Jon Burgerman’s latest book How To Eat Pizza is immediately giggle-inducing and squeezes out all the character imaginable through illustrations of pizza. Not just for children, Jon’s iconic doodle art brings to life the all-encompassing personalities of pizza slices through his playful illustrative style. This humorous story about pizza is Jon’s third picture book, showcasing his brilliant wit at its best, full of pizza-related puns and laugh-out-loud characterisations of different food; this book truly is a slice of happiness.
The illustrator is equally as entertaining to interview as in How To Eat Pizza. Below, Jon tells It’s Nice That about his idea behind the book, and his obsession with pizza.
It’s Nice That: Why did you choose to make a book about pizza?
Jon Burgerman: Have you eaten pizza?! It’s made out of my favourite things — bread, cheese and vegetables. I think it’s impossible that you haven’t tried pizza. It’s one of the greatest things about pizza, in our increasingly divisive society, pizza is one of the few things that we can all actually agree on.
INT: What’s so special about pizza as a food?
JB: Pizza has always been there for me. When I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’m hungover and feeling washed out, pizza is there to pick me up and a smile in my belly. Also, pizza is easy to draw, all you need is a few simple shapes; a triangle, a few circles and you’re almost done. Is there anything pizza can’t do?
INT: How do you come up with so many different expressions for the pizza slices?
JB: I’ve been interested in character design since I was a child and used to copy doodles from Garfield and Beano’s Dennis the Menace. Since then, I’ve been to art school where I learned to draw over seven facial expressions!
When I really want to draw an expression but don’t know how to, I perform the expression in the mirror. I think animators do this as well. It’s a great way to analyse why certain emotions are expressed the way they are. I look at my mug and think about which features are key, and then emphasise those features in my drawing. Often it’s about subtleties, the tiniest of alterations and lines can make a big difference.
INT: How did you arrive at the story about pizza? Does the writing or imagery comes first?
JB: It depends. It if works the first time, then I figure I’ve got lucky and I leave the illustration. Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time and then I keep going and going with the drawing until it looks and feels right. Other times, after an hour of redrafting a drawing I look back through my sketchbook and realise the first drawing was the best overall.
I never ever use pencils and then draw over the lines, for me that doesn’t work. I draw directly in ink each time with the intension (and hope) that this is going to be the finished art. I don’t think of the text and then add the images — nor vice versa. I think of a story and then try to scribble it down as soon as possible while it feels urgent and fun. The longer I leave an idea, the most stale it feels.
INT: What does your creative process look like?
JB: When I make a picture book, I always jot down ideas in a little notebook. I like to do it in this way so you can immediately simulate the turning of pages. I think it’s really important to think of picture books as books (which sounds stupidly obvious), but sometimes, picture books are conceived as a series of slides, storyboards or prints. A picture book is different, it’s physical! You have to lift and turn the pages, you can turn them slowly or quickly, flip them back and forth — did you miss something on the previous page? I think the turning of the page is pure magic, it’s like opening a door to a big surprise.
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