“The eraser is a godsend,” said Jon Burgerman, pointing an iPhone in the direction of a compact, raggedy-haired dog outside a Blue Bottle Coffee shop in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. He recorded a four-second video of the canine sniffing the sidewalk and then quickly used his finger to sketch a hot dog with wide eyes, a gaping mouth and hands and feet, using the eraser feature to make the lines crisper. The press of a button and the scene went up on Instagram, where Mr. Burgerman, a self-deprecating British artist with a penchant for bright colors and googly eyes, has nearly 64,000 followers.
Mr. Burgerman’s primary technique is to overlay doodles onto scenes of everyday life in New York, adding a stylized bird into the lap of a distracted subway rider, say, or sketching a quick pair of faces onto a bunch of bananas hanging off a vendor’s cart. “Once your eyes open to this kind of thing, you see it everywhere,” he said. The stories have become so popular that the Tate Modern featured them in an exhibition last year.
“There is a pleasure in using unsophisticated equipment,” said Mr. Burgerman, 37. But he is hardly an online naïf. In an attention-getting 2015 series called “Jon’s Famous Friends,” he juxtaposed clipped images of himself and celebrities side by side. In one, you see Mr. Burgerman on his couch, smiling at Taylor Swift, who is seated on a bench and gazing in his direction. In another, he pats the rippled torso of a young, shirtless and pantless Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a third, he applies lipstick to an open-mouthed Kim Kardashian West. “I wanted to show that if you put one image next to another, you can alter the reading,” he said.
Mr. Burgerman said he believes art can happen anywhere, at anytime, using anything, a concept he shares in the book “It’s Great to Create,” released Tuesday, using past projects to show amateur artists how to unlock their creativity.
Nicer Tuesdays: Jon Burgerman
Video by It’s Nice That
Some suggestions: Paint your own clothes, the way Mr. Burgerman regularly does for friends; place something silly inside a clear box, like when he sold miniature, Play-Doh versions of Jeff Koons’s massive aluminum Play-Doh sculpture outside of the Whitney Museum; or grab a friend or new acquaintance and draw each other’s portraits in 60 seconds. (This one Mr. Burgerman has been doing for years.)
“When you work that quickly you don’t have time to worry and self-edit,” he said. “You get really honest.” But, he added, “People aren’t always flattered. They think they might getting some kind of Central Park portrait. But that’s part of making work and doing stuff in public. You can’t predict what’s going to happen.”
Mr. Burgerman graduated from Nottingham Trent University in England with a fine arts degree in 2001, and soon after took a part-time job designing shopping bags for chain stores, using QuarkXPress and a Mac. “There were only six of us,” he said, “and I was the only designer. So no one knew what I was doing. And I didn’t know what I was doing.”
After designing the cover for Charles Webster’s popular “Born on the 24th of July” album, and being featured in a book of art stickers, Mr. Burgerman got a call from Levi’s, which wanted him to paint an original artwork over four massive patches that would hang in stores. “It was more money than I had ever received at any one time,” he said. “I figured I could live off it for a year easily.” He quit his job.
Since then, he has created animations and designs for big brands including Samsung, Disney and Sesame Street. “I don’t call that selling out; I call it licensing my soul, briefly,” he said of such commissions. His work has appeared on upholstery fabrics for Kirby Design, on the subway in Seoul, in Apple’s international flagship stores, in an Urban Outfitters window display and at the White House. This month, he released his first children’s book, “Splat!” about things being squished and smashed.
Mr. Burgerman’s own inner child is evident in his joy at the raggedy-haired dog, the emoji-shaped cardboard pins he keeps for visitors to his studio at The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn, or the stickers of neon bug-eyed pizzas, aliens and other creatures he carries around to paste onto public surfaces.
“I feel like a lot of products I’ve made are Trojan horses,” he said. “It’s a sofa wrapped in my artwork, or it’s a cushion, or it’s a pair of sneakers, or it’s a sticker on your notebook. It’s a little bit of me in your world.”