Yuko Shimizu
random thoughts
Whether you make it or not is never about talent. message to the aspiring artists

“Can you tell who’s going to make it in your class?” I sometimes get this big question. And my answer is YES, I CAN. Their eyes open up twice as big. But wait! I need to explain a bit more.

Recently in my class, a students, who is very talented, but lacking a bit of focus, and  hasn't been creating work up to his talent, said “I always wanted to be a concept artist, but not anymore”. I asked why. Initially he didn’t give me a good enough answer, but after talking for a few minutes, he finally said this:
“I find there are always people who are better than me, and I don’t think I can be as good.”
Now, this is not the best answer, but at least a good enough answer in a way that solving a problem starts from admitting the problem. Right?

So, going back to WHO MAKES IT.
The answer is this: those who dream big, and those who work hard toward it.  Those are the ones, I can guarantee, who make it at the end. It's that simple. It is never about how talented you are.
I have been teaching for 12 years now. I have met many students and aspiring illustrators. And let me reassure you, talent is NEVER the key to how one makes it or not. Of course, if you have the talent AND extremely hardworking, then, congratulations. You are unbeatable. But the truth is, most us are not those very rare few. And that is totally OK.

I have seen many extremely talented students who ended up never making it.  Because they relied too much on the gift they were born with, and never learned to work hard, because they felt they were just too cool for school, stopped listening to professors’ advices, etc, etc..., while others who are not as gifted worked their ass off and get better slowly but surely.

I think one of the best things that happened to me when I was still a student was the fact that my roommate was one of those very rare few. You know, that one person who was extremely talented AND hardworking, that you know you would never be.
The reality was, after that initial intimidation slowly faded away, I was able to just accept the fact there are ALWAYS going to be people who are better than you, and that is totally OK. It is an unnecessary distraction you should never focus on. By having that genius roommate, I was actually able to, from early on, not worry about looking at others and getting intimidated, and rather spend that energy focus on my work and my own strength.

I had a classmate who’s dream was to be a kids’ book artist. She started art later than most of her classmates. Thus her work at that point definitely looked that way. I asked an another classmate, “Do you think she will one day get a kids’ book deal?” The classmate answered without even hesitating for a second, “Oh yeah, for sure! She is so damn determined; I have no doubt she will! ”
One thing she did was she worked really REALLY hard. She listened and applied every advice and criticism instructors and classmates gave her. Sometimes things worked, sometimes things didn’t, but she never gave up. Her work got better slowly but surely each and every single day.
And guess what? More than a decade after graduation, while many of her classmates ended up going onto different paths, she is THE ONE with multiple kids book published, with more on her way, and teaching the next generation of aspiring kids book artists.
She had never stopped, for more than a decade, to have focus, work ethic, and a big dreams always close to her heart.

art doesn't save people's lives (but it can do other things instead)

This is a portrait of a young man I created back in 2006 for a Christian magazine. This young man, who loved mountains and nature, unfortunately lost his life too early to drugs.
When I initially created this image, the father of this man contacted me because he liked the image, and I sent him an enlarged color print to put up on his home wall.

While my assistant and I were organizing flat files a few months ago, among big piles of old work, I found the original b/w drawing. I thought of the father, but I couldn't find his contact. Then last week, he e-mailed me out of the blue, because he wanted to show me a photo of the print up on the wall of his new house. He said he made sure to hang the print so it is the first thing people see when entering the house. Thus I got his home address to FedEx him the drawing where it should belong.
This morning I got the most touching thank you message in my inbox. It really made my day.

I believe in power of art, and importance of it. At the same time, I always think of art as, "yeah, but it doesn't save anyone's lives" .
It doesn't, but art does certainly make our lives richer. At least, it's good to know that it does.

Why I think day job is good for you. (for aspiring artists out there)

I was buying a box of cereal. I said "hi" to the girl at the checkout counter, but she didn't even look up. She scanned the cereal box and throw it back at me without even saying how much the total was.
I try to be nice at the checkout counters. I look them straight in their eyes and say "hi, how are you?", even when they look like they are not having a good day. Which is, well, most of the time.  Their attitude changes, they smile back, and we part by saying 'Thank you. Have a good day' to each other.

The girl who threw the cereal box, though, she was taking her unhappiness out on me. I didn't even feel like wasting my time patiently smiling at her. So I took the change, mumbled thank you inside my mouth and left. 
The good thing is  that I can forget this bad experience right when I step out of the store. On the other hand  she has to stay working unhappily all day long. 

One of the most common questions young artists, especially those who just graduated, ask me is: "did you have to take a day job when you were starting out?".
I don't know exactly what they expect me to answer, and what is the intention of the question. However what I  know is that this is not a simple yes or no answer for me.  If you are asking about the time after finishing my MFA  in illustration, my answer is no.  But I also spent 11 years in corporate PR office job after I finished college before going back to art school much later in my life. So, the answer is yes if I count those 11 years as my day job. And I do.

The fact is that it was during my day job I learned everything about how to work efficiently, how to organize, multi-task, how to make good phone calls or to negotiate terms either with clients or with bosses and coworkers.... you name it. (including, minor things like don't make phone calls before 10AM, don't e-mail important topics on weekends or Mondays, which I still follow till this day.) In short, it taught me everything about how to run my small business of illustration later on.

When I went back to school as an art student at age over 30, I initially felt old and inferior to those bright 17 year olds in my classes. But soon realized that though I may have been old(er), I also had a lot of life experiences under my belt. Now, after finishing up exact same amount of time, exactly 11 years, of working as an illustrator, I often stop and think: would it have been even possible to be working as an illustrator for this long if I didn't have that day job first? The answer to this is very clear to me.

 I was a hopeless 21 year old, who had no life experiences or social skill but thought I was someone special, like any other (or should I say most of) 21 year old may think. I used to pick fights with bosses when I thought I was right. (though I still think I was right in those cases! LOL.) I now know exactly how to talk that boss into letting me do what I think is a good idea, among everything else. (After all, any business is about person to person relationships. ) Yes, I learned them all during my day job.
Though I never loved that job, which ultimately made me decide to leave and pursue my childhood dream of being an artist, I don't regret the priceless experiences that later allowed me to jump start my 'second career'. If I have a time machine to go back, I won't change a thing.

I believe day jobs are too underrated. Maybe you feel inferior to those who don't need to take that day job? Please don't ever be ashamed!  Trust me, there is a lot you can learn from any day job  as long as you try to make best of it, even when the situation is not ideal. The reality is, business of art is half art and half business. There are far fewer young artists who are completely ready to run their own one person business when they graduate than those who are not. Think of it as you are given a special opportunity to get yourself ready.
When that day comes when you can finally let go of that day job, I guarantee you will be thankful for the experiences you have had. Besides, you will be So thankful for not have to work on day job anymore that you will focus and work even harder than if you didn't have to go through it.

Trust my word. It's all going  to be good! (and let's start from smiling while you are on the job.)

(PS: The last photo is a Google street view of the office building I worked for 11 years in Tokyo. Because I am just about to start the 12th year working on my second job, I thought it was a good time to talk about this now. Hope it would be helpful for some of you. Thank you. )

for you who are 22 and lost.
New school year has just begun. Students are back to school, half nervous, and half excited. 
And then, there are those 20 somethings, who had gone back to school every September except this year. And many Septembers to come. They had just graduated. 
It's been so long since I first got out of school, but I clearly remember how lost and confused I was. I remember it like it was yesterday. 

Yesterday I got an e-mail from one of those 20somethings. She said she wants to pursue illustration, but is so lost. Fear is overtaking her passion to create. 
I wrote her back, then thought there may be many others who are feeling the same. So, I posted the screen-grab of my answer to my Facebook page. I got a lot more positive replies than I ever thought. 
I know a lot of students and aspiring illustrators are looking at Drawger. So I am posting here again, in hope it may help some of you out there. 
things I have learned so far.
This is what I scribbled yesterday morning. 
In June, it will be ten years since I started working as an illustrator. 
Many (MANY) mistakes were made, and things were thus learned.  These are some of them.  
I wrote this as part of a brain storm to make into a presentation I will be giving next week at a design conference in Spain called OFFF.  I shared this on my Facebook, and got some good responses from young illustrators and new art school graduates. So, I decided to share this here as well.

Happy graduation to you all. Wishing you an adventure-filled next ten years (and more) to come ahead. 
Happy Winter Solstice.
I don't like it when day light savings time ends, and day gets shorter and shorter. I get the annual winter blues.
Today is Winter Solstice. Yes, the shortest day time of the year. And, there is something to celebrate: Look at the bright side, the day can only get longer from here on!
Well, of course, colder weather awaits in front of us in January and February. But I always feel like today is the day I can exhale and think that the worst has passed.

Have a very Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, and whatever religious or non religious holiday you are celebrating. And, a happy new year.
See you again in 2012, everyone.

PS: This illustration was originally created for The Atlantic Magazine's Gallery section, published in the middle of the horrible winter last year.

art in the time of disaster.
this image was taken from

I have been learning about a lot of things in last ten days. I have been learning a lot about what has happened in Japan. I have learned how to watch TV news on my iPod, how to get my calls go through to my parents without busy signal (sometimes I have to call like 10 times), or collect enough information from various sources to assess what is right, what is wrong and what is just pure lie.

But more importantly, I have been learning a lot about responsibility of art and being an artist.  
This is a rare moment when I look at the world and the world of art and design from a victim's point of view.
Well, I am technically not a victim. My family and friends are doing OK, although going though some tough times and inconveniences. I don't even know a single person in the area directly hit by this disaster.
Yet, the world outside Japan sees "Japan as the victim" and treat us, Japanese people abroad, as victims, and therefore, for the first time (and hopefully the last time) I am seeing the world from a completely different point of view.

I contribute illustrations to newspapers and news magazines. I do illustrate tough topic like ongoing war. But I have never had a chance to stand on  the point of the view of what has getting illustrated.

And then I got this link to Fast Company blog post by  John Pavlus. He captured my unorganized thoughts for the last ten days into very easy to read article which makes you think, regardless of you agree with him or not.
I wanted to share this with you, especially that those who are reading this are mainly people in the creative field.

I personally do not mind the specific poster in question here. At the same time, I cannot agree more with Mr. Pavlus' view toward design (in general) during the time of disaster, and responsibility of the artists who create them.

Aren't some of the designs popping up on my and your facebook links, just too quick, too easy, and too smart, and sometimes feel like each designer is rushing to create the most clever image? Doesn't it sometimes feel like it is a competition of a sort? Did they even have enough time to research the subject matter, do they know about the specific areas in Japan and culture, or did they think through of what was the message in the images  before creating the images in rush?

If it it was too long to read my mumbling, you can skip and just read here:
During the time of disaster, those who are affected need to see sympathy, hope and encouragement more than anything.
The last thing they want to see is another image of disaster, like a blood spilling flag.
This is something I have learnd that wanted to share with you today.

Let us show them hope. Because with our pens and brushes and computer mouse, we can.

Thank you very much for those who read all the way down to here.
PS (this section was added later)

Thank you for all your comments.
I know, once a blog post is up and people start commenting, it start to take life of its' own, and people do start talking on the topics that were not necessarily the intention or the main topic of a post. But that is just the nature of it.

I just wanted to add this section (previous section is the original post, I have not touched or revised it.) to explain my intention.

It is not an attack against the creator of the poster that I used the image of (I used it because it was the top page of the original post by John Pavlus). I did mention that I did not mind the particular poster (actually, it is one of the better ones). And, whatever done for charity, and raising money: great. I am not complaining about the charity itself, and I believe neither did the original author John Pavlus. Whatever good intention rules, no doubt about that. I know people have ideas toward whether it is an exploitation, shameless self promotion, etc, etc, well, I have no comment on that, that was not the part of my intent on this post.

It is the images (self-initiated) themselves, initiated by thousands of pro and armature artists and designers, popping up on internet even quicker than the actual detail of disasters unveils (it is ongoing), and many of them (not all, but many) seem so quick, so careless, so research less, and often feels like people are on competition who is the one to post the most clever ideas the fastest. How many of those who had created them can explain the meaning and controversial feelings of Japanese people toward the Hinomaru flag. Or, know about the area of disaster. Like, if you ask any American about the area where Katrina hit, they have pretty good idea and knowledge... for example.)

Most importantly, I wanted to know that the people who are facing disasters in far away land need encouragement, support, hope and sympathy more than anything.
I wanted each artist who is reading this, or thinking of creating some art/design work related to this or any other disasters happening around the world, to have that in mind when creating.

Thank you.
my dog, a proud Mexican!
I aquired a five year old dog last May. It was sort of like an accident. I was not looking to get a dog, well, not just yet. He just decided to be part of my lif.
Since then, I cannot think of a life without him.
He is sweet, friendly, well behaved, and keeps me great company.
When I was going to teach a workshop in Mexico last summer and needed to create a poster to announce the event, I wasn't sure what to pick as a subject. It should be something Mexican, but it shouldn't be a typical cliche.
Then I looked at the couch in my studio where he sleeps just like he always does while I work. Oh, of course, this is it! He is a proud Chihuahua, a Mexican. What is more appropriate than drawing him in the poster?

He became a bit of a star in the small town. Only thing was taht has was actually not there. Next time I am flying out to Mexico, he should come with me. See the motherland himself.
Happy Valentine's Day to you all.
six of my dogs on the poster!

he was depicted on a banner to announce the show and the workshop

he was also made into a tote bag (sold out)

he was seen around town of Xalapa, Mexico like this during the exhibition.

This is him in real life. We have matching outfit. (I don't dress dogs, up. He just needs sweater in this weather.)

my friend Ryan.

Last evening I learned that my really good friend Ryan has passed away.

I first met Ryan during Fine Art Studio Residency Program at School of Visual Arts in summer of 2001. We got along immediately. Although in recent years we were not spending as much time, as we both have been busy with our lives after school, but I still consider him as one of my very closest friends.
Last time I saw him was about a year ago in his new apartment doing potluck lunch party with Studio Residency alum. Ryan loved my  Guacamole  so much I gave him the recipe. He later that week called me and said he was eating the Guacamole all that week.

It is hard to digest this unexpected sudden news. All his close friends, including myself, are more confused than feeling sad. I spent most of last night half awake half asleep recalling all the fun memories we had together.

When we were still in school, I made a sketchbook documentary of his life. I decided dig up the pages and post here.
I know almost nobody who are reading this know Ryan, but his short precious life was worth knowing even if you didn't know him personally.

Happy New Year!
“Thank god 2009 is over!” Did you say that when the ball dropped? I did, and so did my friends who were with me on the new year’s.

If you didn’t have to say this, good for you. But 2009 was definitely not a fun year for most of us. Many of my friends have lost their jobs and a lot of them are still looking for new work. In the world of illustration, recession was not on our side either.

2010 is the year of the tiger (No, not the golf kind). In old Chinese saying it goes: “不入虎穴、不得虎子。(You have to go into the tiger lair to catch the tiger cub.)” In another word; take risk, and you will be rewarded.
What a nice saying to start a year. 

Wishing all the Drawger writers and readers a happy and prosperous 2010!
Life Imitating Illustration, or…
left: the latest New York Magazine, photo by Mitchell Funk. right: Hemispheres cover illustrated by Shout
… or just a total coincidence? Two funny encounters this week.

I pick up The latest issue of New York Magazine on Monday and “Wow, it is another beautiful illustration by Shout”. I look closer… Oh wait, these buildings in the background look too realistic to be an illustration….? 
Then I realized it was NOT an illustration at all, but a photo.  Photographer is Mitchell Funk, he is a veteran working since the 70s (left).

I e-mailed the cover to Shout, telling him the story. He wrote right back and said he got a kick out of it, it is something he would totally do. In fact, he attached an illustration he has done in past that has a lot of similarities (right).

Was the photo inspired by the illustration or is it the total coincidence? We couldn’t tell, but it didn’t matter anyway.
The fun of all this is that two completely different mediums (especially that Shout’s work is not realistic at all) can create atmosphere so similar, graphic and beautiful. 

I love then both and I want to frame and hang them on my wall. It is not a bad idea to just see the beautiful side of winter and forget about all the cold and muddy slush that await us in the next few months. 

left: illustration by Heads of State right: mugs designed by J.C. Karich
I fell in love with these funny yet beautiful mug designed by J.C. Karich (right). I bought a whole stack to give to friends for Christmas (and keep one for myself).
I showed it off to fellow Drawgers, then Matt reminded me that Heads of State (left) that was done an illustration with the same idea a while ago. This, probably also is just a pure coincidence playing with the idea of anger in the office environment.

Now I am putting these two images next to eachother, I love the different takes on the same idea. In the actual mug the knuckles were placed opposite from the illustration and that affects the nice curvy form of the cup.

By the way, the mug, I heard is completely sold out for the holiday season, but if you want to be wait-listed, contact the nice people at UMA.

Oh, and last but not least….

Happy holidays everyone!

Photoshopping In the Beginning of Time (of photographs)
Robert Capa/Magnum Photos
Invention of Adobe Photoshop sure made it so much easier to manipulate photos. And a lot of us, illustrators, rely on the power of what Photoshop can do. I am one of them.
I wanted to share this very interesting NY Times article from this morning (Sunday, Week In Review Section) Faked Photographs: Look, and Then Look Again. What we call ‘Photoshopping’ (i.e. manipulating photos) and fake photographs are not just on the cover of contemporary glossy magazine.

Read the full article here.
See the slide show here.

(all the photos here are borrowed from NY Times site.)

Art, Fame and Money.
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times (This photo is borrowed from New York Times site)
I was in shock this morning reading the New York Times article about the current financial situation of Ms. Annie Leibovitz, one of the most established photographers of our time.
I don’t think a week would pass by without seeing Ms. Leibovitz’s works somewhere, on the Louis Vuitton advertisements or in Vanity Fair or in Vogue. (In fact, there is a giant LV ad on the same section of NY Times. )
We all logically know that grass is not greener on the otehr side. We are adults, right?  But then, be real, when you hear that the artist is making the salary of 7 figures from Vanity Fair alone, don’t you kind of fantasize to be in her shoes?

Well, this article proves that you probably better off not to, and that other artists’ lives are probably not better than yours just because she/he has more fame and money. 
However the article is full of teaching lessons for being a freelance artist, so I wanted to share with you here. No spoilers, I will let you read the story.
And, let’s all hope that the things will turn out well for Ms. Leibovitz.

Hello. 3 years too late???
I don't know how many times friends and people I know had told me I should start a blog. It has been like... 3 years. It is my nature to overthink, and be extremely cautious. That is why it took so long. I wanted to find the right way to blog.
So, here I am! Spoke many times with Zimm and other wonderful people already blogging at Drawger, I have finally decided that this is home for my blog entries.
Hi everyone at Drawger, thank you for accepting me into the grouop. And those who are not at Drawger but maybe interested in reading my post, thank you in advance.
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Shimizu is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!
Yuko Shimizu website