The greatest view

James Hancock in New York

Drawing buildings in New York is a source of unbridled pleasure for James Gulliver Hancock. And not just any building in the city – every building.

An acclaimed illustrator and UTS alumnus, James Hancock started his ambitious project, All the Buildings in New York, in 2009 to get a better feel for his new home and make personal through artistic expression the many, many buildings of the iconic American city. His tally to date exceeds 500 illustrations and includes landmarks such as the Empire State Building through to historic Brooklyn brownstones.

"I've always been interested in obsessional kinds of things like collecting stuff and doing projects that are based on the idea of concentrating on one thing and collecting them together," says Sydney-born Hancock, whose illustrations also include All the Bicycles in Berlin and All the Cars in Los Angeles.

While his other 'All the...' projects were transient, completed as Hancock passed through cities or countries, the stunning buildings project is now an obsession from which he cannot escape given that he spends a lot of time in the Big Apple with his wife, singer-songwriter Lenka, and their 18-month-old son, Quinn. The boy's arrival saw the family return to Australia to live, but they continue to spend chunks of time in New York for work.

There has always been a sense of romanticism around New York for Hancock, stemming from his childhood watching Sesame Street through to his interest in Alfred Hitchcock movie settings.

"This romanticism builds and builds – it's hard when you get here to get over that, so a project like this was good for me to more efficiently become a local."

Working out of the Pencil Factory in Brooklyn while he is in the US, Hancock's buildings project has blossomed to the point where people can now commission him to draw specific sites in the city.

"It's fuelled by other people's interests and obsessions, which is nice. It's not just my own project now – it's a public project."

Hancock, 35, has harboured what he describes as "a need to make things" since childhood. "It's always felt natural to me to have a pencil in hand, whether you're at a restaurant drawing on a napkin or a beautiful piece of watercolour paper."

A UTS Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication graduate, Hancock has fond memories of the "great time" he had at university in the early 1990s.

"The first year was amazing because we did all this cross-media stuff and we were thrown in with other disciplines like fashion and industrial design," he says. "So that was really exciting for me to see all these people with different minds creatively working together."

This perfectly fitted his desire to pick up as many skills as possible.

"When I did step out of the studio I could do a bit of animation to pick up some work or I could do a bit of web design or something. I wasn't just studying illustration and only able to make pictures. That was what was great about that course."

Hancock remains in contact with university friends: some have helped him find jobs; others he has assisted to get gigs. After attending UTS he initially worked in web design and was employed at an interactive company, but over time he has narrowed down his areas of work to the point where he is now a full-time illustrator.

"I've built up a big enough portfolio and enough of a style that people just ask me to do what I do for them, which is really great."

Aside from All the Buildings in New York, which Hancock views as a playful side project, he works as a commercial illustrator for a variety of clients such as Coca-Cola, Businessweek magazine, The New York Times and Herman Miller. The combination keeps him "obsessively working, which I like".

Hancock's prolific output has seen him create an enormous portfolio. This has helped attract other client projects, and he also ensures he stays in touch with people to foster his networks and keep his name out there. Such a mix of artistic talent and commercial nous is unusual.

"That ability to chase people up and wear a lot of hats is essential when you're your own business," he says. "And you've got to put on the accountant hat and chase up the invoices and all that sort of stuff. I quite enjoy that – it's just part of my personality that likes doing all those different things."

What really keeps him enthused, however, is a passion for drawing. With the New York buildings project, Hancock cannot select the building he enjoys sketching most – he is always gobsmacked by the juxtaposition of old and new buildings in the city, the beautiful and the rundown.

"You get that in a lot of cities, but here it seems to be so extreme because it is so dense and everything is so packed together – it's like Tetris," he says. "Amazing things next to really boring things and those boring things become amazing."

The beauty of the path he has chosen, according to Hancock, is that the nature of drawing changes the way you look at things.

"When I stop and draw stuff, I really see it much better so I don't think that's ever going to stop. That's the way I am. I just need to see the world."

Visit www.jamesgulliverhancock.com and www.allthebuildingsinnewyork.com.