Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimazu Yuko Shimizu

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

240grid (Russia) September 2014

Elena Kurdyumova of 240grid.com interviewed me.
The post is in Russian, but I am also posting the original correspondence between us in English below, so those who don’t speak the language can  still read it. 

– Your first education and job was connected with marketing. How did you find your true passion and what would you advise those who are still searching?

I always liked drawing and painting. That was my passion, and a biggest hobby. But looking back, when you are in your early 20s, what do you know about your life and life decisions? Well, some people do know it right away, and have focus right away, but I didn’t. And I think that’s really natural for many. 

When I was working corporate, and I hit the walls, and ceilings (ceilings for women is very low in Japan, and unfortunately still is)… That’s when you start thinking more and more about your life, your future, what makes you happy. You learn to cut off things from life that is not for you.

For me, time and life experience did it. I had a long period of not knowing exactly what I wanted, but having life experience did it.

At times, I wished I knew this earlier in my life, but then again, I don’t think I was fully ready if I jumped into art without enough life experiences beforehand. So, as much as I hated my life in corporate, but if I have power to change my past, I don’t think I will change a thing. I needed to experience that.
I don’t know if this makes sense, but hope it does to those who are still searching.


– How does the knowledge of marketing helped you in your new profession?

Not the ‘knowledge’ but the ‘experience’ in marketing and, more importantly, my occupation in corporate PR, helps me. But then again, I think even if I was making and serving coffee in Starbucks, I think it would have helped my new profession. It is all about getting life experiences, take your job seriously, and try to learn a better way to do it, and communicate well with people you are working with. Marketing, or serving coffee, or anything else, helps. It’s all about life experiences and learning from it.


–  In your opinion, what are clients looking for in portfolios? Do you have any advice for anyone wishing to get into the industry and work for big and famous companies?

It is natural, and probably very helpful to have a ‘dream client’ list, when you are starting out. To have something to aim for gives you focus. 

But what one should know is that it is probably not a good idea to make a goal of  “working with big and famous companies”. One should aim to work with clients who one believes in.

At this point in my career, I have probably worked with multiple big companies. But I have also turned down working with some other big companies, because my personal beliefs and their corporate philosophy don’t match.  Working for big and famous companies won’t make an artist happy. Creating works that you are proud of, and working with clients who you are proud of working with makes you happy.

I don’t know what clients looking for in portfolios. I don’t think anyone can really guess that. Because there are suitable works for each project, even if your work is amazing, if the work won’t fit into what they are looking for, you won’t be hired. Second guessing what clients are looking for is actually the worst thing you can do to your portfolio.

What I can say is, try to create images that you want to see that you haven’t seen before. Try to surprise, try to make you excited. At the end of the day, when there are multiple portfolios by multiple artists, what sticks out are the ones that are fresh, new and original.


– What was the most difficult thing to adjust in New York? Was it difficult for you to adapt to a new culture?

Culturally, I don’t think there is much of difficulty for me to adjust to NY. Extremely high cost of living is hard for everyone, because you have to be working all the time to pay your bills, rent, etc, but that’s not a cultural problem. New York is a great place as long a you have a clear goal setting and motivation to work toward it. The city is filled with people from all over the world who came with their own hopes and dreams and ready to work hard toward it. It’s very exciting and stimulating. You get to meet people from around the world who gather here who are really interesting. You can easily make friends and peers here.

– What Japanese traditions do you still follow? 

I still think Japanese food is the best food in the world, healthy, light and tasty. I pretty much follow Japanese diet. I cook mainly Japanese meals.


– What your projects make you proud? 

When I feel that I pushed my limit a bit further, tried out something new, and when that worked.


– If you needed to hire a trainee, what kind of person would you look for? What are the crucial criteria?

Is trainee a student, or an assistant? It differs according to which that is.
If a student, someone who is open to learning, hardworking, focused, and take constructive criticism well and make that work, and not afraid of challenging the unknown.
If an assistant, good communication, hard worker, good learner, and someone who is detail oriented.


– What do you do when you lose your heart or how do you prevent creative crisis?

Take a break, take a walk. Do something different. One cannot keep creating. You need fuel for a car, you need food to live. You need to take in something other than art to make art richer.


– Do you have a mantra, a motto you live by?

If you work three times as hard as others, you can accomplish anything. My mom said that when I was a kid and struggling in American school with knowing no English.  Then she recently said she has no memory of saying that to me. Oy.


– Please, tell us some inspiring story connected with your art.

You can’t really come up with an inspiring story when you try to come up with an inspiring story, just like you can’t come up with a good piece of art if that is what you are trying to make.
Hopefully, what I said so far has something inspiring to someone. And I will end with that.

Thank you.