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Online San Fransisco crafter evolves into artist, gallery owner

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Lisa Congdon credits her now-defunct crafting blogs for launching her art career. Before that, she was happy to craft gifts for her friends and family, and post her ideas online.

"I never in my life considered myself artistic or an artist at all," she said recently from her home in San Francisco.

Today, Congdon, 41, co-owns Rare Device, a home decor and housewares store with a "modern and quirky" esthetic, according to its website. Attached is a gallery, where Congdon and co-owner Rena Tom, 35, exhibit emerging artists' works.

Congdon also sells her own work. She works primarily in three mediums: painting with gouache, ink drawings and collage. Her art, mainly her illustrations, have appeared on cards, magnets and journals. Pottery Barn hired her to design fabric panels for a recent collection.

She gets her inspiration from nature, appreciating its patterns and repetitions. She gravitates toward old photographs, and antique lace and paper, for use in her collages.

Congdon's evolution from a non-profit director who crafted to a professional artist and illustrator actually began eight years ago, when she took a painting class with her brother, and learned she had a sense of colour and composition.

"Lo and behold I have what appears to be some talent," she said. "And I had never picked up a paintbrush before in my life."

Started in 2005, her two blogs - first Bird in the Hand, then Lisa Congdon Art+Craft - made her something of an online crafting superstar, eventually attracting 4,000 readers a day to her latter site. (The "Bird in the Hand" name now is used by several blogs worldwide.)

Her blog caught the attention of a Seattle shop owner who asked if Congdon wanted to show her work, and Congdon was on her way. She's had 13 solo shows in the past three years.

"Because I started a blog and because the Internet makes the world so small, I literally went from 'Oh, I'm making things in my free time. It's fun,' to being a fine artist in less than five years."

Congdon ended her first blog in 2006, and took down her second one last summer. She found the daily postings too time-consuming and too personal for so many eyes to read.

"It's hard to have your story out there every day," she said. "People start to expect things from you."

Congdon agreed to share some tips for how she proceeds with her collages.


Working with Collage: Some Tips for Beginners

Congdon suggests creating a piece that has a perspective or tells a story. She uses a lot of vintage pieces in her art because they heighten the viewer's sense of nostalgia.

She also recommends keeping the project simple.

"The most excellent advice I ever got was to stop before I thought it was finished," she said. "Less is more."

Congdon suggests paying close attention to three elements: colour, pattern and composition. Whether working in two dimensions or three, such as with a shadow box, the process remains the same:

1. Begin by collecting paper and objects (if going 3-D) for the collage. Congdon scavenges flea markets in search of old paper, photographs and lace to incorporate in collages. Other possible paper goods: Pages torn from old books or newspapers, hand-made paper, vintage wallpaper, fabric. Other vintage objects: keys, millinery, ribbon and stamps. From nature: feathers, birch bark, twigs, even dried sea urchins.

2. Choose a base: Stiff cardboard, Masonite or wood work best. Or use a shadow box, which can be purchased at a crafts supply store.

3. What is your palette? Look through the elements you've collected and search for a colour theme, then stick with it. (Congdon sometimes alters the objects she finds by spray-painting them an unexpected colour.)

4. Look at your potential composition: Is there a focal point? (The viewer needs a place to focus before viewing the rest of the piece.) Do you have solid elements mixed with things that are more delicate (such as lace)? Is there a variety of textures and sizes? Do you have a mixture of patterns?

5. Arrange the composition, playing with the pieces, editing out some, adding others, keeping an eye on colour and pattern.

6. Using an acid-free glue, adhere the pieces into place.

7. If you are using a shadow box, you may (or may not) want to paint it.

8. Using a water-based, gloss medium, you can decoupage the finished piece to give it a glossy finish.

9. Also, think about doing collage digitally, using Photoshop.


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