Yuko Shimizu
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.

15 influences, that stick with you, FOREVER.
This is a re-posting from my personal blog. I was initially not goint to post this here, but then again, thought it would be fun if we can find out "the 15" from other Drawgers. So, here it is...

I don't love getting asked about my artistic influences and inspirations. I had stopped answering the question all together some years ago. The biggest reasoning behind it was because I have lived long enough to the point things that have influenced me at some point in my life often have no relevance to who I am now, though, I may still see those early influences in my work. If I name all the influences, past and present, then my list would probably be as thick as a dictionary.

However last week, comic artist and friend James Hodgkins posted something on Facebook that really got me.
"The Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen Artists who've influenced you and that will ALWAYS STICK WITH YOU. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes."
What I loved was  this: Artists who've influenced you and that will ALWAYS STICK WITH YOU. I really like the idea of narrowing down to the core of influences that will be there, forever.
So, I followed his advise, took less than 15 minutes, and came up with the list. And thought I should share it with you. Because, well, I get this asked a lot, and I haven't answered.

1. Alexander Rodchenko
He saw and show the world from a completely different viewpoint from people may often do. He has taught us that mundane can turn into extraordinary by creative points of view. Even after so many decades, he still teaches me, photographers and designers of today to see the world differently.  (No, that is NOT a Franz Ferdinando album cover.)

2. Wong Ka-Wai
I first saw ChongKing Express right when I started learning Cantonese in the mid 90s. It was nothing like I have ever seen before. And probably pushed me to keep studying Cantonese for the following three years.  Wacky storyline, cinematography  that feels like you are drunk or dreaming (done by ultra talented Chris Doyle), and oh the colors! If you had not watched his films, you are missing out. (My favorite is Days of Being Wild)
3. Jean Paul Gaultier
If I have to pick one fashion designer to wear his/her clothes for the rest of my life, Gaultier is probably not the one I will be choosing. But, if I pick one designer who I think has always been coming up with great concepts take risks, and trying to do something new, and being such an inspiration, then that one is DEFINITELY Gaultier. He is not just about Madonna's cone bra. (Thanks to eBay I have been slowly collecting his vintage clothes I couldn't afford in the 90s.)
4. Katsushika Hokusai
I first encountered original Hokusais at a retrospective show at a small Isetan Department Store museum in Shinjuku. I was probably 16. They totally blew my mind away. And even till this day, they still do. In case you didn't know this already, he was the very first person to use the word MANGA.
5. Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Hokusai's strength was 'everyday pictures' of people's lives in Edo Period and landscapes especially those depicting Mt. Fuji.
Kuniyoshi on the other hand was known for his ultra masculine and powerful Musha-E (pictures of the heros / warriors). My love-affair with Kuniyoshi is fairly new, only about ten years or less. I had an assignment to draw a samurai for Rolling Stone Magazine, and I needed a good reference. I went to buy a book, then I got completely hooked. I don't know how many times I have used that book since.
6. Stenberg Brothers
Russian illustrator/graphic designer duo from 1920s to 30s who were known for their striking movie posters. I don't know how many times I channeled their design, color, and compositions to come up with a graphic solution. Whenever I have to juxtapose multiple images in one picture, channeling the brothers always work.
7. John Woo
Even if the only movie he has ever made was 英雄本色 (A Better Tomorrow) he is still on my list. Thank you John Woo.
8. Haruki Murakami
I am not sure non-Japanese readers of his books know this fact, but his books became popular in Japan initially for sort of odd (in a good way) writing style that reminded us of translated foreign fiction. It was nothing like we had known. And he remains the same. I had always believed there is no space for magic left in Tokyo, because it is such a logical place. Then he deceived me with Hard-boild Wonderland and the End of the World. He has been deceiving the readers throughout the years (in a good way).
And, oh, these beautiful American edition covers by John Gall! (And, I am still dreaming of one day vacationing in that unknown island in Sputnik Sweetheart)
9. Yukio Mishima
This is my very personal opinion, but if you allow me to say, he is one of the last of the truly Japanese Japanese writer. It is hard to believe he ran through his life so fast, so prolific, and gone so quickly. He wrote this amazingly detailed psychology of an old man at the end of his life,  when he was in his 20s (Forbidden Colors). Psychology so real it is hard to believe he was so young.  (I love everything about his books, but NOT his political viewpoint.)
And, thank you John Gall for hiring me to do one of his book covers. It was the best present. (book not yet published)
10. Björk
Need I say more??
11. Matthew Barney (specifically Cremaster Cycle)
I was a Sci-Fi and fantasy geek growing up. Then I grew out of it. Then I met Cremaster Cycle. It was cooler than any fantasy I have ever seen, read, and drooled.
12. Jean Cocteau
He was the true Renaissance Man.  He made movies, he wrote books, he drew and painted, and even one of the most popular rings from the high-end jeweler Cartier was designed by him. He was truly the original. (OK, I have to confess I haven't seen many of his movies. I got into his artwork by his paintings, drawings and books.)
13.  Paula Scher
Ms. Scher, I am not a stalker, and I am not a lesbian either (and neither are you), but I once said to a friend I want to marry you. I love your design, but I love your brain even more. Thank you for putting Make It Bigger out in this world.
14. Miyata Masayuki
Also when I was about 16, I fell in love with the paper-cut art by Miyata Masayuki. He had a new image every day in Asahi Shinbun, a major national paper of Japan to accompany a daily novel Eight Dogs Tale written by Futaro Yamada. I used to cut out the images and collect them. While most of the early influences look very faded and juvenile looked through the eyes of an adult self, his works still look fresh and striking. So, I needed him on the list.
15. Pierre Cardin
I am the child of the 'space age', and every so often, I get reminded that my earliest childhood memories (Apollo 11 moon landing, etc) still affect who I am, what I am attracted to, and my visual aesthetics subconsciously  Cardin for me represent that time period, with his space age designs from late 60s to early-early 70s.   
What's your 15?
Chris Buzelli interview
Labor Day is quickly approaching, and it is time for another school year. All the art kids out there, wanna read something that inspires you to kick start another year of art filled life?

This interview article of Chris Buzelli for Japanese magazine イラストレーション(=Illustration) was published a while ago, but I hadn't had chance to post in the timely manner. Now is the time.
For English version of unabridged original interview, please check out Illustration Friday (thanks to Penelope Dullaghan!).  If you happened to read Japanese, the actual article is on this post.

PS: I still have Sam Weber and SHOUT interviews to post soon. And I am currently interviewing Brian Stauffer. Stay tuned!!!

Brian Rea interview
I have been interviewing fellow illustrators and introducing them to Japanese audience through ILLUSTRATION Magazine (イラストレーション) for about two years now.
The new issue just came out. This was the first issue after the huge disaster in Northen Japan. The request from the editor in chief was that they wanted to introduce someone who's work is heartfelt, sweet and touching. Possibly bring smiles to those who are going through tough times. We both thought Brian Rea's work was perfect.

As usual, for those who cannot read Japanese, Illustration Friday was kind enough to post the full length unabridged English version on their site.

I recommend this interivew to particulary those who recently finished school. Brian talks about his process of getting over style and decoration, importance of sketchbooks, and having passion outside of art, among other things.

I had been extremely busy last half a year or so, and there still are interviews to: SHOUT, Chris Buzelli and Sam Weber that is waiting to be posted on Illustration Friday. I will let you know once they are up on the web.

Grand Central Terminal
It will be a while till you will start seeing them at subway stations in New York, but I just got my copy of the MTA  poster and got excited, so I wanted to share it with you a bit early.

MTA Arts For Transit usually commission around 3 artists a year to create posters. Posters are usually posted around NYC area subway and train stations and stay there for a few month.
 I (and often my dog) take subway down to my studio from my home every day. It is very much a part of my life. (always buy 30 day unlimited pass!) So, it was obviously very exciting I was chosen as one of the three for 2011.

The challenge was that the audience is "everyone who uses MTA subways, busses and trains". It is easier to come up with ideas when the audience is narrow and targeted. To make something that is 'for everyone' is so broad, I was at first a bit lost.
Then soon, I organized my idea and decided to work with something that relates strongly to my personal experiences.
I decided that the best way to come up with ideas for sketches was to actually go there and walk around. I took many pictures, most of them from the kids' height, to get the sense of how this place look for children.

As a kid, I lived in a New York suburb for 4 years. My father, who had a job in an office in Pan Am Building (now Met Life Building) which is directly connected with escalators from Grand Central Terminal, commuted on Metro North commuter railroad every day.
Once in a while, my parents took me and my sister to come visit Manhattan on the same train. I clearly remember arriving at Grand Central for the first time, walking into then very dirty but still very stunning main concourse and  looking up at a huge ceiling of stars and my jaw just dropped.

It was 1977. Grand Central was beautiful, but dingy. My mother told me to always stay with her while walking through the concourse, and never to use public bathrooms at the station. A lot of the store fronts were closed. There were a few that sold cheap coffee or egg roles.  I liked them as a kid. I still think about the egg role treat we ate on the train on the way back  to our home in Westchester, and kind of miss it.

Now, I walk into all the fun stores that sell everything from gourmet food to fancy gifts, and I use their clean bathroom. Restored ceiling is bright and shining in my favorite color: teal. But every time I walk back into Grand Central Terminal, I feel like I  become the kid in 1977 again.
By the way, the Asian girl on the top of the illustration is me. Of course, me when I was younger.

If you are interested, you can own this poster, and the proeeds help to maintain the Transit Museum.
Big thank you to Amy Hausmann and Lydia Bradshaw of Arts for Transit.
the accepted sketch is on the right. All my sketches usually starts from very loose composition roughs, like one on the left.

two other variation sketches submitted. On the left is the most 'adult' looking piece with no people. On the right is a kid looking up and imagining, as all the busy people walk her by. the banner on these sketches are dummy I just took from a previously published poster, just to give a sense of what it would feel like with the complete poster look.

Final poster image.

My friend Ai-chan posing with hot off the press poster. Yes, it is HUGE! Although it does not look that way when you see it at stations near you.

introducing Benjamin Güdel
I was stuck in my studio all last weekend working, so I started chatting with my friend and Swiss based illustrator Benjamin Güdel online. Well, actually I have never met him, but I still consider him a friend. I have friends like that in many parts of the world.

I first saw Benjamin's work years back in his book of illustrations Blood Sweat and Tears (published by Gestalten, Germany) and totally fell in love with the power and drama he illustrates. All his works look as if they are movie stills, segments of scenes out of intriguing stories. They are just so gripping.

Benjamin has been working as established illustrator in Europe for quite a while, so on our chat, when he mentioned "I have never worked with US client", I was completely surprised.
I mean, what a huge loss on our end not to be exposed to such amazing images in the stateside???????

So, I feel like it is my mission to introduce this awesome illustrator/friend to my fellow Americans. You can enjoy more of his work at

By the way, I totally imagined him as  a young hipster dude, but apparently he is more of a family man. He said he spent last weekend weeding his lawn with two young kids. I love his work even more!

from his book Blood Sweat and Tears. It's a stunningly gorgeous book! I bring to my class every school year and students go nuts.

do you know Yunmee Kyong?
You don't know Yunmee Kyong's work? You are missing out a lot. But that's no more.
The latest on my illustartor interview article series for Japanese magazine Illustration features Yunmee and her whimsical and fantastic world. (layout are as follows)

If you don't read Japanese, don't worry, Illustration Friday has published the unabridged original interview in English.
Get inspired by this world citizen!

More of Yunmee's work can be seen on her website.
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!

Josh Cochran Interview

First time I saw Josh Cochran’s work was when Marcos and I judged Society of Illustrators student competition, probably 4~5 years ago.  He had a bunch of beautiful and funny silkscreen prints and “wow”ed us. (We have no idea why he didn’t get into the competition, but his prints ended up accepted into all the major ‘pro’ shows that year, so it was all good.)
Later on we ended up becoming friends, and I have always been amazed by how talented, hard working, prolific, yet extremely humble and down to earth he is.

It was exciting to be able to interview him for my regular contributing article for Japanese ILLUSTRATION Magazine. I had so many questions I wanted to ask, like his transition from concept art to his current work, his multi-cultural background, and most of all, how he feels about all these copycats out there. And yes, he answered them all.

As usual, Penelope Dullaghan from Illustration Friday was kind enough to post the English version so all my friends, peers, and aspiring illustrators can read.
ILLUSTRATION Magazine issue No. 181 comes out in Japan at the end of the month.

Interviewing Tim O'Brien
I don’t miss at all my 11 years of corporate life before going back to art school. But it was not all bad either. I was in PR, so my job revolved around finding right people who have good stories. I did a lot of writing, mostly for company brochures and magazines for investors, etc. I have to admit I sometimes miss it.

When my high school classmate and illustrator Tatsuro Kiuchi and Japanese Magazine Illustration asked me to contribute articles about American illustrators, I thought that was, in fact, a great idea.  I can mix all my passion: illustration, writing, getting great stories out of great people, and besides I can introduce fantastic American talents Japanese people are not familiar with.  (They are historically not so open to things outside of their own country).

Some of you already know about my first interview to Edel Rodriguez. The second was also Drawger regular: the one and only Tim O’Brien.
The only bad thing about this article writing is that because the Japanese article is rather short, I have to edit down a lot. So, I asked friend Penelope Dullaghan of Illustration Friday to post the original length article in, yes, English!
Please read an inspiring interview to Tim here.
Thank you Tim, thank you Penelope.

sneak peek of the Japanese Illustration magazine spread pages. The issue will be available in Japan in late September.
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.

Swine Flu? Drug War? What’s That???? A Guide to a Sophisticated Travel to Mexico
21 years ago, I landed in Mexico for the first time, to a small town of Merida. I took long mini-bus rides, busses so old that you see the moving road beneath the holes on the floor, to various Mayan ruins around Yukatan Peninsula. It was a pure MAGIC. This is how I forever fell in love with Mexico.  You cross the border to the north and not much changes (Canadians, no offence. I love you). You cross to the south, and it is a whole another world of its’ own like nowhere else. Busses in Mexico now are comfortable and super clean, but the magic I felt 21 years ago is still there, everywhere in Mexico.

Drug wars? Swine flu? Mexico has not had good reputation recently.
But please remember, media often make things seem a lot serious than it actually is. Flights to Mexico now can be as cheap as flying out to California (from NY, that is), and top-notch hotels have huge discounts. Food is so good that you never want to go back to that fake American-Mexican restaurant around the corner where everything taste like melted processed cheese. People are ridiculously nice and warm, they make sure you will bring back the best of the memories.

I mistook last weekend as Memorial Day weekend (duh!) and took a five day trip  to Puebla, Mexico.
I want to take you to a virtual tour of this magical town, one of UNESCO World Heritage sites, where you can see from 3000 year old Aztec pyramid to the history of Conquistadors to the latest coolest loft architectures where trendsetters gather. Vienvenidos!

everywhere is so colorful.
old (working) car in front of the Cathedral.
this is just a random building on a random street. Everything is just so beautiful like this.
Sundays... people gather in a courtyard and have dance shows.
a toy store.
3000 year old pyramid. Conquistadors built a church on top of it to show their power. History and war.., always crazy like that.
you can take a tour 'inside' the Pyramid of Cholula. It is a crazy maze in there.
don't miss walking inside a market!!
never pass in front of a church and not go in. Santa Maria Tonanzintla is worth a cab ride. Mind-blowing.
drive-through Mariachi, literary. You can buy a song for about $10 US.
La Purificadora. The hippest, coolest hotel in town. I saw an article in GQ about 2 years ago, and had been obsessed about this place since. It was way more than what I expected. My travel-mate and comic artist June Kim with friends at Amarillo Centro de Diseno in Xalapa who came to see us.
the best Posole (soup) in town. Sit at a plastic table and chair, and have the best meal of your life.
ladies and gentlemen, this is THE real huevos rancheros.
That's right. You never pass in front of a church without entering...
Jesus in Mexico does not lie. Yes, it was painful..
Everywhere is this beautiful in Puebla! A perfect shabby-chic!
Just in case.. My friend Emilia from Xalapa (left) made me a hand-knit swine-flu mask!! Now I am not afraid of anything!
how is Armory Show doing in this economy?
I want this couch! so bad!
My studio-mate Marcos Chin and I ran to the Armory Show on the opening day. Dow is in the 6000’s, GM on the verge of bankruptcy, there is no light in the long tunnel of economic crisis. How would Armory be doing this year? We wanted the answer.
I have only missed one Armory Show in past ten years, which was last year. Economy was booming like insane, and I was busy to the extremes, working with an advertising client who had lots of money and somehow decided that justifies them to mentally torture me over the course of a few months. I was just over stressed and didn’t have energy or time to go step out of my studio to enjoy art.
What a difference this year? Paintings, paintings, drawings, drawing and more drawings, and photos…, basically things are mostly immovable objects on walls. Large-scale installations, video and other new media works, which were like signature of Armory Show for years, were hard to find.  Where did the ‘death of paintings’ go?
Marcos and my honest opinion to the works were: that it was the best Armory Show we have seen in years. May be we are biased? But it is true we had seen stronger paintings and drawings than ever. And, lots of representational works, I mean, the good ones.
However, of course, there is a catch: Where are the red stickers? Where are the people? The show was deserted, red stickers hard to find. If those strong paintings and drawings are not selling, then where is the hope for painters and drawers?
Sales figures will not be official for the next few days. I am sure we would be able to read about it in NY Times or New York Magazine in a week or so. Till then, just enjoy the best Armory Shows in decade! Show is open till Sunday.
Akino Kondoh's painting was one of our favorite in the show. We met the sweet Akino too! She lives in New York with Japanese goverment grant for a year. We will have brunch soon. Yay.
some of Akino's paintings details. So beautiful and rich in colors. Confident brush strokes. She said she has just started painting. She is known for drawings, comics and animations, which are also fantastic, but not at the show.
I'm a long time fan of Fred Tomaselli....
Samuel Boutruche and Benjamin Moreau. Concept is everything.
Hope Gangloff had a whole wall full of her obsessive ball-point pen drawings. Even better in person!
I made a new friend at the show!
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Shimizu is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!
Yuko Shimizu website