Do you tell yourself that there’s no way you can succeed without a wadge of cash, all the best equipment and a bunch of top business people in tow? Well Jon Burgerman is an internationally successful illustrator and he’s here to tell you that you don’t need any of that stuff in order to be successful.
Read on to discover how Jon’s succeeding in a competitive industry from Subvert Magazine.
Jon has exhibited in galleries around the world including; Japan, Hamburg, Beijing, Barcelona and Singapore. He’s published two books “Hello Duudle” and “Pens are My Friends”. Plus his illustrations have been featured in Clutter Magazine, Computer Arts and “Vinyl Will Kill”. He’s designed a range of Ripcurl clothing, a series of soya surfboards, and top fashion house Miss Sixty commissioned him to doodle all over the walls of their swanky Hotel in Italy, not bad for someone who claims “I’m the King of Wing-ing it”
“Your body, whilst hurting and hating you for making it sweat also releases tiny pellets of golden happiness”
Hiya Jon I’m always reading on Twitter about you jetting around the world doing exhibitions and live drawing events, leading such a busy lifestyle, where do you find the energy, is exercise part of your routine?
I’m pretty unfit but I do manage to get to the gym a couple of times a week if I’m not traveling. Exercise is good for the brain as much as it is for the body. Also if you work a lot on your own (say in a room on your own) you can get depressed quite easily so exercise, going out and sweating, doing something completely different is healthy for you and can keep you happy. Your body, whilst hurting and hating you for making it sweat also releases tiny pellets of golden happiness orbs into your soda-blood-stream (this is a scientific fact).
You mentioned working on your own, tell me about your process for coming up with new work can you be creative on demand?
I used to be able to but things are slowing down a little these days. Sometimes I need to have a break from work, go away and do something else for a while. It’s never good to force it if inspiration isn’t forthcoming. Just relax, try not to stress and come back to it after eating some salad.
Talking about stress, a lot of people get frustrated with the lack of resources or other obstacles they have to overcome have you experienced any particular barriers?
I had all the normal deficiencies but kept working anyway. For about three years I sat on a crappy wooden chair in my tiny bedroom, using my pillow from my bed as a cushion, working on an old PC with a dial up internet connection shared between three people.
I had no cash or fancy resources. You don’t need it (to do the kind of things I do). Just work hard! Enjoy working hard! Don’t get drunk every night, don’t complain, eat vegetables, enjoy! Work! Enjoy! Draw! Sleep! Listen! Read! Work!
Did you take to this career path naturally, did you have confidence in yourself that you could really do it from the start?
It’s all I ever wanted to do and all I knew I could ever do so whilst the path has had its ups and downs it’s all been pretty OK – but then I don’t really know any other way. But nothing good is ever really easy, it has been hard work but worth it of course.
You’re absolutely right it does take a lot of effort, did you ever write a plan of what you wanted to achieve?
I’m a terrible planner, even if I make them I seldom stick to them. I’ve never made a business plan or anything like that. I’m the King of Wing-ing it, I make it up as I go along, change my mind a million times and then get distracted and forget all about what I’m meant to be doing.
Were you encouraged to pursue life as an artist by those around you or was there any opposition?
A bit of both, most people have been very encouraging and a few art tutors along the way were disparaging but I think you have to expect that. If you can’t stand up to criticism and argue your case at that level you’re probably going to crumble when confronted with any real criticism you may face outside of an educational institution.
Did you have any particular people who helped mentor or guide you when you started out?
Not really but lots of professionals I emailed did kindly email back offering bits of advice here and there. You pick up advice where you can and treat all your early jobs as learning experiences – always ask plenty of questions.
That’s great advice, too many people are scared to ask questions and it’s an important part of learning. You mention emailing some professionals for help, can you tell me who has been particularly helpful to you?
The Association of Illustrators are really helpful. I wish I’d invited other artists out to lunch to quiz them about their practices but I wasn’t clever enough to think of that at the time. I did kind of work in a vacuum for a while.
What things do you find challenging or scary about being an artist?
I’m afraid of everything – what if it’s crap and people hate it? What if I hate it? Exhibitions are probably the scariest things, which is why I like doing them the most.
That’s great, so you’re saying – face the challenges head on. Tell me more about your thoughts on fear, does it help or hinder you?
As it’s all in the mind you can choose to let it limit you or force you to push on and conquer it. If you want an excuse you can happily find one in almost everything.
How often do you find yourself failing at something or abandoning a piece of work?
I fail at lots of things, you should of seen the porridge I made last weekend. Failure isn’t to be feared. Everything is just practice for the next time you’ll attempt it.
Apart from good culinary skills, what does it take to be a successful in this industry?
You need to be ready to learn, be nice to people, work hard, be reliable, have ideas, be clean and tidy and have some common sense. Someone told me to always offer a little more than is required. Be enthusiastic too, no-one like a sullen sad-sack mopping about the place. Offer to help with things and to make tea every so often.
Is life in the public eye what you thought it would be when you set out?
I’m hardly in the public eye – I draw for a living, it’s not like you get to sleep with supermodels and drink Champagne from glass slippers, I’m not Gary Baseman you know! It’s strange if someone recognizes me at an exhibition or something but that’s quite rare and I often run away before I can get embarrassed (or indeed embarrass myself).
We’ll have to ask Gary about those supermodels, but until you reach that point :) what would you say are the biggest benefits of this type of life?
No boss to answer to, you’re in control of what you do and when you do it, and it’s fun!
Interview by Angel Greenham