. “It was something I just kind of fell into as a hobby and then realized I loved it and that I could make a living at it,” said Congdon. “It sounds like it happened overnight, but it didn’t. That was like a process of about seven or eight years.”
Congdon says overall she is known for her use of color in her illustrations. She is deeply influenced by history, vintage topography and things from the past when brainstorming ideas for her work. When the project calls for it she also enjoys enhancing her artwork with her own photography.
Her illustrations have appeared in many different forms, such as in books, on stationery, wallpaper and as patterns applied to home décor. This past February a book of poetry by Gertrude Stein titled Tender Buttons was published by Chronicle Books and showcases 42 of Congdon’s illustrations, which effectively conveyed the book’s nonsensical and carefree tone. Currently she’s working on the book 20 Ways To Draw A Tulip and 44 Other Flowers, published by Quarry, which features nine hundred drawings of forty-five flowers and how to draw each flower twenty different ways. “I work in paint, ink and some of my work is digital too,” said Congdon. “It always starts by hand but with the computer you can do so many more things that you can’t do by hand.”
As far as her dream project goes, she aspires to one day possibly create her own book documenting all the interesting places she’s traveled, incorporating her illustrations and photography.
Compendium’s photography journal, which includes Congdon’s illustrations, can be purchased online here.