In the Studio with Jon Burgerman
English artist Jon Burgerman is internationally recognized for his doodling, drawing, scrawling and illustration. A fan of Jon's fun and noodle-like character design for quite some time, I didn't hesitate to take him up on his invitation to visit him at his studio in Nottingham.
On the train ride up from London, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Perhaps a cross between a deranged Santa's workshop and a spaghetti factory operating beyond capacity? Actually, I was impressed with how organized his tiny workspace was. His desk was enviously uncluttered. And as chocked full of signature Burgerman toys, books, games, et al. as his space was, there was still plenty of room to take it all in. Laid out like a fun and colourful 3D calendar, a quick survey of Jon’s studio made it easy to ascertain the order of priorities and upcoming events in his professional (and apparently proficient) life.
From his childhood, the importance of being a neat-nik was instilled firmly in his mind. A big fan of The Simpsons, Jon would diligently videotape the series from TV and label his VHS tapes with descriptions of each episode before cataloguing them. His attentive care to effectively arranging what matters to him stemmed from the dutiful encouragement of his mom. Within minutes of meeting Jon, he was quoting a mantra of his mother that he remembered from an early age: "Tidy bedroom, tidy mind." Of course for someone as prolific as Jon, I suppose such efficiency is a significant aspect of his creative process.
Jon’s been in his tidy Nottingham studio for a while. He moved to Nottingham from the English Midlands as a student about a decade ago and simply stayed on after. Fair enough, considering the cheap rent, steady work and no real reason to uproot himself. Besides, Nottingham's where Jon got his first professional break: a commission to create the artwork for a Charles Webster LP. After the Webster commission, a few other album cover gigs rolled in and a "self perpetuating slow build" toward more recognition started to take effect as big name clients such as Levi’s, Pepsi and Nike signed up to the Burgerman bandwagon. Roughly five years ago, Jon was able to quit his part-time job and go freelance. Since then, he’s learned to work quickly.
Jon thrives on deadlines. Several times during my visit, he mentioned the importance of pressure. "Pressure’s a good thing … sometimes it’s good to be too busy." He proposed that too much time deliberating over a project can cause art to suffer, and further reckoned that it’s good not always being 100% certain about the final product of his work. Preferring to "think and work" at the same time, he finds the results of this method to be "something I never could have planned out."
The think/work style is evident in his fluid and doodling art. Indeed, Jon wards off any self aggrandizing "great claims" about his work by "deflecting" all titles except for that of the "ever so slightly flippant" Professional Doodler. Sarcasm aside, racking up top shelf commercial commissions to create his own art on his own terms is the stuff of inspiration. These days, Jon’s preference is exhibition work. He’s become choosier about commercial work and vows no more editorial illustration.
Having wrapped up our "official" interview in his studio, Jon and I headed over to a vegetarian friendly south Indian restaurant (where our waiter received Jon as a valued regular) for a laidback lunch and some conversation about Jon’s upcoming plans. He was soon to be off to New York and LA where his work was showing. After our veritable feast (when the meagre bill arrived, I realized just how much incredibly cheaper Nottingham is compared to London!), we discussed meeting up in London when he returned to the UK. Jon laid a pile of fun and colourful stickers on me and sent me on my merry way to Nottingham Station, zipping back into his studio to start packing for his bicoastal US adventure.
Chris Osburn is an American transplant living in London where he has a blast working as a freelance photographer, writer, consultant, blogger and more. www.tikichris.com