When it comes to nursery rhymes, Doug Hansen prefers to think globally and act locally. Maybe you grew up thinking of your favorite rhymes as universal — of Humpty Dumpty tumbling from some indeterminate, vaguely medieval wall and Jack jumping over any old candlestick any-old-where. But Hansen, a prolific illustrator and associate professor of art at Cal State Fresno, imagines those classic characters performing their quirky pratfalls above the Golden Gate Bridge, at Hearst Castle, in Klamath National Forest, and amid other unmistakably Golden State locales. The characters are locals, too: Hansen's Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe is a quail, his Jack and Jill are bighorn sheep. New from Berkeley's Heyday Books, Hansen's lively Mother Goose in California helps young readers learn the alphabet and ecology via those beloved rhymes. For instance, B is for blackbird, as in four and twenty of them baked in a pie. Hansen's lush illustration shows the pastry steaming away in pussy-willow-studded wetlands. Gazing down at it, wearing chefs' hats and holding baking implements, are two red-winged blackbirds: a common sight, sans hats, at California creeks and lakes. (Apparently this pair has just baked two dozen of their pals.)
Among many previous projects, Hansen was commissioned by a historical association to spend nine years illustrating some of Fresno's loveliest old homes. That experience helped him celebrate his hometown — and his creative process for the project reveals that being a professional artist requires much more than just impromptu sketching.
"Prepared with a list of homes from all parts of the neighborhood, I would start with a guided walking tour of the neighborhood," he recounts. These walks helped him to determine "which vantage point would give the best view of each home. The goal was to reveal and highlight the architectural features that made each home distinctive. I would take reference photos and use them as the starting point for my drawings. A table-mounted overhead projector was used to speed up the initial blocking out of each drawing," Hansen remembers. "Then I used a T-square and triangle to correct distortions. The next step was to return to the street with the pencil drawings and fill in all the fine detail that wasn't visible in the photos. Sometimes I'd prune a tree to see a hidden chimney, gate or porch or I'd fill in with flowers" — exercising a bit of artistic license — "if the blooms had faded."
Having thrived in the late-1970s/early-1980s underground-comics scene, Hansen has drawn for the Fresno Bee for nearly 25 years. Among other Bee work, he illustrates a monthly column by local farmer David "Mas" Masumoto, author of the landmark 1995 book Epitaph for a Peach. Hansen presents Mother Goose in California at the Lawrence Hall of Science (Centennial Drive, Berkeley) on April 6. 1 p.m. LHS.Berkeley.edu
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