Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu spent a sizeable chunk of her adult life in PR. You wouldn’t know it from her rich, heartfelt illustrations – or the two books she has produced, the second of which is Living with Yoko Shimizu, a collection of 32 removable prints of her works on sturdy paper.
Yuko excelled at drawing as a child – both in time dedicated and quality – but her traditional Japanese upbringing put her off crafting a career in her childhood hobby, and she opted for PR instead. Thankfully, she had a midlife crisis at the early age of 22, saved up money over years that we bet felt pretty long, and then quit her job to pursue what she really wanted.
Aged 34, Yuko returned to school, but this time not to study business. She left New York’s School of Visual Arts (SVA) with an MFA in Illustration, but couldn’t cleave herself from the city and instead settled in a Midtown Manhattan studio. She has been illustrating – and teaching illustration at SVA and across the world – ever since (and has had no repeat midlife crises).
Both Japanese and American influences give Yuko’s work a tone that is more her own than either of her country’s - a mish-mesh of American pop and Japanese comic art that favours moody, faded greens, reds and yellows in a scaffold of Yuko’s distinctive, flowing ink drawings.
We caught up with Yuko just before the book’s launch (which was on April 6 2016) – and she tells us about her inspirations, how she keeps herself looking to the future and how her previous, now out-of-print book is now selling for $USD150.
Image: Self Portrait
Mimi Launder: How are you feeling about the launch of Living with Yuko Shimizu?
Yuko Shimizu: “I am really, really excited. My previous monograph went out of print last year. I get asked about how you can get hold of the book, and I have to say, ‘I am sorry, you may be able to get one on Amazon used for like $150USD…’
“The offer from ROADS publishing came at the right time. It is art prints bound into a book form or sort of small monograph. When we were putting together the previous monograph, we settled on smaller format to reduce the sales price. Large books tend to be more expensive, but not many illustration fans want to pay a lot for a book. But because of this unique format, for Living with Yuko Shimizu, it was possible to keep the retail price affordable, and have the good large format.
“I am extremely happy with the selection of work in there as well. I feel they really represent who I am as an artist.”
Image: Bear Measuring
ML: What inspires your work?
YS: “The biggest inspiration is personal experiences, or at least I believe that. I try to pack in as many new experiences into my life as possible, which is of course hard, because we are creatures of habit. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I try to go to foreign conferences and workshops as much as possible. Visiting places I have never been is one of the best ways to get yourself stimulated, especially when you are not the one who is choosing the places to visit and let the fate decide its own way.”
Image: Butterfly Hunting
ML: Which of your works is your favourite, and why?
YS: “There are definitely ones I like more than others, but none of them are favourite. I create in hope to get better as I go. So, I don’t have a habit of looking back and think ‘that was my masterpiece’. I think of my favourite works as being created in future.”
Image: Blackberry Hunting in Fjord
ML: Where would you like to take your work in the future?
"There is no specific set goal right now, but I believe trying out new things are always challenging and interesting. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s a good uncomfortable. I did an online teaching video for Skillshare on ink drawing. That was a big challenge and a huge stress while I was working on it, because it is unlike anything I'd done in past."
Image: Three Scenarios in which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail
If you want to see more of Yuko's work (and learn more about her), she is positively hyper on her Instagram.
Image: Blow Up 2: Storm Forming
Moods range from the seductively sinister to young and adventurous - whatever it is, the emotion is always rich and strong, evocative and exuberant, and always with texture that she creates by hand. In fact, the drawings themselves are done on paper with ink (her favourite part), and then scanned in and coloured on Photoshop.
Despite, or perhaps because of, her hydrophobia, Yuko draws a lot of illustrations of water - whether menacing or embracing.
Image: When I Opened My Eyes
Image: Kiddy Pool Emergency
Image: Reach Out for the Stars
Image: Risking for More
Image: The Story of Diving Helmets