If you haven’t heard of Doug Hansen, you are in for an artistic treat.
Fresno is full of surprises. Dig around and you’ll find a treasure trove of quirky culture here, and no one knows it better than local illustrator/author Doug Hansen. However, it wasn’t always that way. When he first arrived in Fresno, he was 18 and “inclined to make fun” of his new hometown. Eventually it began to inspire his artwork to the extent that he was awarded the Fresno City and County Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Award. He’s done so many Fresno-centric illustrations that it’s impossible for me to list them all. Some may scoff at our town’s aesthetic, but Mr. Hansen has proved it’s a work of art.
The Attractive Average
Mr. Hansen has been able to create a compelling case for the places that don’t pop up on TripAdvisor. During his time at the Fresno Bee, he illustrated 265 drawings of ordinary buildings around Fresno. You can find some of these in the Fresno Sketchbooks. Many of the buildings in these books look rather “regular”, but have a rich, hidden history. Others are a great reminder that Fresno is a wealth of Mid Century Modern architecture (so take that Los Angeles hipsters!). Some are just quirky. If you want to develop a greater appreciation for Fresno, order a copy of that book, grab a friend, and go on a local architectural treasure hunt.
Instead of driving around town and looking for landmarks, I was able to interview Mr. Hansen on his work and all things “FresYes”, (to get the highlight reel, so to speak).
I asked Mr. Hansen about the Fresno Sketchbooks and he thinks people enjoy them because, “It documented (and validated) the familiar, commonplace things around us and held them up to say, “Hey, look closer at this-it’s beautiful in it’s own, peculiar way.” Landmarks, buildings, and other such places are precious to each of us for entirely personal reasons, so I invite every Fresnan to picture their own special places.”
Favorite Fresno Haunts
Since he’s done so much Fresno-related work, I asked Mr. Hansen what his favorite locale in town is and he said, “The Fresno Watertower is our go-to icon of Fresno. It’s distinctive and has a great story behind it’s design. Inside you can appreciate the cool beehive-shaped brickwork that supports the water tank. At ground level is a passage built within the circuit of the walls that is illuminated by those “porthole” windows. On the other hand, I love the Fresno individuality exemplified by three hair styling businesses I illustrated: Bobbi’s Hair Hut (in a Tower District Quonset hut), the Headhunter Barber (formerly near Cedar and Ashlan), and Mr. Fro’s Barbershop, and I’m pretty sure that Mr. Fro’s is still in business.”
It’s always fun to interview local experts. I’m thankful that someone has taken the time to discover the hidden treasures in this town while simultaneously forcing me to google “quonset hut“.
Recently, Mr. Hansen has published three children’s books, and all are based in California. “Mother Goose in California” was his first and you can find large illustrations from it around Storybook Land. Then came my favorite, “Aesop in California”. His most recent is “California, the Magic Island”. There are valley subjects in all three of his books and “Magic Island” includes a special page of Fresno culture. In it, there’s an illustration of Baldassarre Forestiere working in his tunnel home. If you haven’t visited the Forestiere Gardens yet, Mr Hansen recommends the night tour. Other pages of his books highlight locations that are familiar to many of us Fresnans, with each illustration referencing something uniquely Californian. I have a copy of each of his children’s books and I highly recommend them. They are, in a word, gorgeous.
It’s obvious that Doug Hansen has an affinity for Fresno, so I asked him what he would miss the most about our town if he had to move. He responded with a sentiment many of us echo when he said, “I would miss the celebrated agricultural roots of our city (raisins, figs, almonds, grapes and citrus), Fresno’s unpretentiousness, our particular mix of people from all over the world, and the look of sunlight through palms and eucalyptus on sun-baked earth.”
Finally I asked him if he has advice for being more involved in our community. Mr. Hansen suggested, “Jump in. Especially do what appeals to you. I admit that at the beginning of my career I needed encouragement. It took a classmate at Fresno State to convince me to apply to the Daily Collegian paper as a cartoonist. Looking back I can’t believe I had the guts to put my shaky, unrefined, artwork out there but the four-year experience gave me a whole new image of myself and what I could be. My entire illustration career began there.”
Currently Doug Hansen is collaborating on a book with local children’s author Karen Moore. He is illustrating her story called, “Pen the Tale, Oogie” about a bear trying to write a story (sounds relatable to me). It should be available in November or December. He also has plans to create another California-centric children’s book, but that is still in the development phase. Until then, be sure to check out doughansen-art.com to see where Mr. Hansen is signing books and speaking in the area.
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