A Conversation With Yuko Shimizu, Professional Magazine Illustrator

Yuko-Post.jpg A self-described nerd who, as a child, sat in the corner and drew while the other kids played dodgeball, Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu didn't always know that she wanted to be an illustrator. She spent 11 years doing public relations for a corporation in Tokyo before escaping to New York for art school. And after graduating from the School of Visual Arts in 2002, she gradually amassed an impressive roster of clients including The New Yorker and Playboy. Her style is surreal and sexy, combining the language of Japanese woodblock prints with the grammar of graphic novels. Here, Shimizu talks about which artists she worships, what advice she would give to young illustrators, and why she'd rather stay away from the animation world.

What do you say when people ask you, 'What do you do?'

I used to say, "I'm an illustrator" when I started out, and I realized nobody knows what illustrators do -- unless you're a children's book illustrator. So now I say I draw pictures for magazines and newspapers, which people seem to understand.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the illustration world?

The Internet. It sounds dumb, but before the Internet, if you made art, you had to show it, otherwise people didn't see it; you had to show it physically. Now, you make art and, even if you're someone who's not a professional artist and you make great art in the middle of nowhere, you put it online and, if the work is good, people start talking about it and linking to you. It's as simple as that.

I started in 2002 when not everyone had a website and blogs; I started out in that transitional period. The Internet has helped a lot to establish me as a working illustrator, making a living from it. For people who started a little bit before me, it took five years, ten years to establish themselves because they had to physically bring their work around to show to magazines and newspapers. Now students do their work, they put it up online, and next thing you know, anyone from anywhere in the world can see it.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your field?

It is art, but it is also about running a small business. You can do amazing artwork, but if you're unreliable and irresponsible or can't keep track of your paperwork, you can't succeed as an illustrator. I'm in my studio a lot working, but actually half of the time, I'm doing my paperwork and organizing and talking to clients. Actually, it's half art and half running a small business.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the art or illustration world?

People say it's animation. A lot of illustrations get animated because of the online presence -- you know, iPad and all the tablets that are new; you have a more interactive quality than before.

But trends are trends; they come and go. I try not to get too caught up in the trends. Right now, definitely, animating your drawings seems like the hot thing. But I also think that good, static drawings and paintings will probably not go away. And I do not do animation. The best animation from illustrators always comes from illustrators doing the character design and the professional animators animating them. There are artworks that are easier to translate into animation, and some that are not. And I guess my work is not that easy. It's not animation-friendly.

What's an art or illustration trend that you wish would go away?

Whatever is a trend, I wish it would go away. There's always something that's very popular right now, at this moment. And a lot of people go, "Oh my God, there's a goldmine out there!" and they try to do it. And a lot of people's work starts to look the same. And those people might get work at that point, but then the trend goes away, and then the next thing comes along, and you're not in fashion anymore. I feel it's a bit sad to chase the trend -- any trend. Especially for young people who want to be illustrators, I hope they just do their own things and do not chase the trend.

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Grace Bello is a copywriter and freelance writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in McSweeney's, Nerve.com, BUST, The Hairpin, USA Today's Pop Candy, and more. She performed in the improv comedy troupe Wizard Sleeve.

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