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Illustrator Yuko Shimizu talks about her favorite books

Yuko Shimizu talks about getting started as a professional illustrator in New York…

READERSVOICE.COM: Where did you grow up?

YUKO SHIMIZU: Tokyo and New York.

RV: How did you start getting illustration jobs in magazines in New York and what were some of your first jobs?

YS: I have been drawing ever since I can remember.

I worked in the PR dept of a trading company for a long time in a position to hire/work with illustrators, and that made me decide that was the side I wanted to be in – not on the side of corporate office.

After 11 years of working in the field, I went back to school to study art, at the School of Visual Arts in NY; did freshman and sophomore.

After that I switched to an MFA in illustration.

MFA in illustration is my last degree.

My first illustration job was Village Voice (a local free paper here in NY) and the New York Times Letters section, which happened to get published on the same day.

That was about two and a half years ago.

I did meet Village Voice AD [Art Director] Minh Uong about a half a year before he assigned me a job.

I kept sending promos because he said he liked my work.

He finally called me for Michael Musto’s gossip column.

Tom Cruise, Rosie and Niles in a closet.

It was really hard because I never did likenesses before that.
I spent three days and nights making Tom look like Tom.

Thank god it finally did!

Minh is now probably the closest of all the ADs I know.

We don’t work together anymore, but we chat on the phone, or send e-mail to each other.

As for the NY Times, I made an appointment with AD Steven Guarnaccia and met him and showed him my book.

At that point, my whole portfolio was the alphabet book thing; that was too sexy to do anything with the NY Times.

[The alphabet book project, Letters of Desire.]

He told me he liked my work but couldn’t use me because of the content.

What was cool was he said I needed some portfolio help, and called Istvan Banyai right there, so I could make an appointment to meet him.

Istvan has been very helpful and supportive since then.

We became a sort of mentor-student thing, and that is still going on.

I became close to his wife as well.

We just had breakfast together last week.

They are now like my NY family.

Anyway, the funny thing is, Steven called me the day he rejected my work and hired me anyway.

He said he saw my site and saw that I had way more things I could do than what were in the book.

I started re-working on my portfolio right after that.

RV: How did Shy Studio start? Can you talk about where it is, and where it’s been? Where did you meet Shy Studio artists like Marcos Chin and John Hendrix, and which other artists have worked in the studio?

YS: Well, it is not anything special.. John Hendrix, Katie Yamasaki and I went to graduate school together here in NY at the School of Visual Arts.

We had a studio space in school in Chelsea, which we lost the same time we graduated.

We decided to get a studio space together, about fifteen blocks up in mid town, right near Macy’s department store and Penn Station.

We are in the third space on the same floor since we moved to this building (in June 2003).

The first one was small, the second one was medium size, and the one we are in is the biggest, though not big. You know we are in New York.

John moved out to the Mid-west in July, that was when Marcos Chin moved in.

RV: What do you like about sharing a studio?

YS: It is a very lonely business that we are in.

It is wonderful to have people around to talk to, ask for opinions, eat lunch with.

Small things that really matter.

RV: When did you start teaching at SVA? What are some of the most important lessons about illustrating you try to teach your students?

YS: I started teaching right after I graduated from my MFA there.

There are a few very important core factors I want the students to know.

First, there is no short cut.

To get better at what you do, you need to put a lot of time and effort into it.

Second, there is no such thing as “creating your own style”. Style should be something that naturally comes to you because you are you.

Third, illustration is a small business, like any other small business.

You have to have good products (illustrations) and decent enough business skills.

If you lack either one, it won’t work.

RV: How far ahead do you plan your work, and what do you have planned for 2006?

YS: I work mainly editorial jobs, which have short deadlines (say a week to ten days average from start to finish).

I don’t plan much ahead.

However, since I became really busy and started turning down lots of jobs, fortunately some magazines started calling me to book me way in advance.

So, I am currently working on a job that I have been working on for about a month and half.

And I have another job that won’t be due till the end of January.

I also have possible advertising projects coming up, which may keep me busy for a while.

I am also speaking with a children’s book publisher for possible future projects.

It will probably take a while before we even decide on any.

As much as I love working on magazines, sometimes tight deadlines stress me out (sometimes I get half a day or one day jobs as well).

It is nice to have some longer term projects.

– Check out Yuko Shimizu’s website at http://www.yukoart.com