1. Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I was born in Tokyo, and grew up mostly there, and partially in New York during late 70s to early 80s. I have been back to New York again from 1999, and I have been illustrating since around 2002-2003.

2. In what main ways does Japanese culture differ from American culture in terms of:
I am not sure if I am exactly the right person to answer this, because I was not working in the field of art when I was still living in Japan. I studied advertising and marketing (the business part, not the art part), and worked in PR... The only art school I went was in New York (School of Visual Arts); so I cannot compare art school either. What I can say, though, is that I was amazed by the difference between the US education and Japanese education (in general). In Japan, they focus on teaching students how to memorize things: memorize fact, memorize how to do things in the most efficiently... In US, they focus on teaching students how to think in their own terms. I cannot say which is better. Each have pros and cons. For example, Japanese people in general are way better draftsman; they can all draw quite well in average, way more so than Americans. On the other hands, American people can come up with ideas and concepts that are so unique Japanese people with great skill might never be able to. They don’t limit themselves on way they think.
Well, it is not just about art. It is in everything. But also, it explains how art differs in each country quite well.
Being a woman / a female professional...
Being a woman, a female professional Well you all know about extreme low glass ceiling they have over there. Of course, I have not lived in that country for 11 years, and I am sure things has changed much since I left. Also at the same time, I know that country is notorious for slow change.
The in generals of day-to-day life...
In general, day to day life... Now, this is the hardest one.. I think they are just so different; it is a lot easier to pick up things that are the same. It is, a very very different environment over there. If you are an American who has never visited Asia or Japan. I highly recommend you to go visit. In fact, it is a very fun country to go visit. To live there...? Now, that’s a whole another story. But I can speak about it for hours and hours and hours.

3. How have you noticed the industry changing since you've started illustrating professionally? Has the world change much since 2002? I assume it is hard to hear the answer ‘no’ from anyone. Technology is changing the world so fast so much every single day now. Of course, it does affect illustration; just like it affect everything else. Now, my phone (landline) doesn’t ring so much anymore! It is rare clients call. They e-mail! Or, I sometimes get jobs through my Facebook! Ah, the crazy 21st century
4. Can you remember doing any really bad jobs when you were getting started just to get your foot in the door?
I have done a lot of bad jobs. I probably still do, although I try not to. But it has nothing to do with get my foot in the door. The bottom line is, try and do your best regardless, as long as you have taken that job. If the job is not suitable for you, you don’t have to take it. I don’t. But sometimes, no matter how much you try, things turn out not the way you want. Maybe it is the subject matter; maybe it is the heavy art direction... But always try the best. Because if you try your best and things don’t turn out perfectly, you know, at least, you had tried. As long as the work is professional publishable level, you had done your job. But don’t ever do work badly because you don’t want to spend time or effort on it. If you know that’s the case, you just don’t take that job!

5. Your work, although always beautiful, always seems to have some great ideas - what do you do to brainstorm / idea generate?
I don’t think it is always great idea... But thank you. At least I try.... Ideas come from research on subject matter. We professional illustrators don’t have light bulbs that lights up immediately when we get briefed on projects. There are many many days I feel like it is the end of the career because I have no good idea to come up with. Then I just patiently go online and do research on subject matter, keywords to the concept... Draw a lot of bad thumbnails... And from there, ideas eventually come out...

6. Stylistically, how did you wind up where you are now? - Any idea of where your work may be a few years down the line?
I am an artist; I let my work naturally evolve. I don’t know my future, in terms of style or look, and that’s the part of fun. I used to work in corporate where I can see my future in the coworkers nearing their retirement. I can see the rails all the way far in the future, tens and twenties of years in future. I got freaked out. I want to be in the position I am in full control of those rails. I put down the rails as I go. A great feeling, it is.

7. Can you think of a favorite job you've done, or AD you've worked with off the top of your head?
I don’t know if I had a favorite job I have done. I have at least a few, if not more. I have at least a few ADs I love working with. I won’t mention their names here, but the bottom line is, when art directors know exactly who is the perfect person for the project, and pick me, and trust what I do, then I do the best work. There are jobs happened like that, and there are ADs who are really good at making the very right decisions. I really appreciate that.
8. Do you listen to music while you're working - if so, who?
I have tons of music on my iTunes. And I listen to according to my mood. When I am down, maybe Jamiroquai, when I am stressed out maybe Moby’s ambient songs may do, I am working on my personal work? Bjork may put me in the mood. I want to feel the summer, then Ry Cooder... Well, there are many more musicians I love, but just to let you know that I switch according to what I need at that moment. But actually, the best company to my work is WNYC, streamlined form my computer. I basically listen to it morning till night, most of the days. I am stuck in my own small world of my studio most of the time, and WNYC keep me updated with news, politics, current events, art, new albums, and everything else in between. My studio-mates and I are getting hooked to going down to WNYC Green Space, not far from our studio, to go check out the live recordings. Our favorite is Sound Check. Take a long lunch break, and go listen to great music and talk for one hour. It is absolutely fantastic. We recently went to hear Sharon Jones, and Moby in this very small intimate space.

9. What does New York offer you that other cities do not?
I like the fact New York lets you be yourself. New York is filled up with people who came here from all over the country, and from all over the world. We all had goals and dreams in mind, each different, and head out to this city. And there is energy that New York has, which you cannot experience anywhere else because of that.

10. Where are some of your favorite places to travel?
My motto is; go anywhere I have never been, just for experience. So, when schools and design organizations invite me, I try to go as long as that fit into my schedule. Having said that, my favorite country to visit is Mexico. It is just magical. There is no place like it, Latin culture, Europe and America, and indigenous culture all meets up there. Unfortunate thing is that most of Americans have wrong perception of Mexico, without actually experience the life there (beach resorts won’t count). I hate American stereotyping Mexico or Mexicans. It is just so beautiful and magical, filled with great people. And I cannot get enough of it.
11. How does your experience with tutormill sync up to teaching in real life? What are the sames when dealing with a student / what are the differences?
It is great in many ways. I have only taught those I can meet, most of them in New York (I teach at School of Visual Arts) in past. But with TutorMill, students can be anywhere in the world and take classes with teachers who are also spread around the world. I think I had taught like three or four students from Spain so far. It is really cool to get to know those passionate illustrators abroad. We teach in team of two, which students can pick and choose, so I ended up teaching with many illustrators I had never had a chance to teach with. Most of time we agree, sometimes we argue, but all for good! And students can get so much out of it. At first, I was worried because we only talk online, not in person, but there are a lot of benefit that can fill that gap up and more.

12. What’s the best part of being a teacher?
I learn a lot from the energy of the students. Sometimes what I give them as advice subconsciously come back to myself and end up giving the same advise to myself. Weird, but true.

13. What are you loving about illustration right now?
I just love that I can make living doing what I always had as a hobby. Sometimes deadlines stress me out, but at the end of the day, this is what I love to do. And I cannot get enough of it.

14. Any advice for new illustrators looking to break into the biz?
Love what you do, and work really hard. It is not easy being an artist. But as long as it is what you love, you can go through anything. It is not just about illustration or art in general, but just choose something you absolutely LOVE. Power of love will take you a long way!!!
All images copyright Yuko Shimizu - See more of Yuko's work on her website: http://www.yukoart.com
Thanks Yuko!!!


  1. Yuko's interview gave me lessons as always! I really enjoyed reading it! :)

  2. I loved this interview. I can't agree more about the energy from NYC. I feel it every time I go.

  3. from one great artist to another :)

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  6. Yuko is one of my favorite illustrators. Thanks for interviewing her, Pete.

    How do you get these interviews with the illustrators? Are you friends with them, or do you just email them and ask them?

    BTW, how does one email you, Pete? I couldn't find an email address under your profile.

  7. Nice interview , always have enjoyed her work.

    Cheers, Dom