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.
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
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
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
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.