Styled with a Smile

Inspired Lisa Congdon spreads joy in the Alexander Girard tradition with art vibrant and bold
Lisa Congdon

As a girl growing up in Los Gatos, Lisa Congdon never thought she would be an artist. It was her sister who was the artist.

"I was always like the athletic one. And kind of a party girl," Lisa says. If she took any art classes in school, she has forgotten them.

And other than a few classes at UC Extension in Berkeley in 2000 and at community centers, Lisa has no art training.

While teaching second grade in San Francisco, Lisa did become "obsessed with mid-century architecture and design," she says, thanks to her partner at the time, who was an artist.

Lisa fell hard for the work of Alexander Girard—who designed fabrics, furniture, restaurants, and more—thanks to that partner. Lisa also became a serious collector of modern design items: packaging, children's books, furniture, Scandinavian enamelware, and more.

  Lisa Congdon
Lisa Congdon's art, like the pieces pictured here, blends simple forms, bright colors, simplified imagery, and lively type, recalling her mid-century influences.

"She introduced me to all of these [mid-century] artists and designers and architects," Lisa says of her partner. "We had this huge library in our house in San Francisco, design and art books, and I would consume them and feel so inspired.

"But never once, in the beginning of that period, did I say, 'Well, I want to go make this thing,' or 'I should go back to school to be a designer.' I just never thought of myself as an artistic, creative person."

Yet today, scarcely 20 years later, Lisa Congdon is a nationally known illustrator, a commercial and fine artist with a playful style aimed to inspire and bring a smile to viewers. Her art blends simple forms, bright colors, simplified imagery, and lively type in a way that recalls her mid-century influences but is all her own.

Indeed, Lisa is more than an artist, she concedes. She is a brand. She's like a 21st century version of such mid-century artists and designers as Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Evelyn and Jerry Ackerman, who became manufacturers or designers of affordable design objects.

  Lisa Congdon
Like her art, Lisa Congdon can smile for the camera too.

"I run a big studio with two full-time employees and two part-time contract employees, who run everything from product design and retail to operations and strategy for me," Lisa says. "I'm officially a corporation, an S corporation."

It's hard to believe that Lisa, 54, has time to do all she does: Amazon and Google, Comme des Garcons, Crate & Barrel, others.

"I've worked with them all," she says. "They come to me and say, 'You know, we have this project. We want you to make art for this project.'"

Fans can buy Lisa Congdon art prints, fabrics, hats, cups, desk accessories, puzzles—the selection rivals that of another of her clients, Target—online or at a store attached to her 1,700-square-foot studio in an industrial area of Portland, Oregon.

The area gets little foot traffic, but Lisa doesn't need foot traffic. "My store is very much a destination," she says, attracting "people from all over the world," she says.

  Lisa Congdon
A display of artistic dishware inside Lisa's home.

Lisa also shows fine art in galleries—hand painted, often on wood panels, as opposed to her commercial work and illustration, which is done digitally.

She has had three shows so far at Stephanie Chefas Projects in Portland, which focuses on what Stephanie, who like Lisa came to Oregon from California, calls "the California aesthetic" seen in Lisa's work. "Very vibrant, very warm, very bold," Stephanie says.

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