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Graphika Online 2021: A look into Yuko Shimizu’s journey and keeping the art of illustration alive

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — One of Asia’s most influential creative conferences grows even bigger as they take it online.  This year, Graphika Manila brings with them a global roster of speakers from various creative disciplines. One of the speakers who opened for Graphika Online 2021 was Yuko Shimizu, a Japanese illustrator based in New York, USA.


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Not to be mistaken for the Hello Kitty illustrator of the same name, Shimizu’s works are a combination of Japanese traditional art styles, surrealism, and contemporary themes. Her art has been regularly featured in publications such as Newsweek, New York Times, and DC Comics. Because of her influence in the global art scene, Newsweek Japan has named her one of the “100 Japanese People the World Respects”. 

Graphika Online 2021: illustrator Yuko Shimizu shares some of her works featured on publications.

In Graphika Online 2021, Yuko shares her journey on becoming an illustrator and a mentor, and the relevance and impact of her craft.

Is illustration a dying occupation?

“It hasn’t died,” Yuko strongly reverts. “If you realize, illustration is actually everywhere.” 

According to the illustrator, if one thinks of the broadest definition of what illustration is, their fundamental purpose was a form of communication; to help people who cannot read understand a story written in text. She implied that illustrations were not a mere decoration to be admired; but are also things that can teach people or tell stories. 

Yuko Shimizu and her works on digital.

“Illustration is one of the oldest occupations,” Yuko said. “I am in a position to think about the future; when I think about these younger illustrators, I can provide a door that opens up for them.”

On keeping passion and illustration alive

Yuko shares tips she learned throughout her career in illustration, and encourages creatives to practice these every day:

  • “Take (at least) one small risk every single day.”

    “I quit my PR job because every day felt the same, and I wanted to be an artist.” Yuko commented. “It’s easy to feel comfortable in a style. Do a variation of things, avoid too much repetition.” 

    “When we look back at old work and think we used to suck, you are on the right track.” she added.
  • “Have high ambitions, and work harder than the ambitions.”

    “My professor in graduate school, Mirko Ilic, taught me this.” Yuko said. “The key to your success is high ambition. Success doesn’t come to the most talented—it comes to those who work the hardest.”
  • “The world loves photography way more than illustration.”

    “It’s a fact,” says Yuko. “So let’s at least try to create images that photos cannot easily create.”
  • “Learn to say no; don’t take on a project that won’t give you a good night’s sleep.”

    “I’m not just talking about pulling a lot of all-nighters, but one should also consider the ethical implications of a project before accepting it.” the artist commented.
  • “It’s OK to turn down a job, because there are always others who want to take it.”

    Yuko tells the audience not to worry about turning down a job or a project, especially one they are not happy about. According to her, clients prefer those who enthusiastically accept their job rather than those who don’t.
  • “Help others, especially new-comers.”

    Yuko advises the audience to recommend fellow artists, especially in projects or jobs they themselves cannot accommodate. “It’s a big karma point”, she reiterates.
  • “A project is not a success unless the client thinks so.”

    “Once we say yes (to the project), put 100% into it whether it pays a lot or not much at all.” she adds.
  • “Don’t work for free. Don’t undercut others.”

    “This is something I always talk about,” Yuko says. “Everyone starts somewhere, and maybe we’re desperate; because when no one sees our art, how will we land on a job? There are predators out there who abuse this fact to get art for free. If everyone works for free, there would be no jobs for creatives. This hurts the creative industry and our future. We have to think how that affects us in the long run.”
  • “Sometimes there are things more rewarding than money.”

    Yuko shares her insights on charity work: “It is a good opportunity for artists, as they have more creative freedom to develop and experiment with their art.” In this case, according to her, no one is focusing on profit, but impact.
Yuko Shimizu shares her final tip and closing remarks for her session at Graphika Online 2021.

For her final remarks, Yuko shares: “Let’s do what we love, not because it gives us eternal happiness, but because loving what we do can get us through the toughest of times.”

For more information on Yuko Shimizu, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

adobo magazine is an official media partner of Graphika Online 2021.

Partner with adobo Magazine

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