Adam Griffiths – Rowhouse Residency Report

Adam Griffiths is a comics artist from Takoma Park, MD. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency January 29th-February 4th 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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The focus for my residency was completion – this is to say, I had a project I was interested in finishing during my week in Pittsburgh, and Frank seemed to help me make this theme more concrete.

My projects for the week were:

  • Allow the Rowhouse Residency hosts to see and provide feedback on the graphic novel that I have been writing for three years.
  • Finish drawing a mini-comic that I’d begun last summer.
  • Work on character, setting, and script concepts for a new secret project.
  • Follow my usual comics schedule, which includes time set aside for exercise, freestyle drawing, and a weekly illustration in an unfamiliar environment.

Did I accomplish all of these tasks? Let’s start.

SATURDAY

I arrived in Pittsburgh around 1 AM on Saturday night. I came early because I wanted to poke around Pittsburgh. My Rowhouse Residency wasn’t supposed to begin until Monday, so I had found an AirBnB that was a 10-minute walk from downtown Pittsburgh, and stayed there for two nights.

Since I’d never been to Pittsburgh before, I wanted to see as much as I could but also stay focused on art. The ToonSeum was at the top of my list, followed by the Andy Warhol Museum, and then my usual wandering, which is when I take photographs and sketch. It’s a bit like a fugue state when I do this; I don’t always schedule that, but I consider it to be work, and when it begins I sort of just know, and become less reserved about taking snapshots of whatever interests me, or stopping to sit somewhere and draw.

For breakfast I walked east on Forbes Ave, up Wylie Ave to Grandma B’s, a sort of diner greasy spoon. A lot of interesting buildings along this route; I stopped to watch a group of very young-looking investors talking to a man in front of the deserted New Granada Theater, which was under some type of development. I also stopped in front of the shuttered Crawford Grill, once a center of black social life in the Hill District.

The New Grenada Theater and Crawford Grill

I didn’t really know what to order at Grandma B’s, but the staff was really nice and wanted to know where I was from. I got some great snaps on the way up the hill.

Shuttered snow cone stand

After breakfast I walked back down the hill to The ToonSeum, only a 45 minute walk. The main exhibit area was partially set up for a Will Eisner show – still I saw some really lovely works, including another Eisner comic titled Harry Karry, which was about spies.

The ToonSeum courtyard and part of the exhibit inside

I introduced myself to John F. Kelly, Director of The ToonSeum, who was in a meeting with his landlord. While I waited for his meeting to end, I happened upon a bunch of old cartooning instruction books, and I went through all of them. There was actually quite a bit of good (albeit dated) advice on how to structure your career as a cartoonist; I worked in the fine art gallery world for about ten years as an administrator. Every five or so years a helpful book is published about creating your own career as a fine artist. With the cartoonist version of such a book, there seemed to be much more structure and visualization of the career path, which, being that cartoonists’ careers were largely appended to the newspaper and media world at first, made plenty of sense.

Come of the cartooning books in The ToonSeum’s collection

I was able to speak with John F. Kelly briefly. I asked if there was an archive in the basement and if I could come back and have a look at it. He said there was sort of an archive, but sure. I scheduled a Tuesday visit, but ended up not returning later because I was so busy drawing.

After that, I walked over to the Andy Warhol Museum. I wasn’t ready for SO MANY floors of Andy Warhol. I enjoyed the screen prints, but I wasn’t so impressed with his early drawings. I have a very “Italo Calvino writerly approach” to visual artists’ early work – which is to say, Invisible Cities (written by Calvino) was an incredible feat of early work – short stories that are concise, that point towards future works of the creative person in question (I also pretty much lump artists, writers, musicians and performers all together). One of the wall plaques stated that Warhol had a peculiar skill for “increasing his income,” which I found strange.

I went into the video lounge and watched ALL of the television commercials that Warhol ever produced. I wanted to do this because I have seen quite a few of Warhol’s films, own a few of them, and I admire the aggressive boringness of Warhol’s Dracula. The commercials, however, were artless. Should I have been surprised?

Items at the Warhol

Evening was coming, and I’d read that the Strip District was an interesting place to go on a Saturday night. I started walking in that direction and came upon EIDE’S, a 3-floor comics emporium. The long-box comics selection there was one of the best I’d ever seen; by the time I went to another floor, I was already plotting out how to convince the owners to let me set up a home somewhere in the store. Not gonna try that, but when I checked out in the basement, the clerk gave me a ‘bonified nerd’ discount! Then, the clerk on the main floor was also kind enough to direct me to a decent place to have dinner. I walked back to my AirBnB that night, chock-full of comics-luv.


SUNDAY

Sunday morning I decided to meet up with Sally Ingraham from Comics Workbook. I walked up Forbes Avenue to Wylie Avenue again in order to get to the Polish Hill neighborhood. This ended up being a much longer walk than I’d anticipated; I had a suitcase full of clothes, art supplies, and books.

Polish Hill

I had breakfast and made a few sketches at Lili’s Cafe, a coffee shop located below Copacetic Comics in Polish Hill. I haven’t been around punky vegan kids for a while, but one young lady was drawing and I gave her my card. Once I finished eating, I went upstairs. Copacetic Comics was a gem of an establishment. I looked around the store, got more comics and discussed the new George Herriman biography by Michael Tisserand with the owner, Bill Boichel.

After this, Sally Ingraham took me on a driving tour of Pittsburgh. We saw the sprawling Allegheny Cemetery and took in some views.

Allegheny Cemetery and the view from Mt Washington

It was a relief to finally get to the Rowhouse and put down my suitcase. I was ready to begin working. I started by setting out all of the books I’d brought with me, plus the new ones recently acquired. Then I wrote out my schedule for the week by hand and posted it next to my drawing seat in the kitchen. I spent the rest of the night finishing thumbnails for the mini-comic.

Rowhouse living-room floor library

Checking off my schedule later in the week

MONDAY & TUESDAY

The first two days I worked in an isolated fever, completing my weekly illustration, a jumbo post-it note sketch, lots of small drawings, and several pages of the mini-comic. While I hadn’t explicitly stated that I wished to be left alone, I knew I wouldn’t hone in on the work with tons of distractions. I TURNED OFF MY PHONE during the daytime. I had gone to the grocery store on Sunday evening, which was conveniently right across the street so no excuses to go anywhere.

Giant post-it note drawing and weekly “unfamiliar location” drawing

WEDNESDAY

Toiled in isolation this day as well. At this point, I felt very concentrated on completing the work, and was very satisfied with the quality of the drawings. Part of focusing on completion has nothing to do with how fast you’re working – it’s more like being a kind of live television actor with floor marks that you need to hit during scenes. If you miss the mark, or a line, you play through anyway, and plot to sneak in the part you meant to express later.

I would work on a page for as long as I could – if I hit a dead end, I’d go to the mini-library I’d set up on the floor in the front room and look through comics until I was ready to start working again. The privacy of the Rowhouse made that feasible – I just kind of tore all over the place unrelentingly, joyfully.

Over dinner at Frank’s house, which was next door, I spoke with Frank about his current work, which was set up across from the dinner table. Frank read what I had completed of my mini-comic. I only had about three more pages to go at that point. Also, I left my graphic novel with Frank overnight. While looking it over, he insisted that I should go ahead and print what I had done already. This was a step I needed to make – get comfortable with – so we discussed how I’d go about getting my mini-comic printed first. I have completely drawn my graphic novel at least 5 times, and have worked the script over entirely, maybe about 9 times. Working in my edits and really being rather fussy. I am very pleased with the version I’m working on – momentum-wise I’m very good at getting myself to work, but I’m very critical of what I do!

It was useful to change my frame of mind from the creative work to the production work – just the type of shock I needed. In fact, in one of my old art world jobs, I’d been responsible for printing a gargantuan full color 400-page artist catalog of fine art works for two years in a row. So, while I was familiar with most of the printing terminology, I’d never ever had to apply any of that thinking to my own work. Having to consider printing the comic renewed my enthusiasm for sharing the work. I’ve got 150 pages drawn and need to get it out there!

Detail from the mini-comic mostly drawn during the Rowhouse Residency

THURSDAY

Finished drawing the mini-comic on this day. 40 pages. I drew 35 of them during the residency. For the rest of the day, I worked on various sketches, including some development work for a new comics project. I invited Sally and Frank over to the Rowhouse for dinner Friday night. For dinner, I cooked herbed chicken, mashed potatoes and salad. We talked about the residency and my further involvement in Pittsburgh.

Grasshopper car drawing

FRIDAY

My last day. Continued developing my new comics project.

Took a late afternoon drive with Frank through Braddock, and the rest of the Steel Valley. Frank is a Pittsburgh native who has lived in other parts of the country, but is now settled here running Comics Workbook. He told me about his family’s history in Pittsburgh, and then we stopped at Jerry’s Records, where I got LPs by Gene Loves Jezebel and China Crisis.

The statue outside the Edgar Thomson Steel Works in Braddock, PA, and inside Jerry’s Records

I’m hoping to return for PIX, Pittsburgh’s Indy comic con, in April. After returning home on Saturday, I’ve since put myself in conversation with four printers about the mini-comic. In keeping with the speed at which I’m now working, I’ve averaged coloring pages at about 2-5 a day. So I’m more than sure I’ll have my first mini-comic printed by then!

Colored drawing of the week, finished at home

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Check out more work by Adam Griffiths on his website, follow him on Instagram, and look for his new mini-comic this spring!

For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

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One response to “Adam Griffiths – Rowhouse Residency Report”

  1. Enjoyed reading this report Adam. I wish I could be as self-regimented as you. I spit out my coffee when you said you drew your graphic novel 5 times to completion and are still working on it

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