Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimizu

Award winning Japanese illustrator based in New York City and instructor at School of Visual Arts.


Many of my drawings appear on the pages of magazines and newspapers. They get read, and go into recycles in a week, or a month, or in the case of newspapers, in a day at the most.
I am very much in peace with it. In fact, I feel that it keeps the artists humble, and down to earth. There is nothing pretentious about drawings that goes to garbage bin in a day. I like that.

But of course, every once in a while, when some special project comes knocking on the door, and they are beautiful 3D objects. Now, that is nice too. And exciting.

Close to a year ago, I had a chance to create a drawing for 1800 Tequila’s limited edition Essential Artists series, in theme of Lucha Libre. If you know me, you know my passion for all things Mexico, so it was a really exciting opportunity for me.

The product finally got the official release on Cinco De Mayo, last week on May 5th, at Hudson Hotel in New York City during a release event that was organized by 1800 Tequila and Vice Magazine. There are five other bottles in this series from different artists in various style..
The Essential Artists 1800 Tequila should soon come out to  fine liquor stores near you.

Tequila bottle photo

Rough pencil sketches to start the project.

Tequila sketch



tequila sketch 2

sketches for three different bottle ideas. I put them in a drawing of the bottle to show how they may look finished. I liked the other two as well.


Tequila illustration

final drawing for the bottle. Since the image is printed directly to the back of the glass, I kept the drawing simple, not textures and no shading. Pretty smooth finish. The mask has the design of agave: the plant that tequila is made from.
Tequila photo 1
my bottle in the showcase box at the release party last week.
Tequila photo 2
All the bottle designs in this series. From the left: Gary Baseman, mine, Tes One, Tristan Eaton, Ray Smith and Alex Hank
Tequila photo 3
 Some photos from setting up of the party. There was a ring in the center stage where band and actual luchadors played, and blown up huge drawings up on the walls surrounding, with posters made to look like Mexican wrestling posted around the bar area. There was a huge turnout for the party with a long line of people waiting.

13 Assassins

13 Assassins small image

Japanese people take “new year” very seriously and are superstitious about “first” anything to predict how well the year is going to be. For example, “first dream of the year” is believed to be the best if you have dreamt of 1)Mt. Fuji 2)hawk 3)egg plant. Why egg plant? Not sure. But I am not making these up!

In this long, cold and snowy winter in New York, my work day started on January 3, Monday. Sunny. My first job of the year was to walk down toMagnolia Pictures office near my studio for the screening of an epic 2 hour + long new samurai film 13 Assassins directed by Takashi Miike, who is very popular with his horror films such as “Ichi The Killer” and “Audition“. The project wa to create a poster. Now, if this ‘first job of the year’ would predict my 2011, then I have to say I had an amazing start of a year.

On and off for about two month, I worked with Matt Cowal, VP Marketing/Publicity of Magnolia Pictures. I have to say I had such a fun time working on this.
The main actor of the film is Koji Yakusho, who played Miyamoto Musashi in a popular Japanese TV series in the 80s, which I was obsessed as a kid. And I get to draw him! Now, this didn’t happen even  in my “first dream”. My dear friend and illustrator/calligrapher Ai Tatebayashicontributed beautiful lettering for the poster design.


Find more about 13 Assassins and watch the trailer here. 13 Assassins will be released in the theaters next Friday, April 29th.


13 Assassins process 1

first set of sketches. They were little bit too ‘art house film’ approach, which would have worked if the audience was Japanese. We decided to go a bit more ‘samurai action film’ approach.


13 Assassins process 2

The second rounds. Sort of Tadanori Yokoo take on the samurai action approach. We decided to go with the right.


13 Assassins reference photo

Although Koji Yakusho’s face may not be as recognizable here in the States compared to Japan, likeness is important. I got tons of great photo references from the clients. I usually open them up on my large monitor as I draw.


13 Assassins process 3

Drawing in progress. paper size is about 22″ x 30″. Ink on watercolor paper.


13 Assassins process 4

then move to coloring on Photoshop. Although colors are relatively limited and simple, it took days and days of separating and adjusting the details and colors. File size can get quite big for poster jobs… I need to buy a new MacBook Pro soon…


13 Assassins process 5

Yes I could have done lettering myself, but I also believe in the power of pros. I asked my friend and illustrator/calligrapher Ai Tatebayashi to create those four letters for me. We discussed carefully, the direction of the lettering style, thickness of the lines, etc. She did the perfect job!!
13 Assassins final
Final poster design.
13 Assassins posters
There are three posters for the film. Hope I get to see mine somewhere… if you do, please take photos for me!
Before we go, let’s talk about things that gets me in the ‘mood’: i.e. Reference materials.
There were of course, a lot more things I had looked at, of course,  but these three are staples when I work on samurai theme. From  left, Heroes & Ghosts Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi. I initially bought this book for my first job for Rolling Stone Magazine years ago, and have been heavily referencing since.  Center is a book of art by Kawanabe Gyosai. On the right is relatively contemporary Miyata Masayuki’s papercut illustrations that accompanied Eight Dogs’ Tale by writer Yamada Futaro, which was initially published on Asahi Newspaper in early 80s.
Miyata Masayuki is not well known outside of Japan, but he was a genius. I wanted to share some of the pages from this book.
13 Assassins references 2
13 Assassins references 3
13 Assassins references 4

Quick Fish

Quick Fish Illustration

Many of the jobs I do, it takes hours and hours, sometimes days and days of drawing. It was not my original intention, but during the course of close to 10 years of working, I somehow became known as an illustrator who does detailed works.
Not that I have issues with that, but maybe because of that, I don’t get calls to do a lot of New York Times Op-Ed illustrations. A lot of fellow Drawgers work on them on regular basis. But I don’t even recall when was the last time I worked with them. (I do work with The New York Times in other sections quite often.)

When Alexandra Zsigmond of Op-Ed called me for today’s paper, it was no brainer to just do it. I was craving for: 1) quick drawing that starts and ends in half a day 2) topic that is not related to my home country of Japan, as I have been working on so many of them in recent months.
It was a fun story by Ray Holborn about that we should not feel guilty eating fish, because in a long run, it is a lot more sustainable than making your main diet meat based.
While “Japanese people eat sushi every day” is a total American myth. I can indeed eat sushi every day, or three times a day if I can, so the article was a great news.








Quick Fish sketch

originally, composition was horizontal. Alexandra sent me a mock dummy (left) and I made two sketches according to the shape (center) as well as one (right) that worked vertically.

Quick Fish process

They liked the vertical sketch. I drew the final around 2X the print size on watercolor paper using brush and india ink.

Quick Fish process 2

Then, digital manipulation of the work. Originally, I was thinking of making the water-line lighter, and add gray scale to the fish. Then after I started playing around, I decided not to do either, but just multiply the same drawings and add very slight effects.

Quick Fish process 3

Most of the time when I do digital manipulations, they are things you don’t even notice if you only look at the final. I call them ‘secret layers’, not because they are secret, but because you won’t even notice them. In this case, I blur-ed the water line by manipulating on the computer (right), and the left one is before the blur. Very subtle change, but this layer adds a lot of depth and movement to the image.


Quick FIsh full illustration

final piece. I made many small changes and printed out many times till I was happy with the result.


Quick FIsh NYT papers

Today’s NY Times. What was really cool surprise was to find my friend Jason Lee’s illustration right next to mine (left). Priceless.


When I got a call of approval from Alexandra around 5:30, I decided to pack up my stuff (and my dog) and leave the studio early. Yes, I have other work to take care of, but they can wait. It was just too nice to be inside.
We walked along the Hudson River for about 40 blocks (half of the time, my dob wanted to be carried around. He is a 4 pound dog after all), and enjoyed the Someiyoshino Cherry flowers in full bloom.

Quick Fish cherry blossom 1

Someiyoshino Cherry and Riverside Church tower

Quick Fish cherry blossom 2

He was in happy mood that he does not need to wear sweater to walk outside.

Quick Fish cherry blossom 3

Yae-zakura Cherry was starting to bloom too.


Vampires & Diapers.

Vampires&Diapers cover (small size)

I totally judge books by their covers.
Let’s be honest, we all do. I can be categorized as a book-worm, but still I always have piles of unread books sitting around in my apartment, mostly because I couldn’t resist buying them for their beautiful covers. To add to this, I have countless design books on book covers, also piling up. I just bought one yesterday, and was drooling on it all last evening. (check this out: The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930 by Richard Minsky)

When John Gall, one of my favorite contemporary book designers, contacted me for 30 Covers 30 Days challenge, it was like dream coming true. I still secretly have a list of people I would LOVE to work with, and he was obviously one of them, for my love of his gorgeous Haruki Murakami covers, 10 times better than the original Japanese version. Drool.

Non profit organization National Novel Writing Month encourage people to spend November writing the first draft of a novel. John’s idea was to invite 30 designers and illustrators, each create a book cover, start to finish, within 24 hours from the brief.
Mine was on November 29th, I was given three synopsis to choose from. The one I picked was Dia’pire by Michelle Zheng. Story about a pathetic  and funny diaper wearing vampire.



There are some amazing covers created by amazing talent, all within 24 hours, and you can see all of them on the link here.

vampires & diapers photo 1

It was a no brainer for me to pick this synopsis. This was the funniest. Besides, during the 90s, my religious view was “Anne Rice”, for real. Thumbnails, thumbnails, thumbnails.


vampires & diapers photo 2

Pick one of the thumbnails I like the best, blow up to the size I want to draw. Cut watercolor paper to the size, get my ink and brush, then go dive into the drawing. I don’t have much time!!!


vampires & diapers photo 3

eerie and funny… that is what I am looking for…


vampires & diapers photo 4

I don’t have babies nor particularly into them. What do diapers and diaper pins look like?? Yeah, those authentic cloth diapers, of course!


vampires & diapers photo 5

Know nothing about type. How sad, but true. At least I can tell what looks good. vampire: gothic type, duh. So, to hide my non-knowledge, I carefully hand draw each type, so it looks better than it actually is.


vampires & diapers photo 6



vampires & diapers photo 7

How ESL of me. Didn’t I know that it would never spell “vampia”????. Go back to the drawing table to fix this up.


vampires & diapers photo 8

minor details: the bat drawings in the original drawing were needed to shift, move and flip around, because after the title type was in, they didn’t work the way they were originally intended. After a lot of back and forth on where they should be, the final result is as below.


vampires & diapers cover

Finished!! All within 24 hours or less. Phew! But I am so nervous if it lives up to all the beautiful 29 other covers other designers have created. Either way, I had FUN!!!


Simple. Bold. And Graphic

Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Small Version

I have to confess. I LOVE drawing small details.Like every single lines in the waves, and those textures in sweaters. And oh, drawing polka dots for hours and hours is just pure meditation I can do non stop forever.

But, it is also true that I tend to get commissioned for complicated images because of this obsession.

In reality, I am a huge graphic design fan, simple and bold posters are my favorite. But I seldom ever asked to do anything simple.

So, when Alissa Levin of Point 5 Design called me for Columbia Journalism Review cover and said “we want something very simple, bold and graphic”, I was like “YESSSSS!”

Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Dummy Layout

Dummy layout came from the client as a brief for this projectSome jobs come with no brief, and some comes with very detailed one. This project was the latter. The editorial and design teams had gone through long meetings to decide what they wanted to be the cover, so this job came with a detailed mock up dummy.

Type of briefs are definitely case by case, and it is not that one is better than the other. All it matters is that there is trust and good team work between the designers and illustrators.

Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Sketches
I gave four sketches according to the brief. Top two are very similar to the brief, and bottom two are ‘curb balls’. I try to present some curb balls whenever possible, just to give different prespective.
Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Watercolor Version

Woops, busted! No, I don’t have an iPhone or a blackberry :-b Phone is something I can make and receive calls, at least for now that’s enough…Drawing in black and white stage. About 22″ high. India ink on watercolor paper. When an image is graphic, I try and include an area where things are extremely dense, to balance out. In this case, the waves.

Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Adobe Photoshop 1
Long long process of figuring out the color…  in progress…….
Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Adobe Photoshop 2

Done!! Although there are many layers on my Photoshop, this one is considered simple, because of the graphic nature of the image. Some of my illustrations have like 50 layers…I like how images feel a lot different between the cover and inside spread.

July/August issue of Columbia Journalism Review is in newsstands now.

Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Cover
Columbia Journalism Review (July-August 2010): Spread

Back To Mexico! Part 1

I work with WNYC radio on all day long. At least once a day or two, there is a news about Mexico. Usually it is about drug mafia, kidnapping, or about that notorious law in Arizona…, either case, it is never a good news. It is unfortunate that these are now embedded in the brains of many Americans.When I said I was going to the city of Xalapa, taking 5 hour bus ride from Mexico City, a lot of my friends were concerned.

Well, I have been there before and it was fantastic, and it is a beautiful college town surrounded by nature of cloud forest, and there is a great small design organization called Amarillo Centro de Diseño who has invited me back to have an exhibition and a four day workshop. So, why not?

I took a lot of photos I want to share with fellow Drawgers and readers. I love Mexico so much  I feel it is my duty to show the positive side of this country to Americans. I think I am making this post into two sections.

To start, I am showing the process of the announcement poster. During last year’s visit, I made a fake lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) poster. I wanted this to be something related.

I recently adopted a 5 year old Chihuahua. Well, Chihuahuas are from Mexico… So, this time, theme was to make him into a superhero.

And here it is…

Chihuahua Superhero: Thumbnails
Usually my illustrations all starts this loose. one of the thumbnails.
Chihuahua Superhero: Sketch
This is the sketch. I didn’t need to show the sketch to the client, so I kept this rather loose too.
Chihuahua Superhero: Dummy Layout
Then, placing the sketch into the dummy layout. The left was the poster for last year, and I used the same banner and flower pattern to keep them as a series.
Chihuahua Superhero: Ink Drawing
Ink drawing is finished. Late at night… and my model was completely bored…
Chihuahua Superhero: Silkscreen
This was printed as silkscreen poster, so I made the original drawing into three color separations. Needless to say… Mexican flag color scheme.
Chihuahua Superhero: Amarillo

The silk screen poster is complete! Placed onto Amarillo bulletin board.And!

Here is where the fun starts! Amarillo people went into the night in Xalapa and posted them in the city, a-la- real lucha libre poster style.

Chihuahua Superhero: Amarillo - Wall 1
Chihuahua Superhero: Amarillo - Wall 2
Chihuahua Superhero: Amarillo - Wall 3
Chihuahua Superhero: Amarillo - Wall 4
Chihuahua Superhero: Amarillo - Wall 5
Chihuahua Superhero: Amarillo - Wall 6
My lucha chihuahuas were then turned into a tote bag design (sold out) as well as banner at Amarillo to announce the show.
Chihuahua Superhero: Tote Bag
Chihuahua Superhero: Banner

Well, this is it for now, and I will post some photos from the show and workshop soon.Thank you for reading!


By the way, I have made the poster into computer wallpaper. It is on my site for free download during the period of the exhibit.

If you are interested, please visit here.

Chihuahua Superhero: Wallpaper

Personal Work To Job Work

Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): Small Version People often ask me if I have time to do some personal work in between illustration jobs. While a lot of my peers have straight answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, mine’s more like, well, in between.Everyone has different balance of jobs, personal work, and recharging. I draw all the time, so for the last few years, when I am not working, I rather use that time to recharge (=not draw) so I can get inspired so that I can create more in the future.

Then, where doe my personal creative outlet go?

I luckily have a few clients who let me experiment, and create work I would rather be creating during my free time (if I have any). And here it goes back to today’s post: Creative director SooJin Buzelli of PLANSPONSOR and PLANADVISER magazines as being the queen of that.

This is the most recent project I just finished for her. Both of the magazines focus on highly specialized and specific financial topics, SooJin knows how to get the best and most creative ideas out of illustrators by providing only the topic (sometimes just the title) of each article. This article’s topic: listening and processing different pieces of advise.

You can see the whole magazine including other illustrations in this issue online.




Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): Ideas

Three ideas submitted. I liked the top left and the bottom. She seems to always know which one I am most excited about.

Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): Watercolor Version

Black and white drawing with ink on watercolor paper. Rather large, as you can see…

Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): References

I have a lot of books I use for color references. For this one, I wanted to use old fashioned limited color palette, so I pulled out a Japanese book of old Russian childrens books. Bottom right was my big inspiration for this piece, although the final color scheme is a lot different. By the way, this is one of my favorite books to use for color scheme references. In case if anyone is interested, the book is called: 幻のロシア絵本 1920-1930年代 publisher:淡交社 ISBN4-473-03166-7 http://bookweb.kinokuniya.co.jp/guest/cgi-bin/wshosea.cgi?W-ISBN=4473031667

Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): Adobe Photoshop

Screen-shot of Photoshop coloring in progress. Yes, I have added the dot pattern inspired by the Russian illustration.

Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): Final Illustration

Final illustration, done!! If I have a choice, I rather limit the colors like this every time I work. I am not crazy about coloring in every single space of the drawing. But of course, each illustration is worked on each specific needs.

Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): Final Illustration

Final layout. How clever of SooJin to have the type in the same size of the heads continuing onto the right page. So simple. Love it.
Plan Adviser Magazine (May-June 2010): Cover

Cover of this issue of Planadviser. Each letter has fragment of interior illustration in it. Cute.

No Matter How Long…..

The New York Times (May 2010): Front Page
No matter how long I have worked in this occupation, I get so excited when a drawing I did is on the cover of The New York Times.This was the Art and Leisure section from this past Sunday. A fun project about classical music and popular music crossover. Art director was Paul Jean. (Thank you Paul!!)I have home delivery of Saturday and Sunday Times. It is extra nice to find it right on my door, read it as I sip my morning grapefruit juice.

One of my very first jobs (I happened to get two illustrations published on the same day, another was Village Voice) was that small spot for Letters page of NYT approximately exactly 8 years ago in 2002. And that was probably when my mother got convinced that I have my mind set on becoming an illustrator in the US. My mother does not know any US publications other than NYT, Time and Newsweek. Being on NYT is like the best present I can give to her.

The New York Times (May 2010): Sketches
Three sketches were submitted. Paul said “make sketches in any shape, and I will figure out how to lay them out.” I approached the story in two ways, goofy and funny approach, and serious one.
The New York Times (May 2010): Yuko's Desktop
Screen-shot of my desktop while I work on my final drawings. All the reference photos are opened up so I can make a ‘believable image’ as possible. It was really fun drawing a fancy lace gloves.
The New York Times (May 2010): Sketch, Black And White Version
Original black and white drawing with ink and brush on paper. Since it was for a cover, I drew rather big… it is about 22 inches high.
The New York Times (May 2010): Adobe Photoshop
Coloring on Photoshop….
The New York Times (May 2010): Dummy Layout
Paul sent me dummy layout based on my sketch, and while working on the final image, I placed the image to see if the size works fine with the layout.
The New York Times (May 2010): Final Illustration

Drawing For Comics No.3

The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Small Version
Yeah pollen is killing me, but I am still celebrating the arrival of spring!The newest post is the latest DC Vertigo comic book cover that is also perfect for the season. The issue came out last week.

The Unwritten (written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross, and for this issue by: Zelda Devon and Kurt Huggins) is cerebrating its’ first year anniversary with this 12th issue this month. And, the first volume (collection of issue 1 ~ 5) made the New York Times’ best seller list. Hurrrrray!

Because of the nature of the story (I won’t get into the details, let me just mention that there are a lot of famous novels in history appearing in each issue. The rest, please read the series!) I get to jump around in ideas and concepts each issue.

Considering the main characters were in Nazi occupied Germany last issue, it is refreshing to illustrate cute animals for this one.

The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Thumbnails
Every assignment starts from tons of thumbnails. I often talk to my students about the importance of thumbnails yet seldom post my thumbnails on Drawger, so here they are. Basically, these are really rough small sketches I make as I think of different ideas.
The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Sketches
After thumbnails, the next step is to create sketches. As you can see, many of my thumbnails never made it to the sketch stage.
The Unwritten: Issue 12 - References
Various reference materials and inspirations downloaded from internet: from cute animal babies to Shirley Temple and Winnie The Poo. A huge difference from creepy Nazi Germany references I had to download the issue before this one.
The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Ink Drawing
Proceed to ink drawing stage. You can probably tell the scale from the laptop keyboard you see on upper left hand corner.
The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Photoshop Touchup
The left was the final initially created and submitted. The editor’s comment was ‘love it but a bit too sweet’. So we ended up killing the little mouse (it is in the story) to add a touch of darkness. As you can see, flowers on her apron was added as separate drawing on the Photoshop coloring stage.
The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Mouse
Close up of the poor mouse lady. A trick I use to make the blood less cheesy is to avoid the actual blood color. This time I used pink.
The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Cover
The final layout. This issue is in comic book stores now.I have known Zelda and Kurt personally for a year or two. It was nice to be able to collaborate with them in this special stand-alone issue. Please check the issue out in the nearest comic book store, and enjoy beautifully executed interior pages.

The Unwritten: Issue 12 - Spread
Beautifully executed interior pages by Zelda and Kurt.

Spring, Spring!

Ronn Campisi Design (April 2010)
Bye bye winter blues. Hello SPRING! Ah, I have been in such good mood recently. Although I get stuck in my studio and not taking advantage of the weather so much, just by feeling the warm air, blue sky, and flowers, it puts me in a great mood.If you are visiting New York right now, you are so lucky. It is the time of the year when New York shines like a diamond. You forget everything negative about this city, and just love being here!

I actually created this illustration when the day was getting shorter, weather colder, and feeling the brutal winter coming. It was published in Smith College Alumnae Quarterly in its’ winter issue.  I waited to post this because the vive of the image is so spring-y.

It accompanied an article about how Smith College has protected, nurtured and provided great education for women written by Catharine A. MacKinnon, from the class of ’69.

Client was Ronn Campisi Design, who is always a great supporter of illustration. The cool part of this magazine is that Ronn hired all female illustrators/designers: Jillian Tamaki, Kim DeMarco, and one and only Gail Anderson, to name a few. I was in a great company. Thank you Ronn and thank you Smith College.

Ronn Campisi Design (April 2010): Sketches 1
First round of sketches that got rejected. I got too fixated on the beautiful gate of Smith College. Freshen up my mind and start over on new round of sketches….
Ronn Campisi Design (April 2010): Sketches 2
Second round of sketches that worked. Ronn’s comment was that the flowers protected look weak and sad, so I made minor changes to make the concept more uplifting.
Ronn Campisi Design (April 2010): Final Sketch
Final sketch. Ready to go to the final!
Ronn Campisi Design (April 2010): Taschen
This was my secret weapon. Taschen publishes great resource books, and these Taschen Icon series, I have maybe about 50 books collected over about 10 years, all nicely arranged up on my bookshelf.
Ronn Campisi Design (April 2010): Black & White Version
Black and white drawing, scanned in and ready for coloring.
Ronn Campisi Design (April 2010): Spread
Final layout. I love the pink border and elegant typeface. Thank you Ronn!Bonus!!
These photos I took over last one week mainly near my neighborhood in Morningside Heights other than the one on top left, which is Flatiron Building on 22nd Street. New York City at its’ best!!!!!!!!!!

Morningside Heights, Flatiron District, NYC (April 2010)