Yuko Shimizu’s poster illustration for Takashi Miike’s new film 13 Assassins.

Poster for New York Metropolitan Transit, with happy kids in Grand Central Terminal. To see more about this poster, check out Yuko’s blog.

Hello everyone – it’s Matt Huynh here again with my second post. Next up I would like to tell you about Yuko Shimizu. Yuko left an 11 year-long career in PR in Tokyo for life in New York as an artist for magazines, advertising, comic book covers, theatre, books, diapers, school murals, fashion sets – just everything really, you should just see for yourself on her site. She graduated with an MFA from Illustration as Visual Essay Program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) where she teaches today.

Sketch studies for New York subway poster (show above).

I have noticed your chihuahua being a bigger and bigger star in your work. I love seeing these personal hints on artwork for reproduction that could otherwise feel a little bit distant and cold, especially when your pictures can be filled with so much vitality and fantasy! In your illustration, when you can see your creator’s hand behind every mark, it seems most fitting. What are the qualities that endear artwork, your own and others, to you?

I like artwork, or pretty much everything, when I can see the person or people behind it. I am a big fan of the originals. Rather than pop top hits, I rather listen to Bjork’s less commercial experimental and sometimes odd music. I think I have been like that for a while. It is not the matter of style, or type of work, but when I see someone is trying to do something original, it makes me excited. Do I do that? Well, at least I try to. Even if I fail, that idea of trying is very important, I think.

Yuko’s personal project titled “Letters of Desire”, 2003. Shown here clockwise from top left – Book cover ‘A-Girl’; G2 – “Gelato With Gender 2”; Z1 – “Zip-Up”; X – “X-small, X-short”. The last one was later published as a large size poster insert for Yen Magazine of Australia.

What have you been up to?

I have been doing rather interesting non-editorial projects since around the end of last year. The new Takashi Miike movie 13 Assassins movie poster for US release was the first job I worked on this year, and it just came out this week. It is this horror director’s first samurai flick, and stars the staple Japanese samurai movie actors, including Koji Yakusho, who I have liked since I was a teenager. So, it was exciting to work on my teenage obsession.
Other things I had worked on recently are two DVD package designs that will come out very soon, NY subway posters just announced (see it here), first children’s book project, and a theater post I am working on for a Japanese client.

This last one is a bit of struggle. Because the disaster happened, in the midst of the project, and the meaning of the image completely changed before and after. We are still working on it. I am not sure at this point, what can be used and what cannot be. I have revised some after they were done… It is stressful, but it is nobody’s fault, and we are all trying to make it work at the end…

The Unwritten #19 cover. Yuko says – I remember working on the sketches while teaching a workshop in Mexico….

Has the character of illustration changed given all the hefty cultural and technological changes, or does this time feel like another in a long line of natural shifts?

I have only been working professionally for about 8 years, so by the time I have started working, the world has changed a lot because of technology. I would say that it is one in a long line of natural shifts, although, the technological change is happening so fast, so the natural shift is moving so fast as well. Any change that is happening to illustration is not just happening here, but pretty much anywhere else. Recession hits any industry. And recession and boom economy comes and goes, and although it feels much better now compared to 2009 economy-wise, we know that there will always be sunny days and rainy days. I just hope to learn how to weather the rain better from experiences in the future.   

The Unwritten #16 cover.

Your balance as a practicing illustrator with teaching is very admirable.

There are many good things about teaching, and a lot of us do teach. (I teach two classes a week). One is that you can give back what you have learned from your teachers and your experiences to the next generation, which is the most important of all the reasons to teach. It is very rewarding.
Then, some people who are not in our position, freelancer, may laugh, but it gives us chance to get out and talk to people. Some of my friends who work in the office environment say, ‘how do you have time to be on Facebook?” and my answer is ‘otherwise, I may not talk to anyone for the whole day’. Freelance artist’s life can get lonely. OK, do talk to my dog, but my studio mate or assistant only come in a few days here and there, and the rest of the time, I am mostly alone in the studio. Teaching get me out, let me talk to people who are in a different generation. They do teach me about things I don’t know about, like about funny TV cartoon, or what pop or hip hop musicians are popular, or which movie is good or not…
And, there is also this very American thing called health insurance… It is important to have one. You know.

The Word magazine (UK) monthly supplement CD Now Hear This! cover for november issue Yuko Shimizu © 2007.

You seem like a big traveller, would you ever like to come to Australia?

I should have visited Australia when I was still in Japan. It is like going to Buenos Aires from New York, so easy. But now… I almost passed out when I went to Hong Kong flying above North Pole and Siberia, It was so so far… I am not sure if I am ready to take a longer air trip anytime soon. When I hear Australia, I think of Priscilla… I would love to see Outback. Sorry do I sound cliché? But I would love to see Outback. That would be nice.

New York Magazine Nov 21, 2005 issue story about a new sex medicine which is supposed to drive sex-obsessed New Yorkers even crazier. Yuko says that (this) was the craziest illo I had ever done… Yuko Shimizu © 2006.

Yuko, have you heard reports from your loved ones back in Japan? I hope your friends, family and loved ones are keeping very safe.

Thank you for asking Matt. My family and friends are doing OK, although their lives are inconvenienced. But they are all in Tokyo area, and their inconveniences are nothing compared to those who has lost homes home towns, friends and family… I don’t know how to digest this big disaster, still ongoing, and unveiling. It is still too early for me to put this situation in words. All I can say is that my thoughts and sympathy are with those who are suffering.


Images © Yuko Shimizu, all rights reserved.

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With a disarming blend of authority and approachability, Dana is a former refugee-turned-global design visionary. Through her multi-faceted work as a creative director, keynote speaker, editor, curator, interior designer and digital publisher, Dana empowers others to appreciate and engage with design in transformative ways, making the sometimes intimidating world of design accessible to everyone, regardless of their familiarity with the subject. Dana's been catapulted to the status of a stalwart global influencer, with recognition from industry heavyweights such as AD Germany, Vogue Living, Elle Décor Italia and Danish RUM Interiør Design, who have named as one of the Top True Global Influencers of the Design World and counted her among the most visionary female creatives on the planet. Her TEDx talk—"Design Can Change the Way You See the World"— will challenge and transform your understanding of design's omnipresent and profound influence. Through her vast experience in interiors, architecture and design, Dana challenges the prevailing rapid image culture, highlighting the importance of originality, sustainability, connecting with your values and learning to "see" design beyond the aesthetic.

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