Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimizu

Award winning Japanese illustrator based in New York City and instructor at School of Visual Arts.

illustration and fear of water

I believe many of you who are reading my blog are aspiring illustrators. If you are, here is something you may want to remember, or to work on, if your art school instructors haven’t taught you already: we have to be remembered by something we are good at, so when a prospect client see a topic that need to be illustrated they know who to call.

Most obvious ones prospect clients think of my work are Japanese and/or Chinese themes. I am a Japanese, but I had also studied Cantonese for three years and I have strong interest toward Chinese culture. And people somehow see that in my work. There are other themes like sexy girls, action and sports, comic book look, snow….
And odd one is, which is today’s topic, water and underwater theme.

"yuko shimizu" "swimming" "water" "scrubs"

The illustration here is a project published recently in Scrubs, a magazine for nurses. The article was called Swimming in Fear, about a nurse’s fear of breathlessness in water compared to the pressure of being a nurse. When AD Maxine Davidowitz called me she said it was a perfect assignment for me. Indeed.

Why do I draw a lot of water in my work? The big secret (or not?) is: I have a severe hydrophobia. I can’t swim, and I know I will never learn how to swim.
Water theme that keeps coming back to my works are almost my secret fantasy. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Big Blue. It is my ultimate dream to  swim like a fish. (I also have fear of fish, by the way!)

Some process pics here…

1) starting out with lots of idea thumbnails…

2) reference materials…

3) sketches

4) discussion with the AD, and minor adjustment to the sketch

5) let’s draw! 

6) go through Photoshop coloring process, and then…. finish! (as you can see, not as many layers for this particular illustration, but lots of layer masks!)
"yuko shimizu" "swimming" "water" "scrubs"

7) how they look on the pages


And…. here are just some examples of how water has been dominating my work (and life!).
PLansponsor: Bells and WhistlesPLANSPONSOR Magazine

Storage magazine Data Security
STORAGE Magazine

The Walrus coverTHE WALRUS Magazine cover

"yuko shimizu" "playboy"PLAYBOY Magazine

The Unwritten #19THE UNWRITTEN issue #19 cover

GQ Japan

Money Magazine money and fearMONEY Magazine

It’s here! It’s here! (it feels like Christmas already)

It feels like Christmas already! This came to my door yesterday. The first bound sample copy of my kids book Barbed Wire Baseball (written by Marissa Moss, published by Abrams, scheduled to publish spring 2013).

I have heard from peers who have already done it  that working on a kids book is a lot of blood, sweat and tears. OK, maybe not blood, but definitely the latter two were true. Actually to be precise, last fall when I was in midst of working on the interior pages, I lost hearing in one of my ears, probably from fatigue and stress. I had to run to an ER, then thoroughly get my hearing tested at a hospital.  So, blood part was not that far off either. (Thank you my BFF Gary Taxali for giving me a call to ease me when I was in pain)

But, finally finally finally, I am holding the book in my hand. And it is beautiful! Thank you AD Chad Beckerman for paying such great care even down to very small details in design. Thank you Dadu Shin and Victo Ngai for helping me with coloring process. And thank you American Illustration for including four spreads into their recent annual.
Book is ready for pre-order now.

"yuko shimizu" "barbed wire baseball"me, happy with the newly received book

dust covers were inspired by old baseball covers. John Gall‘s Sayonara Home Run! was referenced heavily, and now John works for Abrams. Nice coincidence.

when the dust cover is off, a different cover design appears

the front end paper is just sky and fence, but the back end paper has one more element, to go along with the story. you will see the other one at the end.

this spread was a bxxch to work on. I cannot thank Victo enough for helping me separate colors on this cray spread.

so, here is the other end paper. See the difference?

And, here are some process photos I took over the course of the project (photos sans blood, sweat or tears.)

Warsaw – New York, two events back to back.

It feels as is October just came and went! There were two very exciting events I took part in, back to back.

In mid October, I flew out to Warsaw, Poland to be a guest at speaker series at  Museum of Modern Art‘s 4th annual  Warsaw Under Construction (Warszawa W Budowie) Festival. This is a popular event that focuses loosely on architecture, and this year’s theme was “pros and cons of outdoor advertising”. The museum organizes workshops and lectures almost every day, and my job was to talk about outdoor advertising from an illustrator’s point of view as well as from the point of view of someone who live and work in New York, one of the advertising centers of the world.

I decided to candidly talk about artist-client relationships, including some examples of ‘horror stories’. (audience seemed to love the horror stories!)
Also, three hour workshop on the them of ‘good ideas make good illustration” followed, where small number of graphic designers and illustrators just had fun coming up with humorous concepts. We worked a lot, and we laughed a lot despite short period of time.
Both lecture and workshop was moderated by fellow illustrator and longtime friend Agata Nowicka. Thank you Agata and thank you Warsaw MoMA!

And, 9 hour flight back to New York, there was a Society of Publication Designers organized  student career event at Type Directors Club (conveniently located a block away from my studio) called Ask The Pros Live! waiting for me.
Five magazine art directors and designers (Jamie Bartolacci, David Curcurito, Dennis Huynh, Jen Sharpe, Elliot Stokes)and I answered questions from aspiring magazine designers and illustrators. With bottles of beer provided by David, we had a blast, and I learned a lot as well.

I know many of you who are reading this are students (and some instructors). I highly recommend you to follow SPD’s Student Outreach Program. So much info and great events for those who seek career in editorial world.

how the hell I finished the most complicated illustration ever.

FastCompany is one of my favorite magazines. Once I said that to an illustrator friend, he looked very surprised and asked me why I like reading a business magazine.
Maybe it has something to do with my corporate background (I was in corporate PR for 11 years before I went back to art school). Maybe it is something to do with that I constantly think of myself, a freelance illustrator, as a small business, not more so, but as well as being an ‘artist’.

When FastCompany called me for a double page opener, I got really excited. Then I took subway down to their beautiful office in World Trade Center overlooking WTC Memorial for a meeting, and soon realized what I got myself into! It turned out to be, as far as I can remember every editorial job I have done in past ten years, the most complicated piece I would ever end up working on.
I will show you the result first.

The story was about Coursera, an innovative online higher learning which may change the way we think of college education. They wanted a space filled with different students from all over the world listening to a professor talk. Oh boy, what did I get myself into??? But for my favorite magazine, I should just try to do the impossible!

Initial sketch after the meeting. ‘it’s good, but we want more people fitting into the spread’. Oh boy.

So, here is the revised sketch. We decided to slightly distort the perspective, so students are smaller as they go farther away from the professor.
Sketch get approved! Now what? Non stop drawing for days and days.

Here is me drawing. Non stop for days. I have downloaded some college student photos, but I soon ran out of characters, and started filling this out thinking of some of my personality-filled friends and acquaintances.

I cannot thank my studio-neighbor Jungyeon Roh enough. I finished the drawing on Friday, then I had to take off to speak at Illustration Conference ICON7 in Rhode Island. While I was traveling, she helped me as coloring assistant. This was what I asked Jungyeon to do. fill in the basic colors, so I can tweak and fix when I came back on Monday morning.

Here are some details of finish. Every single student here is different. Because I ran out of ideas, I sneak in some people I know, like the red-head beard guy is my current studio-mate Jacob Thomas, and I am the one on the right hand corner with bangs with red polka-dot dress…

And some Jewish men from neighborhood, as well as my friend Sara Varon’s former Olympian boxer husband in du-rag, aged Harry Potter, single mom and maybe even Stefan Bucher makes the cameo.

I cannot believe I finished this! And this is how it looks in the magazine. (They flipped it the other way) What’s cool is I subscribe to the iPad version.

To be honest, I am not sure where I had the energy and stamina to start and finish this on time. But, isn’t it also what I love about my job?: accomplishing something unknown, scary, and not sure if you are able to do it. Then you just do it, and the satisfaction you get from getting it done!

Last but not least, big thank you to Creative Director Florian Bachleda (who has been extremely nice and supportive since I was just starting out) and Art Director Alice Alves. Thank you for challenging me with creativity.
And here is a little extra: the view from Fast Company office! Oh wow.

nice to see those books on the shelves.

I was just at Kinokuniya Bookstore on Bryant Park in NY. Kinokuniya is one of, if not the, biggest Japanese bookstore chains in Japan and abroad.I especially like this location. They have tons of imported books from Japan as well as big selection of both Japanese and non-Japanese art/design books, fiction, etc.

I took these two photos because I got excited to see two of the books I illustrated the cover for, were displayed on the shelves cover side out. No, I didn’t rearrange this way just to take photos. How nice of them.
You can see the illustrations in details here and here


In past, they have displayed Moribito books on their store-window (photo below).
You can see the illustrations in details here and here.

This was also the store I first bought my drawing brush which I have been using now for years. Also, this is where I stop by when I am on the way to a foreign business trip and have to bring some small presents (which is exactly what I did yesterday).
When you are in New York, you should go visit this fun-filled shop.


posting on Facebook realtime (and talking to strangers while I work).

One time a friend jokingly said that I have a ‘full time position at Facebook’. What she meant was, that I was on it a lot. Yeah, OK, true. Especially when my studio-mates or neighbors are away and I am the only one on the floor. I need some social life.

I have a private page that I only accept people I personally know as ‘friends’, where  I mainly talk about non-work. And, there is this public page where anyone can join and post or comment. Initially I was a bit skeptical. I felt it was a bit too arrogant, or something like that. But the more I do, the more I like it.

I get e-mails from total strangers often. Asking for questions or favors, and sometimes messages can be long and take time to read them all. It can be a bit heavy and charged, and often I don’t have enough time to write a nice answer back. So, I put them aside, and end up never having time to write back. But with Facebook, everything is short and quick, and I can jump into conversation short and quick too.

I like watching other artists’ process. It is like peeking into the back stage. So, I want to do the same on my page too. However, often, there is non-disclosure agreement, or I have to be careful what I can show and not show because the clients have the first publishing right.
Some clients can be a bit easy on artists though, like DC Comics whom I have been working monthly for close to four years. They usually put the finished art up on the web the day after I submitted it.

So, here came my first experiment to put every step on FB  real time, from sketch to the final.
Some of you may have already seen them all, but I thought it was nice to keep the record here. And it was really fun communicating with strangers while I kept working and making progress. 

1) July 17 (Tuesday)
sketching Tuesday morning… cover for The Unwritten’s latest issue #43. We usually starts earlier in the month, but I was busy as well as the team was at ComiCon the weekend before.
Editor Shelly Bond’s memo was: “I think Tom should be on the cover, since we haven’t had him in a while, and besides, Tom has a new scruffy look, which is very attractive. But I also would love to see your drawing of unicorn too” .

2) July 20 (Friday)
Sketch got accepted in a day or so. I was finishing up other projects. Starting to ink this one as final.

3) same morning, trace the sketch onto watercolor paper and started penciling. My pencil underdrawings are usually so much looser, but this one is all about his face, so I go into details. Paper is TH Saunders Waterford cold press, pencil for underdrawing is usually HB so it is light and erases easily. (pencil for sketches are usually 3B to get the drawing down quickly)

4) same afternoon around 3PM. This is what I wrote on FB:
Face is pretty much done inking. Now I can take a late lunch break before a conference call at 4PM (with another client).
I usually don’t use photos for face, but this is such big part of the image, I decided to downloaded whole bunch of photos of men looking up for reference. Though, it doesn’t look like any particular one of the photos at the end. (just small details count, like how the eye balls sits, etc. )
india ink is from Dr. Ph. Martins Black Star Matt. Brush is a Japanese calligraphy brush. (more details on my supplies on FAQ page)

5) July 23 (Monday)
I worked till late on Friday, and took the weekend off to spend with a house-guest from Paris. Back to drawing table again. Close! The hands are of Victorian ladies. Used fantastic Fashion book from Taschen as reference and inspiration to get all the details in. when it is all about simple and graphic composition, balance between bold composition and intricate small details becomes the key. It cannot be too much about the details, or too much just about compositions.

6) July 24 (Tuesday)
One week from the sketches got started was the deadline day. I jump started on coloring the night before, and got most of the color scheme and details done. With fresh eyes, more into minor details, then to graphic design laying out all the text and logo. (I have been doing most of designs since issue #28)  Color is entirely done on Photoshop CS5.5.  Very long and complicated process. I often get asked things like ‘how do you color the lines?’ or ‘how do you put textures?’ But really, there is no one simple answer to those questions. Many different ways to color different part of a drawing. Hours and hours, and hours, of work.

7) same day in the afternoon.  Tadaaaaaa! It’s DONE. I had spent way too much time laying the text out, but finally I was happy.  I wanted the text to to sort of flow up the water with the bubbles. Editors let me do a lot smaller title treatment, and the title is fading out…

As you can see, this issue won’t come out for a while, but other issues keep coming out every month.
Thanks for reading! And, hey, talk to you on Facebook?

life as a freelancer.

Hello. I am writing this during my late lunch break (it is almost 3PM). I had a rush revision due at 3PM, and the revision was just sent  to the client. Phew.

June marked 10 year anniversary since I got my very first illustration job. (thank you AD Minh Uong, then Village Voice, now New York Times).  And to mark the anniversary, I got this awesome new site in July (thank you Sideways).
To mark my 10 year anniversary, the new site, and also the new blog,  I decided to post something I usually never show anyone: my calendar. YES. I still use good old fashioned calendar. Nothing can beat this. No iCal for me.

Last day of July. This is everything I did this month. (Excuse some pixels, confidential projects going on right now.) I mark sketch deadlines in blue pen, and  finals in red, cross them out as I go.
Revisions and rush jobs come in unexpectedly, and dead or finished jobs sometime also unexpectedly resurrect. Time and schedule management is part of freelancer’s job description. This ‘big calendar in front of my computer’ system really works out for me.

August comes, and art school students are starting to be in ‘back to school’ mindset, and I thought it is a fun backstage thing for them to see.

Things I have Learned So Far

Things I Have Learned So Far

This is what I scribbled yesterday morning.
In June, it will be ten years since I started working as an illustrator.
Many (MANY) mistakes were made, and things were thus learned.  These are some of them.
I wrote this as part of a brain storm to make into a presentation I will be giving next week at a design conference in Barcelona, Spain called OFFF.  I shared this on my Facebook, and got some good responses from young illustrators and new art school graduates. So, I decided to share this here as well.

Happy graduation to you all. Wishing you an adventure-filled next ten years (and more) to come ahead.

The Man Who Sailed His House

The Man Who Sailed His House illustrationDear Yuko,
I really enjoyed reading your postings on Drawger (as a lawyer who’d rather be an illustrator it is a nice escape from reality!), but it seems like these days you don’t update Drawger very often – I think your most recent post is January 12. The reason I like your postings so much is that you explain how you do things, which is really useful for rank amateurs like myself. I was wondering if you post more regularly on another website? If so, are you able to let me know what that website is?
Kind regards
I saw this e-mail in my inbox this morning when I got to my studio.
Yes, I have just been thinking about updating my Drawger. Actually, for quite a while. Whenever I go on a business trips to different schools, often students or instructors tell me how much they like my posts because they show not just the final piece, but the process where they can learn.Life is not easy. We never have time. Work load has been a bit of insane status since beginning of this year, second semester in teaching is always more work than the first semester (not sure why, but winter weather adds to it, definitely). Multiple business trips to lecture and teach (because travel is my hobby and reason for me to get outside of NYC), also, getting my website redesigned, by awesome web design studio, but I still have a lot of work to do myself…. yada yada yada… We never have time. That is true. But the e-mail this morning woke me up. I’VE GOT TO UPDATE MY BLOG RIGHT NOW!
So, before going into the regular routine of a day’s work in the studio, I am posting this now. It is for you, Mr. A.C.G. Since the new Communication Arts Illustration Annual came out, I decided the first post after hiatus is one of the winning piece, which I worked with GQ for their October 2011 issue. AD was Chelsea Cardinal.
The Man Who Sailed His House illustration 2
The story, titled The Man Who Sailed His House, was an amazing story of survival of one man during Japan’s earthquake/tsunami in March 2011. He was washed about 1Km ashore on the roof of his house when he was rescued days later. Above is the b/w version of the drawing for a double page opener. About 30″ x 22″. India ink with brush on watercolor paper.
The Man Who Sailed His House illustration sketch
I made three initial rough sketches and sent them to Chelsea. She picked the bottom left, from which I made more fefinied sketch (which is still rather loose).
The Man Who Sailed His House illustration references

There are way more than what you see here, but some of the reference materials I had found on various news sites on internet. Really charged photos… to be honest, it wasn’t so fun staring at them for days, although the project itself was fun. The one in the middle with a man waving his hand is the only photo there was of Hiromitsu, the main character of this story. (And thus I knew why they needed to hire an illustrator for this project).

The Man Who Sailed His House illustration 3

Screenshot of the beginning of long and tedious coloring process on Photoshop CS3 (since then I had switched to CS5.5)

The Man Who Sailed His House illustration 4

I was quite happy with the color. Very nutral, with only bright thing behing his helmet, which is the same color as the big fire far away.

… then some emergency happens right before the image goes to print. The full article was not available when I finished my illustration. And we found out that there are specific color references clearly written in the final article. So, the color needs to be tweaked around. But it was such a last minute decision, GQ production department had to take care of it.

Below is the final result. Red roof, yellow shoes, white helmet….

The Man Who Sailed His House illustration 5

The Man Who Sailed His House illustration magazine

There was one more spot illustration in the print version of GQ, which was Hiromitsu’s portrait. Also, what was new to me, was that they asked a few more on top for the iPad version of the magazine, some of which are posted below the portrait.

The Man Who Sailed His House illustration 6


The Man Who Sailed His House illustration 7


The Man Who Sailed His House illustration 8

If any of you are interested in this amazing story, you can read the article on GQ website.

On another note, I will try (TRY!) to post at least one or two process from now on. I will either post other works that got accepted in Communication Arts, or related Japan tsunami piece I recently did for Japan Times.
Til then…

Shout/ Stauffer/ Weber Final Interviews

I had been interviewing fellow illusrators and publishing the article in a Japanese magazine called ILLUSTRATION (イラストレーション)for a little more than two years. The magazine is now going through a big direction change, and the popular feature of foreign (from Japanese point of view) illustrators have ended for now.

Illustration Friday has been kind enough to publish the full English version of the interviews on their site, and the last of them are up right now.
Shout  Brian Stauffer  Sam Weber

I specifically recommend these intervies to illustration students and starting out illustrators, who are working really hard but sometimes have doubt in their future as a professional artist. I am sure their words will inspire you, and encourage you to keep going.


Shout/ Stauffer/ Weber Final Interviews