I have been working on this piece off and on since 6/08 and had the idea and reference material even earlier than that. The idea never left my mind, but I just needed a good chunk of time to devote to it. Yet I learned along the way that I could work on it in small 5 minute bits as well. I also discovered 2 things: 1. It didn't matter what kind of music I listened to as I worked on the piece (since I was working on it close to Christmas time I was listening to Christmas music), and 2. I could work on artwork in public without losing my creative zone (probably because so much of the legwork was completed before I did the work in public). Finally this year I did get that big chunk of time and I worked on the piece pretty much nonstop for 6-7 hours a day for 2 weeks. This was the push I needed to get it done, and it is finished, as of 1/10. If I had just worked on it from idea to sketch to finish, it would have only taken me about 1 month. The piece is 13x28. I signed it upside down so that my signature looks more like a design element of the work.
The combination of the American flag and slave ship motifs calls to mind the friezes of ancient Rome and Egypt, or the black figures of Greek pottery.
My original idea was to have Store room with stars in it, stars that could be read to identify this flag as “American” rather than literally counted out as 50 stars. But it didn’t look right and people kept asking what Store Room meant.
This was the original idea as I wrote it down years ago: “Slave ship of men wearing orange jumpers entitled Prison or Shackled or something.”
It was a happy accident or coincidence that a knotted flag is called a waft or weft flag, and of old was displayed as a sign of emergency or distress at sea.
Each man in this piece is an individual. Each one has a story to tell. So they all had to be hand-drawn individually, with their own uniqueness. No two are exactly the same. They deserved to be rendered that way.
This piece went through several name changes. A few titles I played around with: Today, Statistics, The New Slavery, etc. Then after I finished the piece and told my wife I wasn’t sure what to call it, she suggested “One Way Ticket.” The title emphasizes the link of the present to the past; how the slave ship was a one way ticket to America and you weren’t coming back the way you came, and how the root of the minority prison problem today can be traced back to that origin. I decided to go with her title.
At some point I thought of this as a series. The first one was going to be a slave ship on the flag, then the next one was going to just be the bodies, no flag/ship, and the last one was going to be this one with the prisoners/slave ship/flag, including one white and one Hispanic prisoner. Statistically there are more blacks in prison than other ethnic groups and I wanted to emphasize that.
My original intention of creating the piece was to illustrate how American prisons are overcrowded with a minority population, how the whole issue of prisons and the treatment of prisoners in America has this country in distress, and that it was symbolic of a type of slavery.
It’s interesting because the two Hispanic people who saw this piece thought that it symbolized immigration or immigrants being sent back to their country on a ship. It could work as that message also.
Here are a few blog entries that describe the process involved with creating this work:
“I've been preparing to start a new piece of art that will be based on slavery. It will present slavery as a metaphor for something else. That is the only detail I am giving at this point, but I invite you to stay tuned as I share the progress and process of making it. I had this idea a few years ago but now is the right time for it to come forth. When I prepare to create some of my work, I usually base it on a thumbnail sketch of an idea I've captured on paper and filed away. I do online research on the subject. I try to find books that I have that reference the subject. After I'm satisfied with the research I begin my sketch, deciding how big or how small the work should be, how it will relate to the edges of the paper, and laying down the basic shapes in the work. Right now I have finished my sketch and will create a more finished drawing that I will base the actual work on. This time I will be using one color, and I haven't decided yet on how I want to apply the color to the scratchboard. I thought of one method so far but it may not be archival, and part of the impact of this piece will be the color I use. So far I have decided that the piece should be 14x30 but that may change as I work on it. I need it to be at least that size so the detail can be seen.”
Starting out: the finished ship sketch on tracing paper. Adding the knot for the flag will be next -
“I'm about 50% through my drawing, and it is coming along fine. As I work on it I think about what people's reaction to it may be, and I wonder if it has been done before. I haven't seen anything that looks like what I'm doing so I expect it to have the desired effect when I'm done. As I work on it I can tell it will be a gripping image once it's done. In order to completely finish the drawing I'm going to need another reference picture for the flag knot, or set up the shot I need and draw it.”
“Did not make as much progress on the tracing but I am about 75% done with it, so I am happy that it is closer to being finished. I work on it when I can. Some days I only get a few minutes; other days I have a little while to work on it. It could be frustrating but I won't let it be.”
“Part of the image involves a knot. I haven't drawn a knot in fabric for quite a while, so I was concerned with how it was going to look. I knotted a piece of fabric for reference and began to draw. At first it was hard to keep from drawing on autopilot. My brain said, "Oh, ok. I have a general idea of what knots should look like, so instead of drawing what I see I'll draw a knot from memory." I could tell this was starting to happen so I forced myself to really see the knot and draw it. Then my brain said, "Ok, now that you've decided to draw what you see, it has to look exactly like it." That really wasn't my goal either. If it's too perfect it won't work with the rest of the drawing. In the end I enhanced my drawing with the knots from memory, while editing what I captured from the knot in front of me. At first I didn't like how it came out. But after I left it alone for awhile and came back, it looked just right.”
“It is emotionally draining working on this piece and I think that is why it is going so slowly. If I can stay on course then I will get it completed.”
“I'm 95% done with my drawing; I just have to add the final touches to it and then I can make a value sketch. I'm pretty certain already how the piece will look even without the value sketch, but I will still do it just to be sure. I'd rather not have any surprises later on when I'm working on the finished piece.”
“This week I was able to complete the drawing and rub the back of it with a pencil. That way I can use it to transfer the image to the scratchboard. The next step is to trace the image onto the scratchboard and then scratch it out. As I trace the image I will make minor corrections and changes as I see fit, so it won't be an exact copy. By the time this art is done I will have drawn and redrawn the image 3-4 times.”
The image traced onto scratchboard and beginning scratches:
The image completed on scratchboard:
Adding the orange prison jumpsuits to each man, using orange acrylic paint:
I carefully scratched out each man's outfit, leaving thin lines of scratchboard to separate the arms and the pants so I could paint in the orange jumpsuits:
Progress being made: