We know what you're thinking: how does he breathe life into those magnificent Painted Ladies?

Well, the answer is not at all simple. To attain the level of dramatic realism required for a Jack Henslee original, Jack must employ several unique creative methods; the culmination of over 35 years of exhaustive trial and error. When asked, he characterizes his techniques as "tedious, time consuming, difficult to manage and somewhat limiting." Truly a system that only an artist could love.

All that said, after years of frustration and experimentation, he insists it is the only way to achieve that classic Jack Henslee look.

Preliminary Study

Perhaps it should be attributed to his illustration and graphic design roots, but Jack has always considered his techniques more akin to those of a draughtsman than a painter. Preliminary drawings precede work on every original. This process starts with colored pencil on a vellum surface. Graphite paper is then used to transfer the preliminary image to its final canvas (Mi-Teintes paper or board, crescent mat board, smooth Bristol board, and, on occasion, cold press illustration board). 


When using graphite, Jack begins with a relatively hard (2H to 4H) lead and progressively descends to softer grades as the drawing process progresses. Blending is achieved with the steady and loving brush of bare fingertips while kneaded erasers stand at the ready to keep the drawing clean and supplement highlights. Of course, standard artist materials like electric erasers are always handy, as is a clean stock of paper towels to prevent oil and moisture from making contact with the drawing surface. By the time the piece is ready for a Jack Henslee signature, the softness of his pencil lead has progressed to a 2B or even 4B.


Color pieces follow one of two procedures. 

The first method begins once the transfer onto final canvas (typically tinted Canson Mi-Teintes paper, a French brand that comes in a variety of pastel shades) has taken place. First the graphite trace lines are slowly erased. Prismacolor color pencils take the place of graphite leads. The pencil pigments are deftly stroked on rather than scrubbed, giving the pieces an almost transparent and extremely soft appearance. The application is more akin to traditional cross-hatching methods usually associated with pen and ink. Jack calls these pieces "Pure Pris" as the only medium employed is Prismacolor pencil.

The second method involves combining the Prismacolor pencil tints with thin, transparent Acrylic washes, in much the same fashion as an oil painter might use glazes. These washes are a time consuming and tedious process but they are an effective means of establishing large flat areas of color, such as a tan flesh tone. 

The tricky element comes in because these washes must be applied in very thin treatments to ensure their evenness; this must also be accomplished quickly to prevent hard edges in the color as they dry. Thus it can easily take 10 to 15 washes over a particular area to gradually build the color to the right intensity. Colored pencils are then used for modeling of all a pieces figures or objects. It requires a constant back and forth effort between the washes and the pencils, patiently increasing the intensity to the right hue. This delicate balance must be maintained in order to preserve the original softness of the preliminary study. Use of the Acrylics is always a gamble, with a very subtle payoff, so the safer option is always a "Pure Pris." Safe bets aside, Acrylic washes are sometimes the only way to achieve the desired effect. On rare occasions, Jack may also revert to the use of opaque passages of Acrylic but he tries to avoid this method as it creates difficulty when blending a subject to its backgrounds. 

No airbrushing or digital enhancements are ever used on a Jack Henslee image. Airbrush and such methods are exciting new mediums, employed by an extraordinary spectrum of modern masters, but a Jack Henslee Painted Lady is wrought into being by hand via the traditional, and often maddening techniques outlined here. 




Copyright Jack Henslee 1996-2010.  All rights reserved.