At-home residency: Apila Pepita Miettinen

In April, Kone Foundation awarded a three-month work grant to 185 professional artists for a home residency that takes place in the grantee's own home. Through the home residence grant, the Foundation aims to support artists whose job opportunities have disappeared with the corona pandemic. Over the spring, we will introduce the artists and their work in their home residences on our website. First up is comic artist Apila Pepita Miettinen.
During their residency, Apila Pepita Miettinen will be working on their graphic novel Ujo (Shy). Photo: Lauri Kaivo-oja

“Hi, I’m comic artist Apila Pepita. I will be working on my graphic novel Ujo (Shy) during Kone Foundation’s home residency. Ujo is an autobiographical comic novel about shyness and the fear of social situations. It’s based on my memories of social situations that shaped my personality.

During the residency, I’ve been focusing on the visual storytelling of my comics. I want to break up the traditions of comic narration and create a new kind of storytelling that’s my own. In the graphic novel Ujo, the narrative is fragmented and non-linear. Silence and not speaking play an important role in it. My aim is to include as little text as possible and mainly tell the story with pictures.

Even before the pandemic, I worked mostly at home. I’m very introverted, which is why I’m best able to focus on my work when I don’t have to talk to anyone. I don’t mind staying at home; in fact, I really enjoy it. I’ve felt much more energetic and productive during the pandemic. Having very little social interaction leaves me with more energy for work.

Illustration in progress for the Ujo comic novel. Image: Apila Pepita Miettinen

At times, I’ve found it challenging to schedule my work. Various everyday obligations don’t go away even during the home residency, and I can’t completely break away from them and focus on my graphic novel. Sometimes I get distracted by other causes of stress. If I haven’t slept well or something’s bothering me, it’s hard to get into a creative state of mind.

I try to take advantage of moments of inspiration when they come and draw as many sketches of cartoon strip pages as possible while they last. Creating the page layouts for the graphic novel is the hardest part of the process and has me thinking carefully about the narrative of my graphic novel and how to advance as a visual storyteller. Pushing myself into an unknown territory is hard but necessary work. Fortunately, I don’t have a problem with drawing the novel and taking it towards completion in a less than perfect creative space, as long as I have good sketches to help me. At the same time, I can listen to podcasts while I draw the final comic strips based on the sketches.

All of us artists in our home residences have been divided into small groups, and the group members meet online on Slack once a week. The artists take turns presenting their work, and the rest of us can make comments and ask questions. It’s been refreshing to share ideas with artists from other fields. My group has many professional artists specialising in music, sound and theatre, all of which are areas unknown to me. At first, I was a little nervous about what these amazing artists would think about my cartoon strips. Luckily, everyone has been very friendly and supportive. They have given me a fresh perspective on my graphic novel, which I might not have achieved if I had just stayed in my own cartoon bubble.

Miettinen continues to develop their own unique narrative style for comics. Image: Apila Pepita Miettinen

I have also set up a feedback and support group with my cartoonist colleagues who are working on their own long comic strip stories at the same time. While the artists in the home residency group have given me a perspective from outside the world of comics, my cartoonist colleagues provide me with feedback from within it. It’s the best of both worlds and both points of view are very important to me.

The comments the home residence members and my colleagues have made have given me new appreciation for my project with the Ujo graphic novel. Hearing how many people can identify with shyness and the fear of social situations both warms my heart and saddens me. It’s awful that so many people have experienced the shame connected to shyness and felt anxious in social situations. Now I understand how important this graphic novel is going to be.

After the home residency, I’m going to finish my graphic novel and continue to develop my own unique narrative style for comic strips. My plan is to complete the Ujo graphic novel by the autumn of 2021.”

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