Patrick Bonato is an Austrian illustrator, graphic designer, and comics maker. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency for the month of May 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.
I owe one of my artistically most intense and helpful experiences to a moment of clarity, luck and just trying. I had been travelling and working abroad for half a year already, mainly to take a time-out from my client’s jobs as an illustrator and graphic designer and to focus on my personal work, which are comics. I hesitated on what to do next, but I knew what I wanted: an artist residency for comic artists especially. I tried my luck by just typing exactly that in Google.
One of the two (!) results to consider was the Rowhouse Residency, which appeared more and more fitting and interesting, the more I found out about it. I mailed them – the always helpful good soul Sally Ingraham to be more precise – and from then on everything went fast. Only two weeks later I found myself in Pittsburgh for a one month comics residency!
I arrived there in the middle of my Toubab story (above), and felt I needed some guidance and professional feedback on it, as in my education as a graphic designer and illustrator in Austria and Switzerland I never have experienced any training in comics. So the first two weeks I proceeded to create new pages of this story and showed them to Frank and Sally. Frank helped me a great deal to understand and analyze what I had been doing to that point mostly intuitively. He also revealed to me some influences of mine that I had not fully been aware of and partly even where the inspiration to my inspirations came from! So I basically got a crash course in comic’s history and traditions and left every conversation with Frank full of motivation and inspiration and a huge pile of comic books to read from his seemingly infinite library. I could have spent the whole month just reading comics and was thankful for the rainy days, making it easier just to dig in and lock the outside world away for a while.
In these first feedback sessions with Frank and in my conversations with Sally, we often talked about Frank’s “magical method” using index cards and about the online course he’s giving. At first, I adapted a modified version of the index cards to the ongoing Toubab comic and was already enthusiastic about the freedom and ease it unleashed in the drawing process. Therefore, as I felt ready to start a new story, one that had been on my mind for a long time already, I asked Frank and Sally to do the Comics Course in the second half of my stay. And that’s when I felt my residency was really taking off and getting intense. My goal was to accomplish an 8-week-course in two weeks!
I decided to simply follow instructions and completely trust my masters Frank and Sally. Which proved to be very helpful, because all I had to really think about were my drawings and the story, whereas any formal decision (format, grid, number of pages and so on) was already given. The first two assignments propelled me to a formerly unknown speed of creation, that I had not even thought to be possible. Although tough tasks, they allowed me to access a spontaneous, natural flow of my thoughts and ideas about the story. And I’ve finally realized how much more inspiring and fun that was, compared to planning everything in advance and then just executing the plan. I am not exaggerating when I say it was a revelation that really changed my ways of working.
I managed to complete the 16-page comic just before the end of my residency (a teaser can be seen above!) and had accomplished something way more quickly and way better and more fluidly than anything I had worked on before. I really owe that to Frank’s method, and his and Sally’s guidance through the course. I appreciated a lot having the possibility to have real conversations during the process, being able to ask questions, discuss things further and pick the comic books that related to them.
Another very influential and unique experience to me was to see Frank work. While I was there, he was very occupied with his new book (which I hope will be available by spring 2018 as Frank assumed – learn French to read it, Americans!). So while it was not always easy to get to see him and catch some feedback on my work in this situation, at the same time it taught me how important it is, in the process of creation, to sometimes just retreat from the outside world and ignore it’s needs and wishes. I personally consider this a lesson for a lifetime, and one I constantly should remind myself of (i.e. thinking of how persistent and reckless some clients sometimes can be!). I had to travel for months and to three continents to finally get some peace and tranquility from clients, friends and family (no offense to you all, I like most of you clients and love you friends and family) – but I’ll need to find a way to just focus on my work when back to a more “normal” life.
A few more things I want to mention: the Rowhouse and Pittsburgh in general felt like a new home by the end of my stay. It’s a good place to work but also to take a break from it. I appreciated a lot that Sally introduced me to Bill Boichel and the Copacetic Comics store, to the monthly Pittsburgh Comics Salon and the lovely people who form that group. And that we had this fun ride around town and – of course one of the highlights – a canoe trip with her and Frank.
I am deeply thankful for this great experience and the many things I’ve learned about the art of comics and life, and I thank Sally and Frank in the first place for that, and everyone I had the luck to get to know during my month in Pittsburgh. I hope to be back soon!