“Drawing is my way of understanding the things around me; it’s how I get comfortable and intimate with them. This project has made me friends with New York, and I hope it does the same for you. It’s a guidebook of sorts, helping you see new details and characters within the city.” –James Gulliver Hancock, from the Introduction
An illustrated journal/journey through both notable and everyday streets in New York City, All the Buildings in New York provides an exceptional perspective of the many unique buildings that countless people gaze at, rush by, walk through, work at, and live in.
I had the awesome opportunity to attend a book talk by James Gulliver Hancock last night at the Mid-Manhattan Library. A librarian interviewed him as he showed slides of his drawings and spoke of his work both in and outside of his new book. It was wonderful to hear what the Australian-born illustrator had to say about his experiences and inspirations; I even got my book signed after the event! And while I’m most certainly a fan of art, it’s literature that most often inspires me; so to have an illustrated book with few words leave such an impression on me is refreshing.
For quite a long time now, I’ve wanted to eventually become an editor at a publishing house. Of course, I realize New York City is the publishing hub, and so I’ve always imagined myself working there for some period of time someday. I would picture myself, professionally dress and walking with confidence toward my publishing house. It was a Carrie-Bradshaw-type picture (think Sex and the City opening), minus the misfortunate puddle splash. I would picture the office I would work in, piled with books, the friends I would make there, the experiences I would have.
And then this summer I got to live that dream; I landed an internship at a publishing house in New York City. I was excited and terrified to be on my own in such a huge, unfamiliar place. As it got closer and when I arrived, I began to notice the realities that had always been left out of my daydreams. I’d never included the crowds to the magnitude they actually are, the smells, the grunge, the sometimes-rickety elevators, and the seemingly secret knowledge the city goers possessed. Suddenly I was getting splashed by the puddle.
I’ve done my best to enjoy the city for the past two and a half months; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my internship and the people there, but I admit it’s been a difficult transition. I’ve often felt like an outsider to the city itself. I’ve had moments of awe, like when I saw the Flatiron Building, Strand Bookstore, and Rizzoli Bookstore for the first time. I definitely appreciate the new and old architecture neighbored side-by-side. But mainly, I would get pushed around getting on the subway, I would feel alone in the crowds, and I would wish substitute some of the buildings could be substituted with more trees.
The book talk, though, gave me an interesting opportunity to listen to a fellow outsider. I’m sure there are probably things he doesn’t like about New York, but he definitely loves the buildings and his love of the city has grown from that. During the Q&A, someone asked Hancock why he typically draws single buildings instead of whole streets, pointing out that obviously no building in New York exists without its neighbors and that all the buildings blend together with each other. Hancock replied that anyone in the city can go to a certain building, stand outside, and experience what it’s like to be amidst the other buildings and people; that’s the reality. What he’s interested in is the perspective of just the single building he’s drawing, of the everyday details so many people miss while hurrying by. He added that sometimes people who ask him to draw a building they’ve lived in for years notice new details in the drawings. It’s this perspective that really drew me in—the idea that you can still focus on the small details in a place so large, loud, and hectic without being swallowed up.
Leaving the book talk, I felt a renewed sense of excitement I had let fade into the background. I looked around at the buildings of Midtown and liked what I saw. The sun was setting and the streets were much less crowded than usual; I felt a glimmer of appreciation and even admiration for the city so many people love above all others.
On my way back, I started flipping through the pages; I recognized some buildings and didn’t recognize most. And I realized my love affair with New York is just beginning. The next time I come to the city, whenever that may be, I will remember that glimmer of love, and I will give it room to grow. All the Buildings in New York gave me new perspective in more ways than one.