Sketching and Doodling with Lisa Congdon

I find live presentations and conferences to be incredibly inspiring. Everything about sitting in a room with people who are interested and passionate about a similar subject lights me up inside. It gets even better when I have the opportunity to listen to incredibly passionate people share their stories, experiences, and lessons.

Where I fall short as a blogger and teacher is in sharing these experiences with all of you! I’ve been to numerous conferences and presentations over the years and not once, until now, have I put my digital pen to my virtual paper to share these experiences with you and for that, I apologize! I think this hesitation comes from: (1) the “idea overwhelm” that happens after any great presentation, and (2) the pressure of recapping a presentation with a certain number of words and in a way that respects the presenter and does their work justice. It reminds me of what happens when I take a photograph of an amazing landscape—it usually falls short and doesn’t do the scenery justice.

Last week my friend Sarah and I saw the amazingly talented Lisa Congdon speak at a WeMake event. Lisa Congdon is an illustrator, painter, author, doodler, and speaker who has worked with clients such as The Museum of Modern Art, Martha Stewart Living Magazine, Chronicle Books, The Land of Nod, The Obama Campaign, and Simon & Schuster. At the WeMake event, Lisa spoke about the power of doodling, sketchbooks, and simply recording one’s everyday experiences on paper. The presentation was a wonderful reminder to return to my sketchbook and rejuvenate the inspiration that does come from the ideas in my own work, as well as this site. Here are a few takeaways that I wanted to share with you all:

Thoughts by Lisa Congdon

Sketch, doodle, and then sketch and doodle some more.

In addition to being a wonderful way to explore new techniques and mediums, sketching is the best way to find your design style or “voice.”

If you want to master something, make it a part of your day, every day.

Lisa told a story about a time when she wanted to improve her lettering skills and begin offering this service to clients. This was something that she didn’t have much experience in so she took it upon herself to practice her hand lettering everyday for a year and you can see the results here.

Need inspiration? Look to the dictionary for ideas!

I think this idea may have actually come from one of Lisa’s blog readers, but I love the simplicity of this strategy. Need subject matter for your next collection or illustration? Open up your dictionary and choose a topic. Easy as that.

Share through social media.

Lisa shares bits and pieces of her work and process on a continual basis through several social media sites, particularly Instagram. She mentioned that these posts bring in new clients and lead to more engagement and community support. This is something that I really want to work on over the next year, so look for a little somethin’ each day on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Hold me to it, okay!

Worry about being knocked off?

I am asked this question at least once a week. An audience member asked Lisa this question and my ears perked up. I loved her answer: Just keep innovating and trying new techniques to keep your artwork fresh and ahead of the competition. Bam. I love it. This advice applies to any designer, heck, any business owner out in the world and offers such a great perspective on both competition and a competitive market.

  1. I wish I could have attended this presentation! Sounds very inspiring and motivating! As a beginning designer and illustrator, these topics are always on my mind. I want to have my own voice and design style, but I’ve never been a very self-aware person, which I am working on. I love the idea of sketching and doodling more and more to find my voice and style. I also really want to get better at hand lettering, and like my own hand lettering, so I set a goal to post a hand lettered piece every Friday. The introverted side of my personality keeps me from sharing my process and work as much as I would like. Lots to work on which is a great feeling! Thanks for sharing these tips!

  2. I love how Lisa went about building her hand lettering skills. Her honesty and willingness to show her process/progress was refreshing.

    I try to get some sketching in everyday (finally found the best sketchbook for me) and I really want to draw more confidently (I’m very open to what that’s going to look like. I don’t want to compare myself to others.)

  3. Oh I love the dictionary idea! And i am swooning over the 365 days of hand lettering. Thank you for sharing her with us! She is new to me! Oh and count me in to throw my hat in the ring for a chance to win her book!

  4. Lisa Congdon has been an inspiration for me. I have started drawing, doodling and painting to explore different ways to tell stories (I’m a writer and I’m curious about different processes). I used to be very afraid of trying to use other media than writing and words, but now I am embracing that this is also important in my process as a storyteller, no matter what I do, so thank you Lisa for being so open about your work, thank you for your generosity. You’re truly a wonderful artist!

  5. “Sketch, doodle, and then sketch and doodle some more”. Love it! This is my favorite part when creating a new design. I am always sketching and doodling any shape, shadow, object I see and then the colors begin to flow in my head. Lisa really nailed it when she says its a wonderful way to explore new techniques and mediums. I decided to take the shape of a potato chip one day and sketch it out and played with it – before I could realize what I was doing I created this repeat pattern from a potato chip because I was just sketching and doodling. You never know where your creativity can take you with a pen and paper in hand.

  6. Thanks for sharing this! I love the comment about sketching. I have always kept a visual journal, but got away from it in the past couple years, I’ve made it a project to get back to it.

  7. I know they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but no one wants to have their work replicated. Regarding being knocked-off, I really love Lisa’s response “keep innovating and trying new techniques to keep your artwork fresh and ahead of the competition.”
    Glad you hit “publish” on this one. It’s nice to hear about this event.

  8. Wow…how cool to meet the talented and inspirational Lisa Congdon!
    Love her advice and tips….we should all just keep doing what we love, getting better each day and celebrating life!! 🙂

  9. “If you want to master something, make it a part of your day, every day.” Such a simple philosophy on how to go from complete beginner to someone who is confident enough to be called an expert. This just gave me an idea for a year long project for next year. Thank you for the inspiration. P/S : Love Lisa’s 365 days of Hand Lettering 🙂

  10. I follow Lisa on instagram and I’m a huge fan!
    Years ago I carried a notebook in my bag everyday and I used to draw all the time. Not every drawing was remarkable but they all made me feel better and told something about me. It was good for my art and good for my soul.
    Now I do not doodle so often, but right now I’m gonna take a notebook, and put it again in my bag for an everyday drawing.

  11. I love the advice about sketching and doodling and that if you want to master something you must do it everyday. Jimi Hendrix was always seen playing away on his guitar and he is a legend! Now excuse me while I pick up my pen as its been a while since I last used it. And thank you Michelle for the reminder! Your posts are always so positive and inspiring!

  12. I love Lisa Congdon, thanks so much for sharing the highlights of this presentation with us! I really loved seeing her 365 days of hand lettering. What a great way to learn a new skill and connect with new followers and potential clients at the same time. I’m also inspired to start doodling again on a daily basis!

  13. “Sketch, doodle, and then sketch and doodle some more” It pretty much describes 40% of my day. I’m sure this book is full of wonderful inspiration and advice. It would definetly be an amazing add to the bookshelve.

  14. I completely agree about the social media. For years I was opposed to it, and found it difficult/awkward to express myself through this medium. Yet, on a recent visit overseas it just happened, and I’m amazed at how it completely engages the wider community, more so than I ever thought before. Particularly with being creative, it can sometimes be a challenge to ‘find yourself’ and express yourself the way you picture it in your mind. Lisa has been inspiring and a positive influence in the sense that she just jumps into it and has a go. So right, if you love it, just do it and all will follow!

  15. It’s great to stay ahead of the knock-offs for sure! Good advice. But on top of that, there’s no reason not to take precautions so it’s less likely your images get stolen or mimicked. Good practices are visible copyright notices, only uploading low-res images to the internet, and embedding meta data with your copyright into the images. If you have a fairly small body of work, you could also reverse image search your art using Google and send out Cease & Desist letters where you see people inappropriately using your images. Just some ideas. No reason not to protect yourself in addition to continually innovating and creating a name for yourself so that everyone knows when it’s you.

  16. Sketch, doodle and then sketch and doodle some more… I love Lisa’s advice! After years of never sketching at all, I now sketch every day in a doodly, random sort of way. I carry a hardback A4 sketchbook and a pencil case round with me all the time and even choose handbags based on whether or not they can fit my little art kit in! Doodling is relaxing, creative and sometimes it feels like I’m almost channelling inspiration. And most of my doodles do eventually end up in my textile designs!

  17. Thanks for sharing these inspiring ideas, I like the “Sketch, doodle, and then sketch and doodle some more” and have recently bought a visual diary to jot down thoughts, ideas, images, doodles, these thoughts that can be used for designs later on. Also handy for waiting rooms, queues, late lunch dates … grab that free time to sketch.

  18. It’s hard to pick just one concept, I really like, “Sketch, doodle and then sketch and doodle some more.” But…all of these are golden and I’ll be rereading this and reminding myself regularly of these concepts. Thanks for sharing!

  19. ‘If you want to master something make it part of your everyday’ I just love love love this comment as it is 100% true and something I need to keep reinforcing myself 🙂

  20. I LOVE Lisa Congdon! I wish so badly I could have seen her speak! It really is all about doing something every single day when you want to get better, I’ve been trying to get better about drawing something anything as often as possible. Thanks for the recap and giveaway!

  21. Love the advice Lisa gave. Simple and doable! I may start a new habit of grabbing my dictionary every evening and finding a word and using that as inspiration for some nightly doodling!

  22. Choose me! I really want to start doodling MUCH more often ~ everyday would greatly build my confidence. I love the idea of using the dictionary for inspiration : )

  23. I love the dictionary prompt idea! So simple! I was in the habit of daily sketching, painting, and doodling but I’ve not been a daily doodler for several months now – thank you so much for the reminder to make time to play and doodle every day – it really is a great practice! I am much happier when I am creating daily! and 365 days of lettering?! another awesome idea! Thank you for this great post! 😉

  24. “If you want to master something, make it a part of your day, every day.” I really need to follow this advice. Just loved her Hand lettering project. Inspiring!

  25. Advice regarding copycats is valid….it is hard to face artists who want to rip you off, but you must remember that you are the source of your unique vision and that well is always available to you. Keep drawing from that well and never mind the copycats who will always be one step behind you.

  26. I’ve been following Lisa on Instagram for a while now. I like how consistent she is in all she does. I try to post my work and things I find inspiring on my IG feed, but I’ve been slacking off a little lately, so this is good encouragement to kick it up a notch again! Thanks!

  27. Love the idea of sketching and doodling everyday – making it a part of your life if you want to get better at it and find your style and voice. Love the dictionary idea too. Sometimes one can be stuck for ideas, so what an ingenious way to solve that! Lisa’s talk must have been inspirational – the bits you have shared here can be life changing! Thank you so much!

  28. I love the day to day project, Lisa took on herself. Actually, it is my own experience how well this can work out.

    First: in 2009 I did a 365 photo project and placed a photo everyday (on Flickr) and combined it with a quote from an artist. I learned so much about color, composition and everything implied if it comes to a good image, both by the taken photos and the quotes.

    Second: in 2013 I started a 365 project creating a pattern every day taking a challenge from the journaling book of Noah Scalin (make something 365). I started this project to find out if I would have enough inspiration every day in creating pattern. After only 40 days, I new I had more than enough inspiration and ideas to become a professional as a surface designer.

    And now I am here and I am a professional surface designer. Life changing, that’s a thing for sure. So any one hesitating to start a day by day project. Don’t think about it, just begin and find out what it will bring you.
    Great excerpt, Michelle. Thank you for sharing and of course I am super curious about the book. It’s on my wish list from now 🙂

  29. I love her suggestion to sketch every day! I am trying to become more of a doodler – which is a challenge for me. I was trained as an illustrator and have always worked in a fairly precise, reference/research-driven style and a blank page can sometimes be a stress inducing sight. I was not familiar with Lisa Congdon’s work, so thank you for this wonderful post.

  30. Bam is right! I appreciated her comments on leaving the copying competition in the rear view window. Just be true to yourself and do your thing and improve and improvise off of it. Compete with yourself and don’t worry about others copying your great ideas.

  31. Glad you have Lisa Congdon’s name on the post title because that really caught my eye. I’ve taken her Skillshare class and her Creativelive class and has been following her on Facebook and her blog. I really need to sketch and doodle more. So I will need to use Lisa’s “If you want to master something, make it a part of your day, every day.” for my sketching routine. Maybe I can use the sketches to practice my “free flowing layout” that I just learned from the Ultimate Guide To Repeats. Thanks for the post, Michelle!

  32. Thank you for the idea of looking to the dictionary when we have a block, or need a fresh place to grow an idea!! And love the “If you want to master something, make it a part of your day, every day”!!!

  33. I started doodling every day for the last month and I’m surprised at the results already. Very true what Lisa says about finding your true voice. Would love to dig in deeper on the subject in the book.

  34. I really want to work on sharing my work more. Lisa is so good at this and I know I could learn a lot from the way she shares her work. I follow both her blog and instagram and you can tell that she cares about her community through the quality of her posts.

  35. This is a really inspiring post encouraging self improvement in the day to day. I need to get back into this habit and have lots of new ideas based on your post so thank you for sharing.

  36. I agree with Lisa about practicing something everyday if we want to become good at it. I can’t believe how much my felting skills have improved from making one little patch each day, using a slightly different technique every time. My felt is becoming so light and even. And I also have a lot more confidence that I can make objects to a clients specifications.

  37. Thank you Michelle for this article. I love here idea of ‘Share through social media’. I have been thinking about that for long. I have blog, facebook page, twitter, flickr, instagram account, etc, but did not share my work or process often enough. Let this be my immediate goal to share more, be seen, be heard and to connect !

  38. Great suggestions from Lisa Congdon. I particularly like the idea of using the dictionary for inspiration. That’s something I’ve done since I was a child. We had a huge two-volume old-fashioned dictionary with lots of quirky illustrations in it, which I as a nerdy kid found fascinating! Learning a new word always expands my mind, opening up pathways for new and different ideas. Wonderful post, Michelle. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  39. I’m still working on narrowing down my design work and finding my own unique ‘voice’ / design style and definitely need to doodle more. I think I might follow in Esther’s footsteps and try to make it a 365 day project. Thanks for the reminder! I’ll also have more stuff to post on my instagram then 🙂

  40. I saw part of Lisa’s presentation (on Creative Live (I live on the west coast, and the timing is awful) and enjoyed it a lot. I’ve “known” her for a long time and she is creative and resourceful and works really hard. I think her advice is very helpful, lately it has become evident that drawing and doodling every day helps me with assignments and projects as they come up. It is helping to isolate your style and find a personal approach. I also find her social media discipline inspiring, let’s not be too shy and modest 🙂

  41. Sounds like a fabulous presentation! I definitely have some skills I’d like to improve and working on them every day would be the best thing to do. Thanks for buying an autographed book to give away! 🙂

  42. “Make it part of your day – everyday…..”
    With regards to designing I need to stop thinking about it with great intentions and start doing it again 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration, Gretchen.

  43. I love the idea of the 365 days challenge and practicing something that is important to you and that you want to focus on and get better at every single day. I also loved Lisa’s advice about constantly innovating and trying new things in your artwork. Yes it is a great way to stay ahead of your competition but also I think it is important to keep things fresh and interesting – both for your clients and for yourself. Thank you for sharing your takeaways from Lisa’s presentation, Michelle! Sound like it was a very interesting and inspiring event.

  44. Thanks for the great article Michelle. Lisa really is an inspiration. I love the top tip to sketch and doodle as much as possible, this is definitely a good habit I need to get into!

  45. I completely agree with the importance of doodling and sketching. It seems like simple advice but it really helps in the longterm, and I really believe that it helps you to develop an individual style as well. Some people say that they never have time for their art, but if it runs through your veins then you will always make time for it- even if it’s just a quick doodle during breakfast or in front of the TV at night :). The most profitable image that I’ve ever made was done in front of the TV one night when I was in college 😉

  46. Being reminded to make something a part of your day everyday to get better at it is so absolutely true. What a lovely and inspiring post. Thank you!

  47. What a great read. She is amazing! While the dictionary idea might be a bit daunting, I do love her take on keeping oneself fresh and constantly drawing. Being committed to working on your craft daily – would certainly help a true voice emerge and bring about a new level of confidence in ones work.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  48. Hi 🙂
    I have been thinking a lot about starting something and doing it daily for a while. I have a list of things I might like to work on, but I think it’s high time I pick one and get started!! lol.

  49. I loved reading your blog and am so in awe of Lisa Congdon’s work. You were so lucky to hear her talk. I love to draw and I make a point of drawing everyday. Whether at work or at home in my studio. I always have blank paper to hand and some fineliners. It is amazing when you look at your progress. I feel far more confident now with a black pen, I felt with a pencil I was trying to be too neat and missed out on the creative flow. I just love it now and can definitely see the improvement in my work- I once heard that your talent is like a muscle and it should always be used to improve it. Thank you for sharing Michelle 🙂

  50. I will now make it my goal to make something I want to master a part of my day, every day.

    It’s a great habit to develop and something so simple I wonder why it didn’t occur to me before reading your article.

    Thank you!

  51. These are all great suggestions, Michelle. I think this post is the kick in the butt I needed to get back to making my art after too many years away from it! Thanks for sharing Lisa’s inspiring talk with us!

  52. I believe practice is the way to go when you need to master a topic, a new program, a new service.
    I admire the persistance to do handlettering for a year!

    Michelle: Thanks for sharing the info you got during the conversation with Lisa, and thanks for the great present for your blog readers.
    Good luck to everyone.


  53. Thanks for sharing your experience with us! I am inspired to read her book and motivated to start a new doodle drawing journal.

  54. Michelle, thanks so much for this post. Especially the idea about posting little tidbits everyday. Your encouragement to sketch more has really renewed my work. There is a relaxation that comes with doodling that allows risk taking to occur almost effortlessly.

  55. Thank you for sharing these inspirational “takeaways.” Each one builds upon the other. Sketching, doodling, and making something you want master a part of your day…everyday. How true!

  56. I think the idea of doing something everyday is indeed a key to succes. The more you practice, the more you get to know your own strengths and the more it will all come very natural. The hardest part here is not to become a good designer, but to keep disciplined I believe.

  57. On being “knocked off” she is so spot on. More than a few licensing gurus have had to deal with that and the way to solve it is the same: be amazing! When you’re continuously creating, evolving and growing, your work is recognizable and thieves can’t keep up with you… : )

    a : )

  58. Michelle, Eva here from Down Under thank you so much for sharing your experience during the Lisa Congdon presentation it is very much appreciated……..
    You managed to capture the mood of the presentation perfectly, I wish I could have been there!
    I’ve been working in the textile industry as designer for 30 years, well actually next month will be 30 years and feel very fortunate to have come across your post. “Sketching and Doodling with Lisa Congdon”
    I feel no matter how difficult life is at times I can always count on my creative passion to get me through and whilst I’m at work I completely focus on the work at hand, Lisa has just managed to tickle my passion and remind me to return to my sketchbook and take more interest in my doodles.
    Thank you!

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