The State of the United Plates

Article written: February 9, 2011
By: John Holcomb

View the project here.

The United Plates has been kind to me. The idea was a gift from God that popped into my head on a cold winter afternoon exactly three years ago. The randomness that originally drew me to the idea is what I still love about the sporadic, unexpected success of this little series. When I started, I didn’t know if anyone would get it, but I thank everyone who has.

I’m always striving to do things better, I’ve worked through the series twice, making new versions of many of the prints. The series has received many national features from the likes of Food Network, ReadyMade and National Geographic.

However, I’ve noticed one continually disconcerting comment that people make. Maybe I’ll never truly clear out the misconception and maybe it’s that misconception that I’ve grown to love. There’s an element of mystery in the project that some people will just never see past. It’s what we artists so ostentatiously define using two simple words – “It’s art.”

But the misconception that is voiced by a few is reciprocated with praises by many. I’m humbled by the number of messages I receive from total strangers. People send pictures, comments, even thank you notes. I’m humbled most by the fact that a thousand people have chosen to hang my pictures on their (likely kitchen) walls and give prints as gifts to friends. Now e-mails are starting with “So I was at my friends house and saw your prints…”

“So what about this misconception” you ask?

A few people ask or make statements in their blog posts about why “such-and-such” state doesn’t correlate with “this-or-that” food that it is known for. I answer that quite simply – the food didn’t fit the shape.

The main thing I want viewers to note when taking in the series is that each print intentionally has nothing to do with what the state may export. I didn’t make a feel-good classic Americana series, I made a “What’s it look like?” series. Originally I actually drew most of the states boundaries from memory. I was a bit of a state fact nerd in elementary school!

The prints that do correlate nicely to a state export are coincidental, though I figured if Georgia was a paper bag of something it might as well be peaches. Many states’ geographical boundaries look nothing like the food they may be known for.

While it’s true that I had to take artistic liberties and creatively fit some foods into the geographical boundary, I believe that none of them are an outlandish stretch. Maryland was obviously the most difficult state to work with, but let’s face it, the whole project is an exercise in fantasy. It’s meant to be fun and tongue-in-cheek, not some dry commentary on state foods of American industry… or an American obsession with food. It was created for entertainment.

So if you’re willing to look beyond the traditional connections you may have with your state’s produce (like Wisconsin cheese) I think you will enjoy the art. If you do, “Say Hey!” or buy a print.

Or read about and see how I make these into canvas wraps. Then buy one here.

Note about my methodology:
Each print is a reproduction of an original painting I created. I started each piece with small pencil sketch thumbnails, working out the idea. Then each piece was drawn in ink (Tul pens rule!). I use found textures like old newspapers as well as swatches of painted textures I create in my studio, typically acrylic on found/recycled paper. I scan those elements in and then each piece was then completed digitally.

I chose to finish the pieces digitally because my main focus for this series was color. I wanted every piece to be harmonious in color and working digitally allows the most OCD tendencies in my workflow to be fully realized.

One Response to “The State of the United Plates”

  1. Aleksandra says:

    I saw the prints on DailyCandy and really love them – they’re very creative and interesting. They are now on a mental list of things I want to give as gifts…Do you have a mailing list? If so, I would love to be on it.