Since I was five years old, drawing distorted family stick figures and doodling all over notebooks has been a permanent hobby of mine. I still catch myself drawing in office meetings or on those too-long subway rides. Not that I’m talented at all, I just love the way a pen feels against a blank piece of paper. It’s as natural as eating or sleeping to me. So when I got the chance to interview someone who literally makes art and drawing their living, I was beyond pumped, especially since that artist just so happened to be the inspiring James Gulliver Hancock. He’s a passionate, quirky artist who re-imagines his world around him into an urban whimsical fairy tale and claims to be sick when he’s not holding a pencil in his hand.
Over here at UncommonGoods, we only have tremendous love for James Gulliver Hancock. (And kind of just love saying his name.) He collaborated with us to design his “All The…” drawing series and made some pretty sWHEAT graphics for our beer steins. He juggles living in between Sydney, Australia and Brooklyn,New York and everywhere else in between that fits into his family’s career paths and hectic schedules. He says, “We sometimes feel like a creative gypsy family circus, making videos and pictures and music as we travel around the globe.”
His most current project is drawing All The Buildings in New York. I was lucky enough to be invited to his current studio, which is conveniently New York City itself, and watch the drawing mastermind work his magic. We met under the Washington Square Monument, and right away I spotted him in his bright red pants, looking up towards the sky, in full concentration holding his weapons of choice: a pen and a notebook.
I love your art work, especially the products we have here at UncommonGoods. What exactly ignited the “All the…” series?
It all started with traveling, I always keep a journal when I’m traveling, and I usually draw more than I write. I often found myself drawing the objects that I obsessed over in different places, or the things that dominated my experience. When I started road tripping around America I was drawn to draw different things I found in different places. I love concentrating on certain things and learning everything you can about that thing. If you’re drawing boats, you get to know all the types of boats. If it’s cactus, you see there are so many types; drawing really makes you look deeply at things. It’s like people that collect things, I admire that kind of focused obsession… the guy that knows everything about 1950’s salt and pepper shakers is a fascination to me.
What made you realize that drawing was what you wanted to do as a career?
I knew from a very early age, from a little boy I always drew. An early memory is from pre-school when we had to rotate between activities (drawing, puzzles, napping), so when I got to drawing I devised the most complicated drawing I could think of so I wouldn’t have to do the other things any more. I’m still like that, figuring out my life so I can draw as much as possible.
Can you describe the moment when you realized “Holy crap, I’m actually doing this…!”
I have this almost every day. It’s so awesome to be drawing everyday and have people around the world, appreciate and love (and pay for!) what I do. I’ve also managed to integrate travel and a family into the fold of awesomeness too. My wife is a musician and we are often on the road, me with a portable studio to keep working. We sometimes feel like a creative gypsy family circus, making videos and pictures and music as we travel around the globe!
You live an aspiring artist’s dream and have traveled and showcased your work everywhere in the world: New York, Australia, Japan, France, England…the list goes on! What’s your secret?
Making stuff all the time helps, and telling people about it all the time. Being an artist requires you to be pro-active in making and then showing your work. People aren’t necessarily going to ask you to do something. A lot of the time you have to just do it and show them what it could be for them to get excited. Travel is essential, too; with the internet you can get a lot of international exposure without leaving your home town, but by being in a place, your energy shifts. You might meet someone and links begin to happen. Sometimes people I’ve met for half an hour while traveling becomes a client years later.
Where was your first exhibition held? How did you feel the day of? (Were you basking in all your glory, dissecting every single problem, or heading to the toilet to re-compose yourself?)
I was definitely hiding in the toilet room. Some of the reason I’m an illustrator is so I don’t have to perform in crowds! I’m doing lots of talks now for my new book and have to get up in front of lots of people, and I find it terrifying! But it’s fun also. I do love having this solitary process that also comes out into the world and interacts with it. As for my first exhibition, it was probably when I was a kid and I filed my family into a room that I prepared with things on the walls. It felt natural to me to ‘perform’ in this way, more natural than other kids doing fake TV shows or something.
Where do you go or what do you do when your inspiration is completely lost?
Wandering is the best. I went for the longest walk around Manhattan yesterday and saw, heard, smelt so many things. Consequently the ideas are flowing! I also seem to get inspired when I’m going to sleep and waking up, when the constraints of the day have faded away and the brainy mush floats around with new ideas.
On your site, you mention that you feel sick when you’re not drawing. Other than not drawing, what else makes you sick when you’re not doing it.
Riding my bike clears my mind for sure. I can ride and ride and ride, and feel so peaceful, even in Manhattan. It becomes like a computer game, dodging the obstacles. The rhythm of riding is so hypnotic. But drawing every day is really what keeps me happy. If I can’t draw I have to make something else, whether it be cooking, or craft or something, making stuff is what I do.
What’s one of your all-time favorite quotes?
“Color tells it all, black and white tells just enough to stir the imagination.” It’s by an Australian photographer, Max Dupain, who took a lot of amazing black and white photos. I love the idea of sharing just enough with the viewer to get them thinking too. To leave room for them to bring something to the image– their own associations.
Do you have any secret vices that causes immense procrastination? How do you monitor this vice?
Luckily drawing is my vice, and because it’s my work I don’t have to monitor it, the more I do the better! Other than that, I shouldn’t eat so many chocolate muesli bars and cake, but hey, that’s what the bicycle is for.
Are there any major projects, collaborations, or ideas you’re working on now that you want to talk about?
I have a 1.5 year old son and have so many ideas for children’s books that I haven’t had time to do yet. I also have a new book coming out in 2014 that will be amazing. Stay tuned!
What’s one piece of advice you have for that person out there that has a creative passion and can’t seem to make a career out of it?
Keep doing it, keep making projects and publishing them somehow (print, web, whatever) and then show them to everyone you can think of.