Leading the way for a decade of British creatives, he has helped fuse commerciality and artistic passion within illustration. Jon Burgerman tells Garrick Webster how he's shaped his career so far.
From Pepsi cans to gallery walls, colouring books to laptop sleeves, clothing to club flyers, iPhone apps and more, Jon Burgerman's doodled characters pop up just where you'd expect to see them, and very often in places that you wouldn't. There's a reason for this: although Burgerman is an easy-going guy with a quirky sense of humour, he's always busy working on something, collaborating with other artists and spotting new opportunities. Behind it all is a naturally expressive drawing talent that has enabled him to develop a style that is recognised and adored by creatives around the world. So, how does this star of contemporary illustration get so much done?
Computer Arts: Burgerman projects come through thick and fast. How do you fit it all in?
Jon Burgerman: Some of it feels like working, some of it doesn't. I think that's the trick: to do projects - whether commercial or your own project - which don't seem like work. I think that's my goal. I don't know where I find the time - this is what I do with my life. I don't have a massive other side of my life where I'm rock climbing or go-karting or hang-gliding or deep sea diving. The kind of activities I get up to are all interlinked in what I'm interested in.
CA: How easy is it to divide your time between your own projects and shows or client work?
JB: It's always been a juggling act. You might be involved in a big commercial project that takes up all your time and have to sort of delay working on your own projects. I've always got my own projects; sometimes they overlap, like I'm doing an iPhone app with this company in London called ustwo, and it's called Inkstrumental - that's one of those hybrid projects.
CA: If you could have your way, would you only work on your own projects?
JB: I probably would. Having said that, it doesn't mean I wouldn't produce any commercial stuff. It would just be all mine, completely led by me. That's why I set up my brand, Burger, so I can still make commercial products and objects. But, you know, it would be me that decides how things are, what things we make and how they look and stuff. Just 'cause it's fun, I guess. It's fun to be in charge, to have that control and be able to do your own thing.
CA: You spent the summer in the US, went to Munich, now you're off to China for a show and then you're in Newcastle. How important is it to be internationally known?
JB: Well, I haven't gone out of my way to try and become well known, I just get invited to do stuff in different places. I just think that, wherever my work takes me, I will always entertain going. From a purely selfish point of view it allows me to see more of the world and meet new people and that kind of thing, which is great. The more I do it, the more I realise that it's a good thing; it's one of the few 'what do you want to do with your life' kind of things.
CA: Over in Munich you got on a Wacom Cintiq. What was that like?
JB: It was a collaboration between re:Store, my brand Burger, Wacom and Hewlett-Packard. We put this event together where I was doing live drawings but in a digital way, which I've never done before. Wacom lent me one of their super-fancy screens that you can draw on, and then I went over there and just sort of doodled for the day. It descended into doing portraits of people. I had to apologise a lot because I'm not really a portrait painter or anything. Everyone had a twisted, mangled, doodled form. But everyone seemed very pleased with the drawings.
CA: Are you a convert to the Cintiq tablet?
JB: I'm being converted. I have my little process of working, which I've probably kept to for the last 10 years, so I've never really looked for a different way of doing stuff. It makes a lot more sense to have the drawing on the screen - something clicked. I said to them, 'I don't think I would try and recreate what I do with a pen and piece of paper using the screen, but what I would do is kind of come up with a new way of creating new kinds of work using it.'
CA: Your style is so well known now. How do you feel about that?
JB: It's really nice when people say they recognise my work. It's just the way I draw. It's weird because now I get students and graduates emailing me saying they also work in the doodle style. I find that really strange. Maybe there is some sort of doodle style but the way that I draw is just the way that I draw. I didn't realise it's becoming a category of drawing in its own right. I always assumed that I drew in a very bad way.
CA: What about when your work is copied by other illustrators?
JB: If a big company does it and they're selling your work, then it's an easy thing to go after them. But [then there's] that case of the recent graduate who hadn't copied the work, but they'd made new work that was very, very similar. They'd taken some of my pieces and used the same colours and the same composition but the lines were all their own. I was more disappointed with the university than the student. I just thought, 'How could a student graduate with work that was heavily copying any artist, let alone me?'
CA: How do you keep your work evolving between projects?
JB: Just in a natural development; kind of like my work that's got text in it, where the typography's integrated into the drawing. That was a little decision I made a year or two ago, to do that and see how it comes out. A lot of people had said to me that they'd read stuff in my work, and I was like, 'Ahhh, there's no words in there. There's no letter shapes.' I think a few teenagers with homemade cigarettes had been staring at my work for too long.
CA: You recently turned your talents to making music with Jim Avignon. What's that been like?
JB: I can make my work in different ways, I think. I'll always be a drawer, I'll always paint and create images in some respect, but it doesn't need to be anchored into just working in that way. I can express the way that I work in other ways, so it could be through performances, it could be through clothes, it could be through music, or it could be through a mixture of all these things.