Artist Spotlight: James Gulliver HancockApril 22, 2016
It's been quite a while since we've been able to interview one of our awe-inspiring Red Cap illustrators for our Artist Spotlight series, and we are so happy that today is the day at last! We had the opportunity to chat with our newest Red Cap family member–James Gulliver Hancock–about what inspires him, what his creative process is like and much more:
Tell us about your childhood—did you always want to be an artist? Did you have any other aspirations?
I had a great childhood! I grew up in Balmain, an inner suburb of Sydney. Sydney is made up of lots of harbour inlets, so there was a lot of taking little boats on adventures with friends, exploring the local nature and challenging ourselves. I drew all the time, and somehow knew I wanted to make things all the time. I drew all the time, even from a very young age. One early memory was using drawing at preschool to get out of doing any other tasks. I drew the most complicated thing I could think of so it would take all day and I wouldn’t have to do anything else – I still do this today 😉 I was definitely lucky that I knew what I wanted to do from early on, I really only vaguely had other aspirations, which were somehow relevant to the creative visual obsessions… I almost enrolled in aeronautical engineering at university!
You split your time between New York and Sydney. Is that for work, leisure, a bit of both?
I do split my time, but it’s more international even than that now. I’m lucky enough to have clients all over the world, so I get to travel to lots of different places for work. Couple that with my wife (Lenkamusic.com) who is a traveling musician means we’ve gotten to see a lot of different places and cultures, and actually live in them, rather than just be a tourist, which is really special. I don’t tend to split the idea of work and leisure though, they are one and the same to me, I’d be drawing regardless of whether it was for clients or not. I’m always drawing.
What is your creative process like?
Like I said, I draw all the time, it’s a great advantage as I’ve got a pool of ideas to work from at all times. If ever I’m stuck at any part of the process I can pull up something I was interested a while ago from a sketchbook and get the inspiration to carry on. My process generally starts with really rough sketches, sometimes they are so rough they aren’t really intelligible to anyone but me. From there I usually refine by tracing that sketch to another sketch phase that the client can comment on, something like the attached below:
Then I typically draw this out for the final line work, making any last little tweaks. I don’t use anything particularly fancy during my process, typically it’s pencil and pen and paper. I do like to use a dipping pen sometimes, as it pulls in that accidental messiness that I love. Once the final line work is done and approved, I scan it into the computer and use a wacom tablet to add colour underneath the line work. I try to treat my process a bit like silkscreen printmaking, so there are only 2 or 3 layers and the color is blocky and finished by the line work sitting on top. I do a lot of silkscreening for my personal projects, selling the prints on my website. I still remember the first time I tried silkscreening and the excitement it gave, combining elements of photography, collage, and drawing, coupled with the ability to print on almost anything, it’s inherent multimedia aspects had me hooked.
What inspires you?
Everything around me basically. I like to gather influence from anything from a bike ride around the block, to reading a children’s book to reading a science or philosophy article online. I don’t typically look at other artists or illustrators for inspiration, as doing so usually has the opposite effect, I like to pull ideas from more abstract thoughts. Even just seeing an interesting pattern, or the way the tree in the park meets the grass can lead to a new way of thinking about a drawing.
Favorite medium to work in?
Pencil and paper, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the satisfaction of making a picture appear on blank paper. It still feels like magic. My other favorite as I mentioned is silkscreening, with it’s flexibility and bold blocky colors.
Do you have a favorite piece that you have created? I’m usually in love with whatever it is I’m working on at the moment. I love the cards Red Cap and I did of course, especially the medals. These were an idea I’d wanted to work up for a long time. I think reward is such a big part of growing up in a society, wanting to please people around you… at least it was for me, so I thought these rewards for acts of loving were a nice idea. It’s funny when you create something you like and you just want to stare at it. I’ve just released my first coloring book and I still love looking at the drawings even though I did most of them about a year ago. You know you’ve done something right when you’ve pushed yourself a little and you need to look at the drawings a lot after you’ve finished them. It’s like being in love and wanting to be with that person all the time for no good reason other than you just want to be next to them.
You have worked in both corporate and independent illustration—which do you prefer?
I’ve worked hard to have a very varied practice. I consciously made decisions to have a strong commercial practice as well as a personal one. They aren’t separate though by any means, it’s more like I’m making and drawing every day for myself thinking of projects I could do, but most of the time before I get the chance those ideas get folded into client work. I love this process. Being constantly self motivated also has it’s advantages in any downtime (which is becoming more and more rare) so that when there aren't any nagging deadlines I can just shift over and do some printmaking for my store or work on a long form book concept…. or just draw the flowers on my desk to give to a friend.
Tell us about All The Buildings in New York.
All the Buildings in New York is a project that came out of my love of traveling. Being 1/2 British I traveled a fair bit since I was a kid. It really ramped up after high school when I started wandering around the world by myself. My longest journey was a year or two out of University when I drew a wobbly line from my hometown in Sydney, Australia to London, England, and made plans to do the journey by land/sea. It was an amazing experience, but not only did it influence my personal life it really directed me professionally. I was a bit lost thinking I wanted to be a designer, and getting into my travel sketchbook I realised a way of working that culminated in this project. I would draw obsessively the things around me, collecting things to draw like a hoarder of pictures. Eventually these grew into prints which I started to sell. Then when I eventually ended up in New York I started the project focusing on the buildings, trying desperately to collect the whole New York experience by drawing all of the buildings. Unwittingly it was a brilliant way to introduce my work to this international city, as fairly soon after it started it got quite a lot of press and eventually I had publishers calling me to do a book, and once the book came out clients wanting to work together.
Do you take building requests?
I do indeed, head to the website–allthebuildingsinnewyork.com–and in the shop section you’ll see how to order. I love doing these as it is a real connection to stories about New York that I otherwise wouldn’t hear. I remember one special one was a couple wanting a portrait of the buildings they lived in separately coupled with the new building they were moving into together… a very sweet sentiment, celebrating the architecture around their love.
What is it about the structure of architecture that you love to draw?
For one, they stand still, so I can sit and observe for as long as I like. I think also generally architecture is underrated. People use buildings all day everyday, and we don’t really stop and look at them. I know architects and building lovers do, but I met so many people in New York that would say to me that they’ve lived in this or that building for 10 years and never even noticed it was so beautiful. It was a great moment when people cited my drawings as an impetus for looking deeper into their surroundings. When you do start to look architecture almost becomes just like sculpture and the city a big museum, that’s what it is for me now. I’ve mentioned this before in other talks I’ve done, that what is also lovely for me about this project is that the buildings become like friends. Once I’ve drawn a building I never really forget it, I’ll be walking down the street and see a building I’ve drawn and it’s almost like we say hi or give each other a high five. Because New York was an adopted city for me it was a great way to make new friends 😉
Is there any every day object that you haven’t drawn yet—you seem to have covered most! If so, will you be working on that tonight?
As part of my obsessive nature I would like to draw every single thing in the world and do nothing else! It worries me sometimes that I haven’t drawn everything. I guess that’s why I draw in the between moments as well as in the studio. I draw the cups on the table, the glasses on the bedside table, the chairs in the cafe, in some sort of attempt to pay attention to everything around me.
Who are your role models, in terms of art or otherwise?
I always find this question touch, maybe because it changes all the time? I do love the classic illustrator choices like Maurice Sendak, Richard Scarry, Saul Steinberg…
If you didn’t work as an artist, what would you hope to be doing?
I know what I’d be doing, I’d be drawing regardless, whether or not it’s art or illustration, for myself or someone else I’d continue to make things. My making obsession satisfaction does spill into other areas, I get it from woodworking, from cooking, from gardening… maybe I’d eventually spill into one of those… ?
Any advice to burgeoning illustrators?
Make stuff all the time and show it to as many people as possible.
Any upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about? Ever since the success of my All the Buildings in New York book I’ve been making a lot of books, so my colouring book just came out which I’m excited about, and this has informed a new children’s book I wrote and illustrated with an old friend. It’s been really fun exploring character design and environments, working with a very talented and fastidious editor and making the best book we can, it’s really exciting. I can’t wait for it to come out so I can read it to my kids. It’s funny, at every stage of my kids development I’ve wanted to take the making into my own hands, when Quinn was little I made him these hand painted children’s blocks, I made him a book about wheels, when he was obsessed with wheels, and it’s almost a career journey that now I’m doing this dense and detailed children’s book for him.
And one we must ask all of our artists: favorite drink?
Your finest whiskey, straight, with a large ice cube.
To view James Gulliver Hancock's designs for Red Cap, click here. Thank you, James!