With designs as bold as her activism, Portland-based fine artist, illustrator and author Lisa Congdon wears multiple hats — and some even of her own making. Immediately recognizable and cherished by stylish buyers around the world, her works range from vibrant art prints to intricate embroidery and textiles, often with playful, positive hand-lettered messages. You can find Congdon’s shop in Southeast Portland’s Cargo, a shop known for its eclectic home decor, furnishings and textiles. Visit the shop or check out Congdon’s website for a gift guide featuring selections of Congdon’s signature prints, greeting cards, desk accessories, clothing and housewares in bold and playful colors. Here are some sources for her inspiration and how her deep connection to Portland supports her art.
Creative Inspiration for Designs
Congdon began making art about 20 years ago in her early 30s, inspired by a breakup with a longtime partner. “To fill the void I felt, I set up a studio at my kitchen table and began experimenting,” she says. “I had no real formal training and just sort of followed what inspired me.”
This creative push propelled her into a successful career in a challenging creative field. By her 40s, she says she had reached a point where she had something to say. Nowadays, Congdon works with brands all over the world, including Amazon, Target, Google, REI and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Her smashing success led Adweek to name her “One of the 50 Most Inspiring People and Companies, According to Industry Creatives” in 2021.
Congdon’s voice speaks loudly and proudly in her designs and books. She has an entire social justice collection with motivational messages. There’s much welcome advice in “Find Your Artistic Voice,” her book that helps emerging artists and other creative people find confidence in expressing themselves. For even more inspiration, she sells archival prints with supportive slogans. Or opt for a cozy puffy blanket printed with her evening-hued “Night Garden” print.
How Portland Keeps Her Art in Motion
Born in San Francisco, a move to Portland contributed to Congdon’s growth as an artist. “I purposefully moved to Portland in 2015 because it was a center of innovation that was supportive, community-oriented and affordable for artists,” she says. “Those things continue to inspire and motivate me.” Check out some of her made-in-Portland designs.
It’s not just the urban center that creates momentum for Congdon; it’s her daily routine in Oregon’s outdoors. “I am an avid road and off-road cyclist, and being outside on my bike on a daily basis in Portland plays a huge role in my creative process. I make work inspired by what I see and think about while I ride.” On vacations, she loves to go out riding in the mountains near Bend and rides with her wife whenever she can. When she’s designing at home, she often keeps an eye on the parade of bikes that spins by her window. Congdon has worked with cycling companies like Schwinn and Velocio to help them celebrate gay pride.
Giving back to both Portland and the larger art scene is important to Congdon. “It is a beautiful, reciprocal relationship that I am really grateful for,” she says. Though she’s partnered with global organizations like Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, she also keeps some volunteer projects close to home, like a lively mural that’s on view at the Community Cycling Center — a bike shop and advocacy organization in Northeast Portland.
Congdon urges artists to follow her lead and get out and get involved in their communities, especially if they are in her beloved city. “The Portland art, design and music scenes are rich and there are things happening almost every night of the week,” she says. “Go to art openings. Visit galleries and museums. Take classes. Attend lectures. Apply for internships and volunteer opportunities. Start your own movement!”
If you — or someone on your holiday gift list — could use some motivation, sign up for several online art workshops led by Congdon, including boot camps like the Knack School, an online program for budding visual artists. Congdon also co-founded the Long Table Collective, a mentorship program with a focus on providing professional guidance for culturally diverse artists from historically excluded communities. Her former podcast, “The Lisa Congdon Sessions,” offers engaging discussions on creating a more creative and joyful life.
Other Portland Makers for the Holidays
When you’re shopping for gifts this holiday season and beyond, there are many ways to support Portland’s small businesses and its collection of eclectic makers like Congdon. The travelers on your list may enjoy innovative gifts by Portland makers, including a beautifully crafted mini clutch by Orox Leather, a Forward Movement bandanna by Native designer Ginew, Dahlgren Footwear hiking socks for the outdoor adventurer or a luminous travel kit packed with skincare essentials by Polk Apothecary. There are many other ways to give the gift of Oregon for friends and family, as well.
Holiday markets are plentiful during winter, where you can shop from local makers and artists. Bundle up and spend the day ice skating with river views and enjoying the marketplace, where you can browse the pop-up shops for holiday gifts, grab a bite to eat and sip hot coffee and cocoa.