Surrounded by Oodles of Doodles: Get Lost in Jon Burgerman’s Bizarre and Lively Landscapes

Remember those afternoons spent doodling in the back of your notebook during chemistry, history, or math class? For artist, performer, and professional doodler Jon Burgerman, once he started scribbling as a young kid, he never stopped. His energetic and zany art has sprawled off the pages of sketchbooks and onto just about any medium you can imagine—walls, sculptural objects, coloring books, stickers, and even formal attire. Never containing his work to any one format, he draws in chalk or markers, paints, animates, sculpts, films, writes, and teaches. We connected with Jon about his bubbly style, professional process, love of pizza, and more.    

Artist and doodler Jon Burgerman
Artist, muralist, and professional doodler Jon Burgerman

Your doodling style is playful and whimsical, reminiscent of childhood in a lot of ways. Have you always been a doodler? 

Yes, I’ve always loved doodling, drawing, scribbling, and scrawling! I drew incessantly as a child, often getting into trouble at school for it. It was impossible for me to walk past a condensation-laden window without daubing a character on it with my finger.

Where, and on what, did you do your earliest doodles?

Whatever I could find. Once I drew a doodle with my finger on my dad’s car when it was a bit dirty and in need of a car wash. I didn’t anticipate that the nail on my index finger was actually scratching into the car’s paint job. I got in big trouble for that!

You’ve never confined your work to one medium. At what times in your life have you felt more compelled to draw, write, collage, paint, film, animate?

I go with the flow! And by flow I mean, I have no idea. I just make stuff as and when I feel it’s right. Sadly, I have no plan or understanding of it. Sometimes I just need to draw and other times I feel in the mood for experimenting in animation, other times it’s music. I believe in not forcing it (hence going with the flow). When I force myself to make something, I think the work suffers. Sometimes, of course, I have to force myself (for a client for example) but in general, I try and create in an open and free way as much as possible.

As an artist and creator leveraging many diverse mediums, does narrative or storytelling play a role in your art, and if so, how?

Sure. It’s essential when making things like picture books! But in paintings and busy drawings too, there’s always a story. A bit like a child playing with toys, I’m inventing a narrative as I play at creating the artwork. The story, game or play will reveal itself to me as I work on it. It’s sometimes really surprising to me how it ends up.

Of your many wide-eyed, charming, goofy, delightful characters, do you have a favorite?

Ha, no, no, no, they are all my children and I could never pick a favourite! Isn’t that what all parents say? And don’t we all suspect that’s a bit of a lie…?

On any given day, what does your artistic process look like? How do you decide what form your work will take for the day? Do you find yourself moving across projects, or deep-diving into one pursuit for extended periods of time?

It depends on what it is. If it’s a big project, then I have no choice but to just focus on one thing until it’s done. However, half my time I’m not working on big projects, so I like to skip along, working on whatever takes my fancy that day. Note—this almost definitely is not a good idea if you want to run/be a creative business. One should FOCUS! But after 20 years of freelancing, I’m permanently broken and incapable of being a proper business-y person.

While lecturing or teaching Doodle School workshops, what do you find are people’s biggest hang-ups with harnessing their own creativity? What tips do you give to reconnect with or cultivate their inner artist? 

People are just so scared of messing up. I get it, because we all have our own ideas of what’s wrong and right and no one wants to be in the wrong. What informs what is ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ needs to be looked at and perhaps recalibrated. I think we should focus on good things as being: honest, free, open, fun, interesting, dynamic, strange, funny, weird, unusual. In turn, we should not judge ‘good’ as: perfect, realistic, similar to other things, same-y, professional, clean, exact, safe. There are no mistakes or everything is a mistake! It doesn’t really matter either way. The process and the communication are the key things to enjoy.

How has your move from the UK to New York City changed what you’re interested in creating? How has it pushed the kind of work you used to make?

It’s hard for me to say how exactly it’s changed me, but I’m certain it has. Maybe I’m more New York now—louder, messier, bolder, tougher, and full of rodents?

How do you balance what inspires your art and what you feel drawn to create? What do you do to refresh your artistic passion when you’re not feeling inspired?

Read a book, go for a walk, see an old film, visit a museum. Just do something mentally stimulating that isn’t making art. Everyone needs a refresh and a break from time to time. The brain is a muscle and creativity needs time to replenish.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?

Floss! Dentist visits can be expensive. 

Jon Burgerman presenting
Jon presenting his art

Describe your perfect slice of pizza (include where you’re eating it, the time of day, and any other key ingredients that make it magical).

I’m eating it at sunset by the East River in Williamsburg, Brooklyn looking out at Manhattan, relieved I’m not currently there. The slice is one notch down from roof-of-your-mouth-burning and is probably a Grandma slice (cheese on the bottom, tomatoes on top, square slice) with added garlic on top. Served on a paper plate.

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