Creativity & Chaos: Jon Burgerman Releases 4 Books This Year
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
British-born and New York-based WNW Member Jon Burgerman's work is always teeming with boundless energy, spontaneity, and a healthy dose of chaos. Prolificacy seems like a natural result. If anyone would release four books in one year, it's Jon. And he has. Splat! It's Great To Create. Rhyme Crime. And Jon Burgerman’s Daily Doodle. The latter three were all released in the first week of August. It doesn't actually surprise us, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. Below, we talk to Jon about each of the releases and what they all have in common. He also shares some of the benefits of embracing the chaos of creativity and working at such a rapid clip. "If you act fast then you’re going to have to rely on your instincts more. This is good because it starts to hone those instincts, although at first you might be a bit all over the place... Things don’t always need to be perfect, they can be ‘perfect enough’."
Somehow, Jon makes it look easy. But it isn't always. He offers a glimpse into some of the creative challenges, as well as the logistical challenges of working with publishers and deadlines. "I also learned: Don’t make lots of books at the same time, and definitely don’t allow three of them to be published in the same week, in August, when everyone is on holiday."
Your creative output this year has been pretty staggering, and there are still 4 months left. How do you divide and conquer your time to be this prolific? Teach us!
Ha, I have no idea. Actually, I’m always being told to slow down by my close friends.
I wouldn’t necessarily advise it but just work ALL THE TIME and you’ll get a lot done. Forget partying, going to the beach, and meeting new people. Just sit and work, work, work. It’s funny because I moved to NYC to retire and slow down some seven years ago. Perhaps it’s time to move somewhere else now?
Really, I just try and be efficient with my time and work quickly (but not all the time). You have to allow your brain to recover from intense working periods and you have to look after your body too. Just be sensible and perhaps turn off your phone from time to time (you’ll get a lot more done)!
What are some of the advantages of working quickly and embracing art’s energy, spontaneity, & chaos versus taking a slower and more measured approach?
If you act fast then you’re going to have to rely on your instincts more. This is good because it starts to hone those instincts, although at first you might be a bit all over the place. When you’re working like Sonic the Hedgehog on a lightning bolt you will probably cease to self-edit as much. Again, this might initially lead to some disasters but over time you’ll start to trust yourself more and you might even surprise yourself too.
A lot of people have a tendency to overthink things (hello all my neurotic brothers and sisters). Being careful and cautious is probably a good idea most of the time but it’s a bit boring and not that much fun. Why are we in creative industries? Why are we living?! Isn’t it to do good and have some fun at the same time too?
Things don’t always need to be perfect, they can be ‘perfect enough’.
What do each of this year’s four releases share in common? What makes each of them distinct?
‘SPLAT!’ is what I’d call a slapstick picture book (for small humans).
‘Rhyme Crime’ is a modern crime thriller, for toddlers and people who like obvious verse.
‘Jon Burgerman’s Daily Doodle’ is a how-to-draw book, where you can draw in the book and learn how to draw everything from donuts, dragons and dumbold trump (not really, but there are some horror characters in there). It also comes with stickers! And stickers you can draw on and make your own! There’s also hidden elements in the book for you to search for and you can hide your own doodles in there and get a friend to look for them!
‘It’s Great To Create’ is a book with 101 creative prompts to get anyone anywhere creating, making, and having fun. It’s full of funny ideas, lots and lots of photos, doodles, bad gags and I make a little flip book animation in the bottom corner of the pages. Also the front cover has a pop out alien you can use for one of the tasks. Once it’s been removed you can customise the cover to make the book fully your own. This book will change your life - probably for the better! If anything, if you make some of the projects and post the work on your Instagram feed you should get a whole lot of likes, and who doesn’t want likes?
Which one of these books was the most challenging to create and why?
They each had their challenges but probably 'It’s Great To Create' was the toughest because I had to do a lot of writing and the 101 tasks all required photos (and I’m not a photographer). I got Bas Berkhout to take a lot of photos for me (although he’s not a photographer either, he’s a filmmaker) and I worked with Hubert & Fischer on the book’s design because they are (very good) book designers. The other books I pretty much made all on my own but 'IGTC' was a bigger, collaborative effort.
Of course with each book, the publisher has their views and thoughts as the process unfolds so that’s another thing you have to take into account.
What have you learned about your creative process (and yourself) in the process of making these 4 books happen?
I learned a lot about how I panic and weep and delay getting on with things but I know I’ll get around to doing the work anyway so why do I make it such an ordeal for myself (?)
I also learned: Don’t make lots of books at the same time, and definitely don’t allow three of them to be published in the same week, in August, when everyone is on holiday.
What are some skills you developed or honed along the way?
I think (I could be wrong) I got better at communicating with all the different people involved in the process of making books (publishers, designer, photographers, the layout people, PR people etc). I had to be really organised so not to waste other people’s time too - so making sure when we went out to take photos, we got all the shots we needed and I knew where we were going to take them and what time (we’re losing light!). I’d never really had to organise anything like that before.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
My dream project would be to go to sleep and dream and then get paid to tell people about the dreams. Perhaps a theatre group who could then put the dreams together as some sort of play.
I’d also like to go to the moon and put googly eyes on some of the moon rocks.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
My foundation tutor Ted Allen was a big creative influence on me, back when I was 18. He told me not to follow trends and to be content in making the things I wanted to make, even if no-one else really was interested in them.
I like a lot of other artists of course but I think creatively he really set me on a good path.
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
The lack of any kind of job security. And that the limits of the career are really set by the limits of your imagination. That can be a little overwhelming to think about. I think I’m a bit scared by the contents of my head.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
I guess what Ted told me; don’t ape what happens to be popular right now. Those things will change and you’ll always be playing catch-up. If you just do your own thing, at least you’ll be following your own path, and that’s the only path you can go on.
What’s next for you?
Then some little animation things and perhaps some giant inflatable characters. And my third children’s book, ‘How To Eat Pizza’!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Small round numbers.