Career Tools Recap | Fake It Till You Make It

When eighty young designers turn up smiling for an 8 am event, you know something next-level is about to happen. Last Friday, November 18, illustration star Lisa Congdon and moderator Kate Bingaman-Burt delivered the game-changing session we hoped for at Career Tools: Fake It Till You Make It. Lisa’s strategic advice felt like a Swedish massage for our design brains. Her simple, direct wisdom neutralized the design anxieties and toxic doubts that weigh down our creative process and hinder our design careers.

Lisa likened building a career to an ambitious hike. “There’s this chasm that exists between being a beginner and being legitimate, whatever being legitimate means to you. When you’re at the bottom, that’s when you want to give up. Building a bridge for yourself—I have some suggestions. Continually show up and be super disciplined about that. Because great careers take time to grow” she advised us. “‘Over and over and over again’ will be on my grave stone” she laughed.

Her persistence has paid off in spades. One of her personal projects caught the eye of the MoMA, and in 2012 she illustrated their Design Collection for a series of notebooks. Her current client list includes Lululemon, Harvard University, Martha Stewart Living, Random House, and Chronicle Books, among many others.

Lisa has a uniquely inspiring story of success, starting her illustration career at age 31 after years working with education non-profits. A painting class she took with her brother at UC Berkeley ignited her passion for illustration, and she spent the next six years finding her voice as an artist. In 2007, Lisa went part time at her non-profit gig and started a gallery and gift shop called Rare Device. Lisa was an early adopter on Flickr, promoting her work and building a network with other artists to show at her gallery, including Kate Bingaman-Burt.

Begin Anyhow

“Staying engaged with your community is the surest way to getting the work that you want”, Lisa advised us. “If I could encapsulate the secrets to success, it’s relationships with other people in the industry, even outside the industry. Everyone is a potential client or collaborator.” Lisa’s blog, ‘Today Is Going To Be Awesome’ features interviews and podcasts with other artists she admires. “I get genuinely excited by other people’s work … we should be celebrating other people’s good work.”  

Bonjour Cats

Wrapping up with a Q&A session, Lisa and Kate fielded a question about pricing solidarity with other designers and artists. Lisa often fields pricing questions from designers she mentors, and offered insights about how to quote on their work. “When illustrators and designers accept jobs and do work for less that what they should be paid, it is not good for anyone. Remember that when you ask for what you deserve, you are doing our industry and our community a service.” Kate added that it was helpful to her to share work space with other designers—allowing her to compare notes on pricing with other designers that know her well. 

Lisa standing in front of store design she did for the Lululemon shop at Washington Square Mall.

When asked for advice on growing your personal design or illustration style, Lisa and Kate suggested choosing a daily project that “makes you a little bit nervous”, and challenging yourself to stick with it till it bears fruit. Lisa  “would get up everyday and I would ask my agent for assignments … those assignments turned into my first personal projects and contributed to my success. And by success I mean people knowing who I was and hiring me to do work for them. “I now have a client list of over sixty-five, even seventy clients, and that’s all happened in the last ten years.”

I found listening to these two ladies deeply encouraging. Lisa and Kate have mastered profitable design life, and on that morning their success felt contagious. When the session wrapped up, there was a palpable burst of energy in the room—we all realized the power of the group assembled and what the future for design and Portland can look like if we have each others’ backs. Lisa and Kate understand the simple truth: it’s easier to be persistent when you have a network to support you. Cheers to AIGA for creating so many opportunities to stay connected and collaborate here in Portland.

Fake It Till You Make It @52 Limited

Learn more from Lisa at! She recently launched a new series of online video classes she is developing and rolling out in 2016-2017. Her first video course is available now: Idea Generation: Expanding Your Creative Repertoire & Finding Your Voice.

Find Kate’s work at She is also an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Portland State University, for all you aspiring art students. It goes without saying that you should send her a question or two!

Take Away Strategies For Career Success:

– It’s easier to be persistent when you have a network of designers to support you. Build relationships on social media with other artists and designers to get support, collaborate, and refer each other for work.

– Play the journalist. Behind every artist and designer’s career, there is an amazing story. Follow the work of people you admire, reach out to them, interview them about how they maintain their career momentum.

– Give back to your community and volunteer your time at events like Design Week. Joining committees and boards will energize you and grow your design wisdom exponentially. AIGA is always looking for great volunteers!

-Charge what you deserve for your work. When it comes to a sustainable career, pricing your work correctly is essential. Charging a legitimate fee will benefit both you, and support the design community around you, building value for design skills, and protecting other designers from being undervalued and exploited. Check out  ‘Ladies Get Paid’ on Slack as a resource.

– Keep up with emerging technology and portfolio platforms by taking classes either in person or online. It’s a great way to meet people and engage in your design community. Grab a Multnomah County library card and get free access to classes through the library website.

Illustrations courtesy Lisa Congdon

Photos by Darius Kuzmickas

Copyedit by Matthew Miller

By Marilee Sweeney
Published November 26, 2016