Photo by Kai Kiuchi
Yuko Shimizu is a Japanese illustrator, who lives and works in New York, USA. She was born in Tokyo and grew up in Tokyo and in New York. Although she always dreamed of becoming an artist, it took her a long time till she actually became one. She has the BA in marketing/advertising from Waseda University and worked in the field of publicity in Tokyo for a long time till she decided it was time to change her life to do what she really wanted before it was too late. She packed up everything and left Japan in 1999 to study in School of Visual Arts in New York, received the MFA in illustration from SVA in 2003.
She has been working as a full time illustrator since. Her work has been published in such countries as US, UK, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Turkey. Clients include: The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Interview Magazine (all US), Esquire and Financial Times Magazine (both UK). She has just finished set and costume design for M.A.C. Cosmetics (US) fall 2004 promotional campaign. She also teaches at School of Visual Arts in Illustration and Cartooning Department.
She loves snow, bears and chocolate.
Letters of Desire
© Yuko Shimizu
© 2004 Yuko Shimizu
Process Of Illustration
Research and reference
What is really cool about this job is that you get to illustrate the things you never would have otherwise. Sometimes I get 20 page long article to read, and sometimes I get only one sentence to come up with an idea. In either case, the first thing I do is brain-storming and research. In last few weeks, I did researches on Argentine currency, Pathfinder, Kung-Fu, big band jazz, spray stocking, Gay Pride, French cheese, to name a few. It is always fun getting to learn about things you never thought you would, and feeling a bit smarter after the job is done. I do most of the research on the internet. Nowadays, it is so easy to get any type of information including photo references on the web. I do also take my own reference digital photos too. I open everything all up on my computer (14" MAC G4 laptop) when I draw thumbnails and sketches.
Ideas and sketches
In editorial illustration, deadlines are tight. A week or two at the longest, usually it is somewhere between two to five days. I get half a day deadlines once in a while. When I have enough time, I like to read the article and let it sit overnight before starting sketches. Idea comes easier that way.
I start with very loose pen/pencil thumbnail drawings on Xerox paper and start tightening up the ideas I like. I usually submit two to four different ideas, except when the deadline is super tight or when I have been working with art directors long enough so we trust each other, they rather see one good tight sketch. I tend to submit more ideas to new clients as it is hard to guess what they are looking for in the beginning. I also make color sketches when I already have specific colors in my mind for how the final illustration should look like.
Drawing in perspective
People often ask me if I use reference photos to draw figures and poses. I don't, unless it is for the purpose of making the figure look like a specific person. Obviously I cannot draw Madonna or Eminem without using photos.
One of my big goals when I started art school was to be able to draw figures in any perspective as I imagine in my head. Although I can still learn to be better, I have gotten pretty good at it. On good days, I can see the finished drawing on a blank sheet of paper and all I have to do is trace it. It may sounds weird, but it is how it works. It saves tremendous time in tight deadline jobs. Also, I draw in comic-book inspired style, so it is better to make drawings "look right" than "actually correct". My recent favorite is the one of a boy and a girl in extreme bottom up perspective for Village Voice. It was for Gay Pride, so it called for that weird perspective.
When a sketch gets approved, I blow up the drawing to the size I want the final drawing to be, and print it out from a printer. Size differs somewhere between 8.5" x 11" to 19" x 24". I prefer to draw big, but a lot of times I have to draw small to save time unfortunately.
I trace the drawing on a light box using pencil to a paper of my choice, and ink it with brush and India ink. I have several different drawing surfaces according to how I want the finish to be. For slicker finish, I use smooth paper. For loose or old looking finish, I use rougher surface. I also use several different brushes according to the line weight and thickness. All of them are Japanese calligraphy brushes, often have them sent from Japan. I like that they have way less control than Western brushes that makes line imperfect and more interesting. The kind I like the most is the one used to copy Buddhism manuscript. Funny coincidence is, that copying Buddhism manuscript using those brushes is a meditation for Buddhists, and drawing is a meditation for me.
After the drawing is done, I scan it in and color it on Photoshop. When I was in school, I got into silk screening. Unlike most of the students who loved the actual process of printing, my favorite part was coming up with separations for different colors. So, I treat Photoshop as a surrogate silkscreen process. I seldom ever use anything other than Lasso Tool. I also do hand color separation and scan it into Photoshop, according the type of finished look I want.
I would love to make large scale silk screen of my work in future.
About Selected Projects
© 2004 Yuko Shimizu
"Lord of The Rings" for Rolling Stone Magazine
It was about this CG character who deserves to get a Golden Globe Award. They already had specific idea in mind when they called me. So I did bunch of variation sketches according to what they wanted.
Movie "Blind Swordsman - Zatoichi" for Rolling Stone Magazine
Because there are not many Japanese illustrators working in the US market, I often get calls for jobs that are related to my culture. It was an easy research. The actor Takeshi Kitano is extremely famous in Japan, and although the film was not available in the US, I could easily do research on Japanese sites. They wanted old woodblock print look, I went out and bought a book of Kuniyoshi, a famous hero print artist from Edo period. It was an expensive book but worth investing in. It inspired me so much.
Village Voice "Elements of Style" illustrations (Louis Vuitton, Anti-Bush fashion and Gay Pride)
I am a regular contributor to "Elements of Style", which is a fashion section in Village Voice. Since the art director, the writer and I have developed a good relationship over the years, I have a lot of freedom doing these illustrations. I usually submit only one sketch per illustration, but I do a lot of thumbnails and ideas before choosing the best one. They let me experiment with style, composition, color, etc. I always have a lot of fun doing the pieces for them.
"Radio and band" for Entertainment Weekly
It is an example of when coming up with an idea is a struggle. It was a very hard article to illustrate, about evolution of radio and alternative rock bands. I did two color sketches in the beginning which I wasn't quite sure about. The art director and I had discussion again, and came up with the third idea after our thought were more clear, which she loved, and I knew I would have so much fun doing. It turned out to be one of my recent favorite pieces.
"Businessman with gold tooth" for Esquire (UK)
Thanks to the power of the web, we illustrators are able to work everywhere without going anywhere. When I get calls from abroad, it is usually either Japan related or US related article. This one was about how smile is the key to American business, written from British point of view.
Japanese movie "Returner" for The New Yorker
I had to watch this action movie and come up with a scene to draw. So I sat down with a sketch book on my lap and doodled while I watched. Rewind and fast forward to watch again the scenes I liked to make tighter sketches. I submitted three, and they picked the one I liked the most! Although no one here may know what Takeshi Kaneshiro looks like, he is a famous actor in Asia and my pride made me work so hard to make him look like him.
New York Times Travel Section ski issue cover
It was probably the biggest job I had done in terms of size of an illustration, full page newspaper size. The New York Times was very good in providing me with reference materials and guiding me to the specific direction of what they wanted to see. The whole process was rather smooth. It was a bit hard to work on the color on my 14" laptop, but managed to do it. I would LOVE to get a 23" screen.
Uailab (Brazil) and Design Is Kinky (Australia/New Zealand)
My favorite jobs are the jobs that does not have any art direction. "Yeah, do whatever you want to do, and we will print them". Of course, it doesn't happen so often other than those two. The illustration for Design Is Kinky has gotten into "American Illustration 23" annual.