The artist behind the ‘A World of Environments’ Book

By Australian Geographic 13 March 2019
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Here, we chat to James Gulliver Hancock, the illustrator behind AG’s new World of Environments book, available now.

Meet James Gulliver Hancock, the illustrator behind Australian Geographic’s new A World of Environments book that takes the reader through the Great Barrier Reef, the Himalayas, the Arctic circle, Amazon Rainforest, the Sahara Desert and more!

A World of Environments. Purchase your copy now.

When did you first develop a passion for drawing?

I remember drawing from an early age. In kindergarten, I remember devising the most complex image I could think of to draw. I refused to move on to any other activity, instead detailing a complex drawing of a city of houses including every detail, every person, and every spider web between every house. I continue to manage to make drawing the focus of every day.

Now I see my kids ( 7 and 3 ) drawing it gives me such delight to see the satisfaction of making marks and representing things on the page. I love drawing with my kids, basically drawing is a part of everyday life for me and my family.

How do you think your illustrations communicate with children?

I really try and make my work accessible for all ages. I am conscious of making it appealing to children through the way I draw, the things I draw and the kinds of colours I choose. At the same time I don’t want to exclude any older audiences so I’ve got them in mind when I draw as well. I really love taking complex ideas and making them accessible, much like this new book. It’s great when the overall image pulls you in and then invites you to explore the little details for ages. I think that’s how I get the message across, leading them in through fun visuals to real world information beneath.

I think kids see a world in my drawings that isn’t too overly complicated, that has positive energy and playfulness at its core. I hope my audiences ( kids or adults ) get encouragement through my drawings to start looking at and drawing the world around them.

How important is it to foster an appreciation for nature in children?

Having recently moved my family to a rainforest I can first hand say what a transformation it’s been to have them experience nature every day. The other day my daughter came outside and said ‘Hello sky!’ and my son loves picking things to eat that he finds in the garden. It does take a while to build up a bravery in nature with kids ( and with adults ! ) so being in it as much as possible is key.

I remember when we lived in New York we saw a little kid walking along the path in a park. He came up to the grass edge and touched his toe to the grass and ran away. It seemed like the saddest moment for a child to be apprehensive toward grass. I think it’s so important for kids to touch and feel nature as much as possible so they can fully understand how important it is and how we are a part of it.

What was your favourite environment to illustrate?

I honestly had fun with them all. I really wanted to do this project because it meant I got to learn about all these different places and draw all these different things around the world. I love how ecosystems are so self cyclical, like a big complicated machine. Of course I loved the dense ones like the rainforest, with twisting vines and hiding monkeys… but it’s also fun to play a bit with the scale and density of a more desolate place like the desert and arctic, there is often an opportunity for a bit more creative license in these sparse places.

What was the most interesting thing you learnt while working on the A World of Environments book?

The most surprising one was the deep sea. I think we all know there are some crazy things down there, but I didn’t realise how martian it really is. Those long red worms and the crazy giant crabs. It just seems to get more and more unfamiliar to us the further down you go. It’s always amazing to hear about creatures that live off of minerals that are spewed out somewhere, it sort of feels like us when we take vitamins and minerals in tablet form, but these guys just pull it out of the water. It’s such a close relationship with the core of the earth.

Which environment did you spend the most time illustrating?

Rainforest definitely took the most amount of time. There is just so much to draw! When it’s this complex and things are growing over each other, it’s sometimes tricky to plan it out and get everything interacting correctly on the page. It’s fun to get it all planned and spend days drawing little vines and leaves. This sort of drawing almost feels like meditation. I don’t just jump into these drawings, usually the process is getting a page of text about the environment that the researcher has done. I then look at all the animals and start collaging together all the animals and plants. Then I do a really rough sketch, which looks horrible, just scribbles and notes to myself. Then I do a bit more of a neater drawing and discuss that with the team. Once we’re all on the same page and happy with the direction I work up the final drawing and colour it in.

What was your favourite thing about collaborating with Australian Geographic?

My family had a subscription to the magazine since I was a little kid and I always loved poring over the photos and illustrations. The old illustrated fauna covers were an inspiration to me and definitely had something to do with my interest in drawing the world around us. I also loved the cutaway kind of drawings that show the insides of a place or thing and any kind of illustrated map. So to work with Australian Geographic on a project of my own was very exciting. It was incredible to have access to people that really know their stuff. Karen McGhee did a lot of the research for me and it was fascinating to talk through how we could do the book and the specifics of what we should put in.

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