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Why I Attempted to Draw Every Single Building in New York

In All The Buildings In New York, James Gulliver Hancock attempted to draw..well, all the buildings in New York.

I'm Australian, and we tend to travel a lot. As a visual person, I've always drawn rather than written as I've moved through unfamiliar places. Most places I go I end up obsessively recording some part of it: In Berlin it was the bikes; Montreal the snow; Los Angeles the cars. When I moved to New York it seemed obvious to record the buildings. What started as another traveler's sketchbook, became a personal record of my new home—a map of sorts—that allowed me to embrace a familiar yet personally unexplored place. Everyone knows New York to some extent, a little more than other places, but we know it like a stage set, whether it be Oscar the Grouch's trash cans, the Ghostbuster's fire house, or the Huxtable's stoop. In an attempt to overcome this surreal familiarity I use drawing to stop and study these old friends from my childhood.


A large part of initiating All the Buildings in New York, first a blog, now a book, was to realize these "sets" are interspersed with people living their lives, going to work, and getting a taco from the food truck out front. They are real, lived in. New York is a fascinating mix, you are forced to interact with legends and daily life at the same time, and it is so dense that this typically happens side by side on the same block.

Drawing from life makes me focus on the reality of the things around me and even the things between the things. You start to see the chips in the paint, the mold and the mistakes, the flourishes, everything becomes more manageable and human, not just a massive chaotic web of stuff. There is a process to drawing, that unfolds as you go. My style typically starts at an interesting point and radiates from that, organically filling the page. This process of being drawn in by a detail and then unfurling the reality around that detail on the page is part of what makes my visions unique. These are not perfect drawings. They're not photographs of what's around me, they're memos of how I see things. They show the hum I felt from the building, or how places stand in context of my day.

Drawing has made New York a richer experience for me, and thanks to the internet I have interacted with native New Yorkers, and visited neighborhoods I wouldn't have otherwise. Initially I largely covered Brooklyn around my Greenpoint studio, and the lower parts of Manhattan where I'd meet friends, so it has been fascinating to go to much less famous streets, and get a broader sense for the way people live in the city.

When I started teaching a junior school class in New York about drawing I was so fascinated to hear about how their lives are cast in three dimensions around the city, with Grandma on the 30th floor on Avenue A, dad in a brownstone, mum above the shop. It's so different from my hometown Sydney, Australia, with backyards, BBQs, and mango tree lined streets.

James Gulliver Hancock is an illustrator originally from Australia, currently based in Brooklyn, New York. In All The Buildings In New York, published by Rizzoli, he attempted to draw..well, all the buildings in New York.

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