The south wall of the room in Doug Hansen’s house, which has been converted into an office, is loaded with so many books it could be a satellite of the public library. Despite all of the volumes that line the shelves, Hansen easily finds the book he needs to illustrate a point while talking about his new children’s book, “California, the Magic Island” ($17, Haydey).
He points to illustrations by Lucille and H.C. Hollings in a tattered copy of “Little Folks of Other Lands.”
“The illustrations are the third leg of my inspiration for my new book,” Hansen says. “This books is filled with gorgeous, glowing pictures.”
The other two legs are the works of Czech Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha and Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin.
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Those influences are important to “California, the Magic Island,” Hansen’s third children’s book. The book looks at Queen Calafia, the heroine of a 16th century Spanish romance that tells the tales of an island overflowing with gold that is populated by Amazon-like women. Hansen takes that story and gives it a California spin by having Calafia furious that others have taken the name of her island. Only the arguments by 26 animals, one for each letter of the alphabet that touch on state history like the Pony Express and the Watts Tower, can stop the warrior queen from attacking.
The story is told through a clear line style of drawing that makes each illustration look like a stained glass window.
“I am really happy I came up with the idea of animals because they are almost like the voices of children. They don’t know anything about the big picture. They just say what they see or have experienced. A child might either identify with them or laugh at some of them because they might know more than the animals,” Hansen says.
There’s the albatross who talks about the China Clipper. And a firehouse dog who gives perspective on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Hansen jokes he may be the first person every to draw a flying squirrel zooming past a Pony Express rider.
Doug Hansen has two other books, “Mother Goose in California” and “Aesop in California.”
This book is a big big change for Hansen. In his previous children’s books, he used the Mother Goose tales and Aesop fables as the basis of the stories. In “California the Magic Island,” he wrote each story, a process that started with 100 ideas and then was whittled down to the final 26.
Hansen tried to select stories that represented all parts of the state because he believes a lot of people forget there is more to California than the coastal areas. If you combine the California locations in his other two books with those in the new one, Hansen has covered most of the state.
Hansen knows the state well. He was born in Fresno but his family moved away when he was very young. His returned to attend Fresno State, where he now teaches rendering and illustration. Before settling into the teaching career and writing children’s books, Hansen spent 22 years working for The Fresno Bee.
“It is big that I got to write AND illustrate the book,” Hansen says. “The writing is the part, I’m developing. If you look at the other two books, it has been baby steps working towards becoming a more full realized writer.”
The writing process was slow, taking six to nine months. Hansen made several trips up and down the state to research the historical points in the book.
Then he started on the illustrations. Each page – that includes a main illustration and then a smaller one for an animal and a letter – took a total of 30 hours. That’s an improvement over his illustrations for the “Mother Goose in California” book that took him approximately 40 hours per page.
Each drawing shows the three major influences on his art style.
“You can see the influence of Alfons Mucha even in the way I would illustrate smoke or fire,” Hansen says. “It’s kind of lyrical and not necessarily realistic. All you have to do is take a look at Ivan Bilibin’s artwork and you will see his influence. Everything is very clearly defined and outlined.”
One variation, Hansen didn’t depend on black or dark brown outlines. Instead, he outlined all of the drawings with contrasting colors.
That approach comes from the influence of the book he loved so much as a child. The illustration for the Vaqueros features a rider on a midnight black horse accented by touches of purple. The same color combination can be found in “Little Folks of Other Lands.”
“I think this gives my book the look of classic or vintage children’s books,” Hansen says. “For better or worse, everything is pretty clearly laid out. It’s not expressionistic. It’s a big coloring book that has been colored in. I try to make books I think I would have loved like a kid.”
- 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Saturday, April 30, Petunia’s Place, 6027 North Palm Ave.
- 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Saturday, May 7, Allard’s Art Supply, 5350 N. Blackstone Ave.