Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimizu

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

One More Blizzard Before April

Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Small Version
All of a sudden, it is SPRING! And I am loving it. I don’t mind cold weather, but having less light makes me feel blue. I am so welcoming the arrival of spring.But I love snow. And I love drawing snow scenes even more. When I graduated, I had tons of images in my portfolio that had something to do with snow, even till this day, I am ‘to call person’ when it comes to snowy images. (And I welcome that.)

There were illustrations I had created for Outdoor Life that I have been meaning to post here. Before the calendar changes to April, I have to post this last blizzard image of the season.

The story was about elk hunters gotten stuck in blizzard, a page-turner survival story. Illustrations I created are for double page spread opener and two interior spots. Needless to say, I had so much fun. I felt like I was one of the guys who got stuck in the mountains!

Big thanks to Art Director Jim Walsh of Outodoor Life for this fun project.

Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Submitted Idea 1
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Submitted Idea 2
Two separate compositions were submitted. I was excited about guys having antlers in their backpack, but unfortunately that idea got killed because the group with horses won’t carry them on their back. Ah, too bad!
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): References
Some of the reference materials downloaded from internet. Rather than copying positions or compositions, they were for me to learn what elk hungers look, how they carry their stuff, etc
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Sketches
People often ask me how I transfer my sketches onto drawing papers. I simply blow up the sketches to the size I want to draw (tape them together) and light-box it onto watercolor papers that are cut into the size.
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Drawing Table
I do have a drawing table on the side of the computer table, but this image needed a lot of references, therefore, I ended up spreading this 22″ x 30″ sheet of paper in front of my screen and scroll through references as I drew. Drawing is brush and ink on watercolor paper.
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Adobe Photoshop
Screen shot of Photoshop coloring stage. Snow was added as separate drawings. Opacity and size of snowflakes are manipulated to add depth to the space.
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Final Illustration
Final illustration! the right bottom space is for the type. I forgot to buy this issue, so I should ask the ADs for the layout so I can post that too.
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Watercolor Sketches
Sketches for the spots
Outdoor Magazine (March 2010): Glowing Tent
Spot illustrations were rather simple, but fun. I am liking the final result of glowing tent image.

Pink Slip

More Magazine (March 2010): Small Version
Great Recession continues. And, every one of us know at least a few close people in our lives who have lost their jobs because of this current economic situation.This illustration was done for March issue of MORE, a magazine for grown up women with career and family, about this exact topic.

The story is titled: ‘Fired at 50′. It focuses on the emotional struggle of women who have lost their long term jobs. It felt so ‘real’ to me.

March happens to be a transitional month when winter slowly turns into spring. So I decided to use season as metapher of women’s emotional struggle.

Claudia Almeida was the Art director.

This has been a long cold winter with a lot of snow for North-Easterners, but we all know spring is right around the corner!

More Magazine (March 2010): Ideas
Four ideas were submitted.
More Magazine (March 2010): Watercolor Version
Black and white drawing, ink on watercolor paper.
More Magazine (March 2010): Adobe Photoshop
Coloring on Photoshop. Reversing the dark and light was not my initial plan but along the way, I found this solution worked the best. When a new trial works, it is always a nice feeling.
More Magazine (March 2010): Final Illustration
Final illustration. Snowflakes and cherry petals were separate drawings added as layers on Photoshop. Published in MORE Magazine March issue.

Waiting For Spring

Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Small Version
Why is snow so pretty when it is falling, but becomes a huge mess right after? Winter feels a lot severe this year, doesn’t it?When trees start to get light green new leaves, and flowers start blooming everywhere, that is my favorite season. I have been dreaming about Spring ever since this long winter started.

When SooJin Buzelli called me for PLANSPONSOR cover with the theme of “the worst is over”, this was the idea which came to my mind immediately: my longing for spring…

Process post of this image felt perfectly appropriate today when you cannot walk outside New York City without a good pair of rubber boots.

Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Ideas
Three ideas submitted. I would have been happy to do the other two as well. I really like drawing plants (and suitcases).
Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Inspirations
These are my inspirations. bunch of shabby-chic door photos downloaded from internet. Although, I rarely use one specific photo as reference, so the final result was mix and match of them all.
Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Watercolor Version
Original b/w drawing on watercolor paper. I normally finish everything on the drawing stage, but this one is very much half-done. Soft snow does not need harsh outlines.
Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Final Illustration
Final illustration. As you can compare with the original drawing, all the snow is added directly on Photoshop stage. Butterflies were drawn separately as well.
Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop progress stage. This illustration had so many layers, I have a lot of folders, and there are some more folders inside folders to have everything organized and so that I can keep track of everything.
Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Close Up Of Trees
Close-up of the trees in original drawing and in final Photoshop file. separate layers of gray-white were added to add depth to snow, and outlines were softened. I even added one more tree behind the third one on the right to give idea of space.
Plan Sponsor Magazine (February 2010): Cover
Final cover. Creative Director: SooJin Buzelli. Loving the type treatment woven into the scarves.By the way, I do draw snow scenes a lot. This goes back to when I was in graduate school and I was getting good at drawing figures but terrible at putting them in environment.

Thomas Woodruff, my thesis adviser, gave me an assignment to put people interacting in some kind of environment. I got panic, and drew this (left). It made me realize that drawing snow scene was: 1. Easy  2. Fun. I ended up drawing a whole bunch.

Now, I am proud to say I can put people in any environment. So, thank you Tom.

And this first snow trial eventually got me a gig to do the New York Times Travel Section (AD: Barbara Richer) cover (right), my first big job.

Well, I should probably love snow.

NY Times Travel Section (February 2010)
My first environment (=snow) attempt when I was in graduate school (left). And memorable first ‘big’ gig that brought me (right).

Samurai Process

The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Small Version
Congratulations again to everyone who’s work is exhibited at the Society of IllustratorsBook/Editorial Show, and nice seeing you (those who were there) at the opening party on Friday night. Missed the party? No worries, the exhibit is open to public through February 20th.I had realized I forgot to post the creative process of the cover for The Beautiful and Grotesque, a collection of short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, one of the most celebrated modern Japanese authors. So, here it is.

AD: Albert Tang (W.W. Norton) and Rodrigo Corral (Rodrigo Corral Design).

The book will be published from W.W. Norton this year.

The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Sketches
The process started from rough ideas. I gave them four different scenes from the longest story in the book: The Robbers. I think the only art direction I got is that it is an adult fiction and the cover should not look like a young adult book. I always repeated that in my head while working on ideas as well as coloring process.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Wrap Around Cover, Black & White Version
They picked one of them, and the next stage was to make the wrap around sketch for the cover.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Samurai Armor Design
My secret weapon and amazing reference book for this project: “勇者の装い Samurai Armor Design” from PIE Books of Japan, bought at Kinokuniya Bookstore Bryant Park branch in New York. It is a wonderful coffee table book and makes a great gift too.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Watercolor Version
As you can see, sketch with gutter space is printed out to the size I would draw, and traced onto watercolor paper using light box. The rest is just tedious drawing process using ink and brush for hours till I am done.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Wrap Around Cover, Black & White Version
Black and white drawing is done. Next step is coloring on Photoshop.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Adobe Photoshop
Screenshot of Photoshop process. As you can see, I ended up multiplying arrows to give image more depth and contemporary feel to the image.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Wrap Around Cover, Colored Version
This is the final wrap around cover image.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Fuchsia Color Version
There were a few color variations to choose from. I actually liked this fuchsia version too. Intentionally chose the color that is not in traditional Japanese color scheme to give it contemporary feel.
The Beautiful And The Grotesque: Cover
Final front cover. I love this unexpectedly contemporary design. I am so happy they didn’t take the expected direction of making it look very Japanese. Design: Rodrigo Corral, AD: Albert Tang

We Will Rock You

ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You - Small Version
I don’t like to regret. So I try not to dwell over things that didn’t work out in past. But there is one incident I cannot get over after many many years: missed a Queenconcert, with, yes, a backstage pass.I grew up with an older sister so when I was in elementary school I was already familiar with such Queen albums as A Night At The Opera and Sheer Heart Attack. Yes, long before the famous News of the World album became the super-mega-hit.

Somehow, my social savvy sister got backstage pass to Queen concert in the 80s and invited me to come with her. I don’t know why I didn’t. I probably was too young and maybe midterm exam was more on my mind than Queen. Stupid me.

My sister came back with tons of photos of Freddie and Roger and rest of the band members eating yakitori in a small restaurant during the after party. 
And that was the last tour Queen had in Tokyo before Freddie Mercury passed away shortly after.

Illustrators all have our ‘dream job list’. In the beginning, we get excited crossing one out at a time. After a while we realize it is OK not to cross everything out and eventually forget about the list. But once in a while, out of the blue things on the list come back and surprise us with excitement.  Needless to say Freddie Mercury was on the top of my list, but I thought the day would never come because it has been so long since he has left this world.

Siung Tjia, Creative Director of ESPN The Magazine, is a friend, but most of the time we talk about Chinese movies we love and Korean food we want to try for next lunch, so I assume he had no idea about my dream job list when he called me.  Well, thank you Siungl! This was such a treat and a PERFECT assignment. And designer was Lou Vega.

The story was about America’s No.1 Stadium Anthem. Of course, it was Queen’s We Will Rock You written by Brian May The article (and illustration) is in the latest issue of ESPN on newsstand now.

ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You - Sketches
Rough layout first, then to a sketch, then to revised sketch with larger crowd and prominent stadium.
ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You - Freddie Mercury Live 1
For me, Freddie is all about THIS costume. It was long before We Will Rock You, but I had to put him in this outfit. This shocked me when I was about 10 years old…
ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You - Freddie Mercury Live 2
Gathered a lot more reference of Freddie (when he was older). I noticed he holds the microphone in a specific way, so I mimicked that in the final illustration.
ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You - Watercolor Version
Black and white drawing before Photoshop stage. Black india ink on watercolor paper. Original size about 18.25″ x 22″
ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You - Final Illustration
Final image. I worked extra hard on this (not that I don’t work hard on other ones). Ah, flash-back of the missed last concert and Freddie in yakitori restaurant photos while working on this….
ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You - Crowd Details
Details of the crowd. Metallica and Village People also made the list.
ESPN Magazine (February 2010): We Will Rock You
Final layout. Siung Tjia CD, Lou Vega AD/design. ESPN The Magazine Fan Issue is out now.

Fall Of Superwoman!

Der Spiegel Magazine (October 2009): Fall Of Superwoman
I still dream about my corporate days and wake up completely stressed, although I left there more than 10 years ago. I never leave home without a few Zantac pills in my bag just in case that ulcer I first got during my 9-9 workdays come back and haunt me. (often enough.)When German magazine Der Spiegel called me, I couldn’t turn down the job although the deadline was extremely short. It was about an over-achieving young career woman’s experience of severe nervous breakdown from work and work environment stress. Listening to AD Antje Klein explains the story with her fluent English over the phone, I felt the woman’s pain. I never got to the point of nervous breakdown, but if I stayed? If I never quit and went back to art school? I am not sure.

Other than that I felt personally attached to the story, the idea of Antje “let’s make her into this superhero character” sounded really fun. I mean, who doesn’t like superheroes? Look at the pile of reference and inspiration books I have in my bookshelf!

Der Spiegel Magazine (October 2009): Yuko's Superhero Book Collection
Obvious reference materials. I have too many superhero books on my bookshelf… ha ha.
Der Spiegel Magazine (October 2009): Sketches
Three ideas. Bottom two ended up as spot illustrations for the same story.During coloring stage on Photoshop, I often go back and forth, trials and errors (and at the end, hopefull, always some level of success). In the middle of coloring this main illustration, something was telling me that it was not going the right direction.

Then, I had an “ah~ha!” moment when I made the drawing into negative. Dark story calls for dark color scheme like this.

Der Spiegel Magazine (October 2009): Adobe Photoshop
Something was telling me that the coloring was not going to the right direction…. then… aha moment follows…
Der Spiegel Magazine (October 2009): Final Illustration
Final illustration finished!
Der Spiegel Magazine (October 2009): Spread
And here is the final layout. Nice and clean..

My First Blackmail

Yes, I wrote my very first blackmail. No. Of course not for real! I’m not that kind of a girl.

Sean Johnston of MAXIM Magazine called me for an unusual project. Not illustration. It was already assigned to cool and talented Mr. Eddie Guy. My job here was to fill the opposite page of that illustration. Yes, to design the title page.

The story was about Japanese Yakuza. MAXIM wanted something that looked cool, noir, Japanese, and blackmail-y.

Maxim Magazine (October 2009): Spread
MAXIM November issue. My blackmail next to Eddie Guy’s illustration.To be honest, I got a bit nervous when I got the first call.  My close friends know that my secret fantasy is to become a kick ass designer and work at PentaXXXX with my hero PauXX ScXXX. But I honestly don’t know anything about typography. I think I can draw pretty much anything with a brush by now working as an illustrator for years. But hand-written type? Ummm.

But then, why am I an artist if I don’t get to experiment. So, I said: “yes. I. can.”

Maxim Magazine (October 2009): Sketch 1
The difference between illustration and calligraphy is that in illustration you work on one image for a long time in calligraphy you work quickly but may have to do as many till you get ‘the one’. (i.e.: same amount of time.)Soon, the drawing table was completely covered by a mountain of all the failed trials. And a corner of my studio became a make-shift fake-blood-factory. Hours and hours and days of working into it…, yes, I did it! And I am quite proud of my first blackmail.

Maxim Magazine (October 2009): Sketch 2
I don’t know how many I wrote… piles and piles of paper on my drawing table.
Maxim Magazine (October 2009): Bombay Red Ink
I made blood on a corner of my studio. Bombay Red ink makes good blood, in case you need to know.
Maxim Magazine (October 2009): Storyboard
Here is the quick start-to-finish process. My dad would cry if he knew I used Photoshop to make revisions, but it is all about good design, so it is OK, OK. (In Japanese calligraphy, it is a biggest no no to make any revision on the finished piece.)Big thank you to MAXIM Magazine, Dirk, Sean, Chandra and Billy, who have been supportive of my work over the years at various different magazines.

Mundane Objects

Fast Company Magazine (October 2009): Satellite, Small Version
‘How do professional illustrators come up with ideas?’ I often get asked by students and aspiring illustrators. A lot of them believe we have  especially developed brains that when we start thinking of ideas, light bulb just lights up, like one of those old-fashioned cartoon.Well, that is not true. How we come up with ideas is not so much different from how anyone else would come up with ideas: lots of research and lots of brain-storming. Simple as that.

Recent illustration I did for Fast Company Magazine (October issue) was a story about how to promote  a red-carpet event efficiently so more people know about it.

My solution?: research whole bunch of mundane yet ‘loud-speaking’ objects, put them together to come up with a bizarre theater machine that is screaming ‘promotion’. Sometimes, an idea can be as simple as that.

Fast Company Magazine (October 2009): Plan An Illustration, Step 1
First, think of anything that’s related to: 1) red carpet event 2) promote loudly.
Fast Company Magazine (October 2009): Plan An Illustration, Step 2
Then, put them together and think if you can come up with interesting enough visual.
Fast Company Magazine (October 2009): Satellite, Black & White Version
Voila! Now you have an illustration. The key to inventing a surrealistic object is that how the things are connected together somehow seems believable.
Fast Company Magazine (October 2009): Satellite, Colored Version
After the digital coloring. now this weird surreal PR machine is complete.
Fast Company Magazine (October 2009): Article
Final layout in the magazine. I drew a long red carpet so they can lay it out the way they like. Big thank you to Henry Young, Associate Art Director of Fast Company Magazine.

Drawing For Comic Books No.2

The Unwritten, Issue 5: Cover
Working as a cover artist for DC Comics Vertigo has been a whole different experience from my regular life as an editorial illustrator. And  I am having a lot of fun getting challenge to keep myself stimulated and to try out new things.For example, I work with editors instead of art directors, but editors in comic books deal with images, so they are sort of in a way in between editors and ADs. Other challenges include: change compositions and color schemes dramatically each issue, and yet keep the mood of the whole series throughout, reinventing characters that are drawn by interior artist and make them similar yet in my way, etc.The 5th issue of The Unwritten (written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross) has just come out in comic book stores this week, and at my studio I am busy working on the 9th cover. (We work way ahead.)

It has been a while since I talked about the first cover, so I wanted to post about the latest issue. (The story of this issue deals with British colonization of India, Moby Dick and Mark Twain.)

First step is thumbnails. I draw lots and lots of rough ideas. I am extremely neurotic about compositions, so I often draw the same idea over and over until I come up with a good composition. Of course, a lot of ideas won’t work and get ditched at this stage. I jot down keywords on the side of the paper which helps brain storming.
The Unwritten, Issue 5: Thumbnail Sketches
Four sketches are submitted. I am often unsure if any of them would work, and get nervous until my editor Pornsake Pichetshote calls me back. (Yes! My editor still makes phone calls!!)
The Unwritten, Issue 5: Sketches
Some references and inspirations downloaded from internet. It is important for me to really ‘feel’ the environment I am drawing. So, the photos of Indian jungles are not just for reference, but also to help me getting into the mood of the far away place I have never been.
The Unwritten, Issue 5: British Colonization
I usually like to draw an illustration in one-shot, but in this image, it made sense to divide into four parts.
The Unwritten, Issue 5: Illustrations In Four Parts
Back by popular demand, screen shot of all my Photoshop layers.
The Unwritten, Issue 5: Photoshop Layers
This illustration is in three parts. Background, the English man, and…
The Unwritten, Issue 5: English Man
… the whale eye layer-set finishes the image. Small bubbles were drawn separately as well, so the image is consisting of total of 5 separate drawings put together on Photoshop.
The Unwritten, Issue 5: Whale Eye
All the five covers published so far. Thanks to the fantastic team of Mike, Peter and Pornsak, and everyone else who’s involved in The Unwritten, the series is doing well, and the first two issues got completely sold out and went into the second printing. Yay.I will try and post processes of some of the older covers as well.
The Unwritten: Issue 1-5 Covers

Viking Queen Plays Golf

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Anna
The idea of “golf” still have that old-fashioned feel. You know, rich executives, exclusive and conservative… But under Creative Director Ken DeLago, the art department at Golf Digesthas been successfully reinventing that old-school idea.When Associate AD Marne Mayer called me for a portrait of a young Swedish golfer Anna Nordqvist, she made it clear: “Let’s do a portrait that would surprise the traditional readership!”  Her request was to “draw Anna as a Viking queen”.

“You mean, metaphorically or literary?”

“Well, it can be either way. Have fun!”

So, I ended up coming up with an idea of making this illustration almost like a fantasy book cover, really over the top. Only that she is holding a golf driver, not a sword.

Have fun, right? I was a sci-fi/fantasy geek back in my tween days.

And, OK, back to school special!

For all the illustration majors starting school in a few weeks, more detailed creative process on this post….

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Thumbnail Sketches
Process starts from thumbnails. Lots of them. Good drawings only come from lots of bad drawings, kids. Draw, draw, draw.I usually draw thumbnails with pencil on photo-copy paper. (very easy to organize and file away the sketch piles after each job is done). No eraser while doing roughs. Art students, eraser is your enemy. Eraser makes your drawing meek. Throw away your erasers before the school starts!

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Museum
Don’t forget the reference materials! Never copy one single picture is a rule. All the photos are copyrighted to someone, just like your drawing/painting is copyrighted to you. These are some of the photos I downloaded online. Viking museum snapshots to geek costume-play (!!!) to the illustration star of Scandinavia Kay Nielsen’s work…By the way, these are maybe 1/5~1/10 of all the reference materials I have gathered from different sources. The more, the better understanding you get of the subject matter you are illustrating. (All photos are copyrighted to the original creators. Thank you.)

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Sketches
Two sketches were submitted. Let’s always give options to the client (and to your teachers, especially!)By the way, I DO know that the real Viking helmets don’t have horns. But we decided to add them anyway to make the concept more clear to American audience. (Eraser is acceptable here.)

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Watercolor Version
Then, to the drawing table. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star is the ink of my choice. Japanese calligraphy brushon watercolor paper. Drawing is about 13”x17.5”. My drawings are really loose, so I usually draw around the double the printing size or bigger.*(By the way, I added this part later) I just found out that Kinokuniya Bookstore in New York carries decent number of various Japanese calligraphy brushes, and they actually carry the one I use. For those who are interested in trying them out.)

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Adobe Photoshop 1
Drawing gets scanned in and next step is the Photoshop coloring. I seldom fix my drawing on the computer, but of course there are exceptions.I open up the references (the magazine sent them to me) and really nail her likeness by very minor rescaling and moving of the facial parts. I call this process “plastic surgery” (always works!). Also softened some of the lines on her face to enhance her soft, young and fair feature.

(By the way, the cute wallpaper on my computer was made by one of my Venetian student Michele. It is his beloved pug. Cute, eh?)

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Adobe Photoshop 2
OK, yes, ‘back to school special’… !Here are all the layers involved in coloring this illustration (which I normally don’t show). About 25 layers here; which are not as many as my illustrations usually have. This is a rather simple composition, so I was able to keep my layer count low. I think my average is about 50 layers. (I know. Some of my friends call me crazy.)

There are lots of ‘secret layers’ that are so slight viewers won’t even notice. But those are the ones that make the final image work. Final layered PSD file size here is about 700MB, which is also smaller than my avarage of about 1GB.

Viking Queen Plays Golf: Anna
Final illustration: my ‘faux Viking fantasy book cover’. Yay.
Viking Queen Plays Golf: Golf Digest Magazine
Magazine page layout. September issue of Golf Digestis in newsstand now. Thank you Ken and Marne.And, all the art students, welcome back to school! Another year of productivity to come.