A Quest to Draw All the Buildings In New York

James Gulliver Hancock is an artist on a possibly quixotic mission to draw every single building in New York City. Hancock, who is Australian, has traveled and lived all over the world, and he told me that drawing buildings is “great for helping me understand and come to terms with where I am instead of feeling like a tourist.” Hence, “All the Buildings in New York.” He posts photos of the drawings on his blog, where you can track his progress and buy prints. I recently spoke with Hancock about the massive undertaking.

How long have you been working on this project? I moved to New York about a year ago, so just about a year. It’s part of a bigger project where I draw different parts of different cities, but this one’s taken off the most and it’s taken up the most amount of time.

Is it just Manhattan? No, anywhere. I live in Brooklyn, hang out in Manhattan as well. It’s really wherever I find myself. The whole thing is to log these things I see every day but don’t pay attention to. When you draw you really see all kinds of details – it’s really exciting to unravel all these things, the way buildings fit together in this condensed place.

How many buildings have you done so far? Oh I don’t know – I’d guess about twelve hundred. I’ve got a ways to go.

Do you ever get bored of drawing buildings? No I mean, that’s the cool thing. New York is so infinite in its architecture. Even if it’s the same kind of building I’ve seen before, it’s really amazingly infinite. I’ll go on tangents as well, like I draw people I see on the street. It’s the kind of project you can expand upon.

Any plans to show the drawings? I’d love to do a thing if there’s an audience for it. It’s a very tactile project and it would be great for people to see the whole process.

Do you think this stems from you not being a native New Yorker? With being something of an outsider? Yes – when I first came here it was amazing to see that all these films like West Side Story, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, they’re reality. They’re not sets. It was strange. Everything looked like Sesame Street and it freaked me out, I didn’t comprehend how people could live inside these buildings. It stems from wanting to understand the buildings, to make them have stories. It’s to have a better understanding of the place. New Yorkers get a lot out of the drawings that I do. It’s around them every day but they don’t notice, and this makes them notice – that’s the goal of an artist.

How long will it take you to finish? It’s kind of a poetic project in that sense. I don’t really know if I’ll ever get to all of them. I guess you want to get to some sense of having captured an essence. Maybe it’ll go on forever.