Yuko Shimizu

2018 Hamilton King Award: Yuko Shimizu

When I first started art directing, I remember my husband Chris, who is also an illustrator, telling me: 

“You really need to hire this new illustrator! Check her out, her work is really amazing. You should work with her.” So I contacted Yuko for our first project. It was for PLANSPONSOR, and the prompt was “Bells & Whistles.”

She created a beautiful underwater image of swimmers. It was unexpected, unique and breathtakingly beautiful—a phrase that describes so much of her work. To no one’s surprise—now—that year she received an illustration award from the Society of Publication Designers in recognition of the excellence of the image.

It’s hard to believe it was 14 years ago. I’m proud and grateful that we’ve worked on 42 projects together since then, including ten covers.

Illustration is actually Yuko’s second career. She grew up in Japan, spent a brief time outside New York City during her teens, then attended Waseda University in Tokyo, where she studied advertising and marketing. For 11 years she worked in the corporate PR world in Japan before moving to New York in 1999 to study art for the first time. She received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2003 and she’s been illustrating ever since.

As someone who’s had the same job since college, I think about what courage it must have taken for her to take that leap. And how she’s thrived in her new, chosen career. She’s made such impact in our industry. Yuko’s illustrations have appeared on everything from Gap tee-shirts, to Pepsi cans, VISA billboards, ads for Microsoft and Target, even an 80-foot mural in Dumbo, Brooklyn. She’s created countless editorial and cover illustrations for publishers that include Penguin, Scholastic, DC Comics, The New York Times, TIME, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. She’s been the recipient of all the top design and illustration awards. Too many to list!

Yuko is a real pro. I know she will work through any tough problem until it’s solved. And believe me, I’ve thrown her some tough ones. I remember one cover story in particular. It was about “Benchmarking Target Date Funds.” The image had to convey “impossible tasks.” We ended up going back and forth three, maybe four times. I was feeling terrible that we weren’t getting there. But Yuko never showed frustration. She kept going back to the drawing board. I would say something real helpful like, “it’s not working. Can you come up with something else?” And her response was, “No problem. I can come up with more ideas.” And she did! She kept at it until we had the right concept for the cover. I now use this story in my lectures to show students that even if you’re Yuko Shimizu, you have to go through revisions. There are always lots of “oooos” and “ahhhhs” when they see the final cover art.

I don’t know how she finds the time to do all she does. She is a mentor to so many. She teaches at SVA and travels all over the world giving lectures and workshops. She is eager to help all illustrators, young and seasoned. When she comes across new talent, she’s happy to share and recommend.

She’s published two self-titled monographs and collaborated on other books, including Wild Swan, with novelist Michael Cunningham, and the award-winning children’s book, Barbed Wire Baseball, written by Marissa Moss.

To top everything off, she recently adopted a senior chihuahua named Bear, a comfort to her after losing her beloved dog, Bruiser.

Newsweek Japan named Yuko as one of “100 Japanese People The World Respects,.” I’d like to expand that idea: Yuko is one of the people, from anywhere, who is respected by those everywhere. I couldn’t be more proud of my friend, and I’m truly honored to share my thoughts about Yuko, who is so deserving of the 2018 Hamilton King Award. 

SooJin Buzelli
SVP, Creative Director
Strategic Insight