Alumna Lisa Congdon ’90 Encourages Students to Use Their Creativity

A talented artist and writer, Lisa Congdon ’90 is most known for her colorful, vibrant illustrations and hand lettering. She has written many books, from Find Your Artistic Voice to You Will Leave a Trail of Stars: Words of Inspiration for Blazing Your Own Path. We asked her to talk about her career and her passions, and how Saint Mary’s helped her pursue both. 

Briefly, how would you describe what you do?

Mostly, I make my living as an illustrator, which means I make art for brand collaborations, and for books, magazines, home décor, stationery, apparel and the like! I have an online shop where I sell products that are adorned with my art—everything from prints to enamelware to cards to scarves and more. I also teach, write books, do a bit of public speaking, and show my work in galleries. 

How did you get into creating art?

Twenty years ago, when I was in my early thirties, I was going through a breakup of a significant relationship. I found myself with a lot of time on my hands and was also feeling a lot of grief. I decided to make art as a way to occupy the time and deal with what I was feeling in a healthy way. I loved it, but I also realized that I needed to work on my technical skills, so I began taking classes. And shortly thereafter I began sharing the stuff I was making on a blog that I kept at the time. Everything began to grow from there. Over time, I got better and better. I began sharing my art more and more. Twenty years later, I cannot imagine my life without art. 

What inspires your colorful art style?

I absolutely love color and playing with unexpected color combinations. Color brings joy to many people, and I have the satisfaction of creating joy for myself by using color, and also creating joy for other people through my work. I often use a process called “color blocking” where I take colors from opposite sides of the color wheel to create complementary combinations and “block” those colors on my canvas or drawing pad like you would use building blocks. I use big blocks of color to help tell a story, then I add details to complete the story. 

Tell me about your books! What’s your favorite aspect of writing?

I fell into making books back in 2011, and there has been very little time since then when I haven’t been working on a book! In fact, I have 10 books of my own and have illustrated children’s books for other authors. I think one of the most satisfying parts of making a book comes far after you organize, write, or illustrate it. Holding the hard copy in your hands for the first time is always really magical. Books even smell good, especially when they are fresh off the press. And that makes writing worth it. Writing can often feel like drudgery, so I have learned it’s really important to make books about stuff that I’m interested in and passionate about sharing. I used to hate the editing process when I first became an author, and I’ve learned to love and appreciate it. Editing is this process of sharpening and refining language that is really satisfying when I get it right. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Bringing other people joy and insight and connection through my art, writing, and teaching. 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

I want to make everything. I have so many ideas and not enough time. If I get too caught up in that, I feel frustrated because we can never do it all. So, I really try to remind myself that I don’t have to follow all of my ideas. 

How did Saint Mary’s prepare you for your career?

I learned so many things at Saint Mary’s! I learned to think and to take feedback, to organize my thinking and writing. I also learned the importance of community. I learned what it was to support my peers, and to feel supported by my peers and my professors, and the staff and faculty. The relationships I formed there are still some of the most important in my life. I am fifty-three years old and I graduated in 1990, and yet, I still have dreams that I am there with my friends, walking from De La Salle Hall to Dante Hall, rushing to class, as if it was yesterday. I am so grateful for that experience. 

What would you say to current SMC students?

Your creativity—however you express it—is your birthright, and it’s also one of the most powerful tools you have to make a difference in the world. Don’t be afraid of it. Explore it and use it!






You can purchase Lisa Congdon’s books and products with her art on her online shop,, or in-person at her brick-and-mortar store in Portland, Ore.