For a certain segment of the population, the promise to draw every building in town may sound familiar, not unlike Sufjan Stevens' initially audacious, then outlandish and ultimately forgotten bid to make an album about all 50 states (final count: two states).
So far, professional illustrator James Gulliver Hancock, who runs the blog "All the Buildings in New York," has managed a respectable pace: he figures he's drawn about 500 buildings so far, or about 1-1/2 each day.
"Someone said there's like 30,000 buildings, just in Manhattan, so who knows," he said.
Hancock, originally from Sydney, Australia, has only been here a year, having first wound his way through England, continental Europe, and Los Angeles. Initially, the project was his attempt to de-mystify the city.
"Being an outsider, being Australian, coming here was kind of amazing. You're in this set you've seen in so many movies, like West Side Story. Rear Window is always coming to mind, you know, the backs of brownstones and the fire escapes."
"Initially it was me trying to get over that sensation of seeing it as a movie set. It wasn't more about, 'Hey, I want people to see these buildings and how I think they're beautiful.' It was more like, by drawing them I might make them real, I might make them more friendly to me. Less like movie stars and real people."
In addition to zeroing in on individual buildings, Hancock also takes on entire blocks or even neighborhoods — whether it's the Lower East Side or Chinatown. His ability to bring "fresh eyes" to the streetscape, he says, has made fans of even old-timers who may have become jaded to their surroundings.
"At the moment, I'm getting a lot of feedback from people. People that are really excited, people sending in suggestions and places to draw."
While he's earned most of his income from magazine work and publishers -- clients include Nylon, Business Week and Simon & Schuster -- he's begun doing commissions of individual buildings from residents, for $200 to $900. But reprints of any of the images on his blog sell for as little as $30.
Eventually, he hopes to create a Google map, detailing every building he's drawn. Judging from another map of his, listing his favorite spots in the city, he's a creature of the East Village and LES, brownstone Brooklyn and Williamsburg. Nothing yet in the Bronx or on Staten Island, and just one point in Queens: P.S. 1.
Although you will occasionally find landmarks in his work, for the most part, Hancock says his interest lies in "real New York."
"It's not really about being a tourist. It's more about the everyday, like seeing how all the different cornices on the brownstones. They initially look very similar, but they've got all very different detailing."
"People do recognize their building, and I think they find that kind of special. There's plenty of people that draw those iconic buildings, but not everyone draws some no-name townhouse on a back street in Brooklyn, so I think it's kind of nice in that respect."