To say James Gulliver Hancock‘s career has been successful would be an understatement, he has illustrated, animated and designed major print, TV ads as well as music publishing releases. Currently he works out of studios in The Pencil Factory in Brooklyn. Living in Brooklyn, this Sydney native has embarked on a new project, an attempt to draw all the buildings in New York. We’ve been following his work and his All The Buildings in New York blog for years and recently had the great pleasure of asking him about his work.
Untapped: NYC is a long way from Sydney, how did you end up here? How long have you been in NYC?
James: Well, being Australian I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve gone overland from Australia to the UK, via Russia, Asia, Europe, was amazing! When I met my wife in Sydney, pretty much straight away we decided to head over again. So we went via America to Europe to do some artist residencies in Austria and France, but fell in love with America and noticed things were really creatively inspiring and interesting there, so we decided to move to Los Angeles. After a few years there we moved to New York and fell in love.
All the Mountains in Switzerland
Untapped: What gave you the idea to draw ALL the buildings in New York?
James: Through all my travels I was drawing. Drawing everything, but especially little quirky cliches about each city, I would draw rain in London, cars in Los Angeles, snow in Montreal, mountains in Switzerland. So when I arrived in New York it was only natural to start drawing the buildings. The icon of the city. I love the obsessional nature of these projects, focusing on one aspect of a place in an effort to uncover something larger. Doing the project has definately opened my eyes to new aspects of New York I wouldn’t have otherwise paid attention to.
Untapped: How many have you done so far?
James: It’s hard to say, but probably somewhere around 1,000? In comparison to how many buildings there are in New York, that’s nothing! I’ve got a long way to go.
Untapped: Do you have a favorite neighborhood/street/area and/or favorite architectural style to draw?
James: Well I love my home in Brooklyn. So I have a soft spot for all the brownstones and corner stores and how they change between different neighbourhoods. It’s so fun getting into the details and seeing different types of cornices or a quirky way of doing stairs or something.
105 Norfolk Street
Untapped: Do you prefer to draw the buildings from pictures or sit in front of the building to sketch?
James: I do both, when I sit and draw it’s usually a bit of a quicker process, and the drawings tend to be a bit more sketchy and usually uncolored. When I work in the studio from pictures I can put a lot more time and technique into them so they evolve and finish differently. Both are rewarding and find a place on the blog.
Untapped: Is there an architectural element you don’t like drawing or have avoided drawing?
James: Sometimes when I’m doing those massive residential buildings it gets physically painful drawing all the windows!
Untapped: Do you have a favorite building or street you drew so far?
James: It’s hard not to love the clichÃ©s like the Chrysler or the Empire State or the Flatiron, all of which I’ve drawn, but again, drawing the day to day little buildings that normal people live in in Brooklyn, or the townhouses in Manhattan. They’re my favorite because they are so New York and it’s something that isn’t as clichÃ© as the more famous buildings. When I draw these it feels a bit like I’m getting closer to becoming a New Yorker, getting closer to the real New York.
Untapped: When you start drawing a building, do you start from a single window and move out? Or start from the ground up?
James: I usually do a rough sketch of the shape very light, then start working from a particular point of interest. Yes, either the window or a little ledge or sign that made me stop and want to draw the building. From there it balloons out to cover the original rough shape. It’s nice working like this because you get some unnexpected sizings and perspectives happening, the drawings end up a bit more quirky and personal than if you plan it all out 100% from the beginning.
Untapped: What inspires you?
James: Everything. In New York, I get inspired just riding my bike around, seeing things, people, buildings. The way they all interact and fold over each other is endlessly fascinating. In general I’m inspired by science, and philosophy, ways of looking at things differently and perception in general.
Untapped: What is your favorite “untapped” place in NYC?
James: Hmmm, I’m a bit of a sucker for the latest restaurant in the New Yorker, but I do have my favorite hangs, but it’s usually just because they’re in my neighbourhood or where I can find my friends, not particularly about the place. Though when in New York you’re pretty much guaranteed a certain standard of venue when you’re going out.
Untapped: I hear you are making the blog into a book! How is that going?
James: It’s going great, should be out next year, it will be an amazing collection of drawings from the blog, and a whole bunch of unreleased ones. You’ll have to check it out.
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Get in touch with the author @BMoke28.