Meet James Gulliver Hancock. He spends his time drawing amazing things as a commercial artist based (part-time at least) out of Brooklyn, NY. He’s also currently attempting to draw all the buildings in New York. His website notes that he “feels sick when he’s not drawing. He panics that he may not be able to draw everything in the world… at least once.” We caught up with him to chat about his artistic endeavours and being a bi-planet artist in the USA.
Hi, James! You’re currently undertaking to draw all the buildings in New York. Crazy, awesome feat. What made you want to embark on such an ambitious task?
Hi! I am in love the obsessive acts of collecting and hoarding and the healthy way I’ve applied that to my life is with drawing. As I travelled over the years I’ve always done these drawings attempting to document parts of the cities that I visitied or lived in for an amount of time. For example in Paris, while an artist in residence, I became obsessed with the rooftops and drew them everyday, while in London I felt I should draw ALL the rain, in Los Angeles, ALL the cars, etc etc. It really became a great way to interact with the city. For a place like LA it also helped me come to terms with a part of it that I really struggled with by embracing it so much that I turn it into an addiction. So the New York project started like this. When we moved to New York I was instantly struck by the buildings, and instinctively started to draw, and as time went on I realized I wanted to look at and draw ALL the buildings to understand the New York I’d romanticized so much, so why not give it a shot.
Do you expect to actually draw all the buildings?
Sure. why not?
You divide your time between NY and Australia. Where’s home in Australia, and do you feel at home in New York City?
Yep, after travelling the world, I think I’ve decided Sydney and New York are my two cities that I call home. I have great friends in both places and lovely homes and studios. I miss both places when I’m in the other, so I really wish they weren’t on the opposite sides of the planet! I’ve started saying I’m bi-planet, but I think that implies I live on Mars, so maybe I need a better word…
Can you tell us some of your likes/dislikes about NYC, or the USA in general?
I think the US gets a bad rap internationally, especially in Australia. I had great fear about the arrogance of Americans and cliche’s America gets ribbed for in the press. However after living in the US for over 5 years I’ve fallen for it, I love the confidence people have in their work, the belief in themselves and their projects. I love the focus and the scale of the population that allows for such specialized obsessions. I think Australians can play everything down a little too much, confidence in what you do goes a long way and I miss that about Americans when I’m not there. If you’re not going to be confident about what you make who else will! However I love the community feel in Australia, the way society feels like it’s there to help you. It seems like things like healthcare and such are much more friendly in Australia, and that goes back to a basic belief of everyone helping each other out. Sometimes I think the American system can lead down a bit of a dark path of everyman for himself.
What do you miss most about Australia when you’re over here? What about here when you’re elsewhere?
Australia – beaches, seafood, clean air, family, walking without shoes, undefinable smells in the air recognizable from childhood
USA – confidence, opportunity, scale, connection to the world, bears, snow.
How would you describe your illustrative style? How have you been influenced?
I’ve taken influence from a wide variety of sources, from outsider art, to children’s book illustrators like Sasek and Sendak and Quentin Blake. I’m constantly inspired by non artistic worlds like science and philosophy and try to blend all this together on a daily basis. It’s hard to define your own style, but I think there is a Romantic naievity, and playfullness, a love of soft colours and drawing with different pens and pencils by hand.
You’ve drawn an amazing number of buildings as part of the project so far. Do you have an exact number? What were some of your favourites?
I’m not sure, I think somewhere around 500? I love the classics of course like the Chrysler and Empire State, but living in New York really opened my eyes to the beautiful brownstones. I think they are quite unique to New York and I never tire of drawing them. I love the little cornices up the top, usually all different, the layout of the 4 or so storeys and the shop at the bottom, I love the way it makes the city dense and you get all this activity on the street below a building like that, it’s a real microcosmos of the city at large.
Have you done any drawings of buildings in Australia?
I did draw all the buildings I have lived in which included a few in Sydney. It was fun to revisit and pay attention to details on the houses I’d spent so much time in but never really really looked at in detail. I think that is the beauty of drawing, sitting down and really looking at things.
What are some of your favourite places to be in Australia? How about the world?
Gordon’s Bay in Sydney is my current favorite beach in Sydney. But I am usually in love with the place I am in at any particular time. I was recently in Greece and loved it, recently in Germany and Switzerland and vowed I’d never leave!
You’re also a commercial illustrator, having done work for Business Week and Life, among others. Would you say there’s a big difference between working professionally in Australia vs working in NYC?
I’ve had a pretty similar experience in both places. I think in America in general there is much more opportunity for your personal projects to be picked up in some way, whether it’s a book deal or product placement etc. I feel like that’s harder to get happening in Australia. Commercially I think having grown up in a place helps with connections to people. Even if the language is the same in a new country it’s always going to be a struggle to build up that 30 years or so of time spent and people met that are invaluable to a freelance artist’s career.
If you had some advice for aspiring expat Aussie creatives coming to the USA, what would it be?
Make what you love and do it obsessively and show it to as many people as possible both in person and on the internet. Self promote like a demon, don’t be afraid to talk yourself up, American’s don’t know the word “wanker ” so go for it.
View more of James’ ‘all the buildings’ work or purchase prints here.