You may remember Lisa Congdon from the 2018 Unity Jersey and campaign. You may know her from her own amazing work as a textile designer and artist. The 52 year old Portland, Oregon native is iconic in the textile industry, known for bold lines and a courageous sense of narrative. We jumped back into a partnership with Lisa, in time for the summer months. Learn more about the rider, artist and activist.
You’ve been interviewed in the past about how your start in illustration was not traditional. Can you speak to how you became Lisa Congdon, artist?
I didn’t start drawing or painting until I was about 32 years old. I’ve been doing it for about 20 years now, and professionally for about 13 years. It started as a hobby, a release from my daily work grind, a sort of therapy during a very difficult time in my life after the breakup of a relationship. In the beginning, I was, like nearly everyone who picks up art supplies for the first time, a total beginner. What I made looked nothing like it does now. I had a long way to go before finding my voice. But there was something about art-making that lit me up in a way nothing ever had before. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I became obsessed with drawing and painting and trying new things. And then I began very slowly to share them on the internet. This was before social media, but I had a blog where I shared images and writing about the stuff I was making. And people began following along and asking if they could purchase things. Then I realized at some point that I could potentially make a living at this thing, I mean, I had to keep showing up and getting better and learning, but I began to see that it was something I could do eventually. I never imagined that it would look like what it looks like now. But we can never imagine our futures. Slowly, over the years, I began to build a business. I kept at it. I opened an online shop. I began promoting my work on social media. I worked on organizing my time. And thinking strategically about how I could make a living. I became part of a community of other creative folks. I kept learning and growing and sharing. It never really ends, but that’s sort of how I got to where I am.
Likewise, you’ve said that you came to cycling late, what about your start in cycling? How’d you find the sport?
Well, I have been cycling since I was 30, so I guess that is late? Though now I’m 52 and been cycling for over two decades and 30 feels very young to me! I started cycling because of good friend of mine was riding 545 miles over seven days from San Francisco to Los Angeles in what was then called the “AIDS Ride” (now called the California AIDS Lifecycle) to raise money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other charities. I was really inspired by what he was doing, so I decided to do it as well. I had never ridden a road bike before. But I bought one, and I will never forget going out on it for the first time, clipped in, and falling over several times. We rode from San Francisco to somewhere in Marin County and back that day, and I have never felt so tired! But I was also exhilarated. I was quickly hooked. Five years ago, I moved to Portland, and currently I ride with a women’s team here called Sorella Forte. There are about 53 of us between the ages of 25 and 71 and we ride together every Saturday, (except during COVID that has been disrupted). I also am lucky that my wife is also a road cyclist so I always have someone to roll with!
There’s a natural connection between the process in cycling and in art. Can you speak about how one might inform the other? Related, you’ve built a successful business from being perseverant and thoughtful, hallmarks of any longtime rider. What drives you in your work?
I think the same drive, discipline and determination required for cycling and other sports are required for art making. I use a lot of sports analogies when I talk about the creative process, because there are so many similarities. You have to not only show up, but you also often have to move/create even when the conditions aren’t perfect or you feel like crap. Some days you feel in the flow, others are a struggle. Practice is at the heart of getting better. Athletics has taught me so much that has moved into my art practice. I get an enormous amount of personal, intrinsic satisfaction from making art, and I know that satisfaction is a result of a lot of hard work that was difficult. And that sense of personal satisfaction is where it begins for me. But there is another layer of sharing my work with an audience, and having other people engage with my work that is also hugely motivating to me.
A lot of cycling is about competing, getting ahead, racing, and the experience gets very narrow. You’ve spoken to a new level in your career where you’re aiming for a better creative experience. What does that look like?
I have spent the last 10 years working almost constantly on client work and big publishing projects. And while that’s a really wonderful way to make a living, and I feel really grateful, I also found that I had very little time to explore what was next for me creatively or to think outside those very specific projects. I felt very boxed in. In a way, it was like racing. Things got too narrow for me in the hustle to have an illustration career. In response, I just started a planned sabbatical from client work where my goal is to give myself some breathing space to see where that takes me – to have, as you say, a better creative experience, or at least a deeper, freer, bigger creative experience. I’ve been dabbling in new mediums, reading, taking time to ride my bike more, and working on things without the pressure of delivering them to a client. I’m only in the beginning, but so far, it’s been really good.
Social consciousness is very visible in your work. How do social issues fuel your process? How do they work into your everyday routines and patterns?
I have always been pretty outspoken about social issues and social justice, but after the 2016 election, I realized that I had an obligation to use my platform to talk about stuff that was important to me. And so now my work is very much melded with the social issues I care most about. I do read a lot and pay attention to what is happening in the world, and sometimes that information informs my work. If I feel passionately about something (social issue or otherwise), I will often not be able to do anything else until I make some piece of art that discusses my feelings. My work helps me communicate and start discussions with others. I’m grateful for that vehicle.
Are there ways you emphasize experience with riding? What advice would you give to someone just learning that they love and want more cycling in their lives?
For me cycling is just as much about community as it is riding on the open road and the feelings of freedom that experience brings. Anyone interested in cycling, especially if you are a beginner, can benefit from being part of a group. Many cycling clubs and teams do not require you to race and are more focused on bringing people into the experience of riding. They are willing to help, teach and mentor new riders. I was a cyclist for many years before I joined a team, and if I could do anything over again, I would have joined a group when I was much younger. It has changed my experience of cycling. Now, I don’t just ride my bike; I also have friendships, mentors, mentees, and purpose.
I suspect like most of us you’ve been homebound for a bit. How has that been for you? Do you have any wanderlust creeping in?
I am a big traveler. And I also love to ride long distances away from my house on my bike, which is something I normally get to do at least once a week. And I haven’t been able to do either safely because of COVID. And, like everyone else, I’ve spent most of the last three months inside my house. I have made the best of it and am grateful to have a comfortable home. But, yes, I am definitely fantasizing about getting out of Portland where I live! The other day I ventured to a fabric store that had just reopened to buy some new supplies. They are located in a small town outside of Portland. And just driving to the next town over on a beautiful day felt liberating!
Now feels like it needs a lot of inspiration: who are the folks that you are drawing from, cycling, art or otherwise, these days?
I recently met Brittlee Bowman online who is part of the Velocio Exploro women’s gravel team. Last December, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A mutual friend of ours wrote to me and let me know that Brittlee was someone I should connect with. Not only had she had a breast cancer diagnosis, but she also continued to cycle through her treatment. I began following her, and we connected. It was really helpful for me to read her story and see what she accomplished while she was in treatment and to hear her words of encouragement. I did a big ride the second week of radiation (which, for those who don’t know, makes you really tired), and I don’t think I would have given myself permission to do that ride if had I not read about her own courageous journey. She’s been incredibly inspiring to me.