Brighton-based illustrator Yuko Michishita creates mind-bogglingly intricate illustrations and patterns using little more than a mechanical pencil. In the latest issue of Grafik, we caught up with her in our Talent feature to talk cats, perfectionism and working with Liberty of London. Buy Grafik issue 189 to see the full Talent profile of Yuko Michishita in our online shop
Grafik: Describe your work in three words…
Yuko Michishita: Meticulous, otherworldly mythology.??
G: What would be your fantasy commission?
YM: A massive, original pencil-drawn illustration for an exhibition in Mori Art Museum, since I’ve just been to the Odani Motohiko exhibition at Mori Art Museum and was super-impressed.??
G: How do digital tools and techniques fit into your way of working?
YM: Having digital photos and images for reference is essential for me. I’ve got more than ten thousand digital images on my computer. I categorise them based on what they are, and look through them when I start a new project to get the right feeling of the illustration I’ll be making. I really don’t know how I’d be able to manage this first stage of work if there wasn’t digital technology available, since I’m very (I mean very) bad at scrapbooking, especially all the gluing and sticking involved.
G: Tell us about your work for Liberty of London…
YM: It was a really amazing commission. Liberty gave me a brief to work on, but they were really open to my ideas when it came to the actual image. I had so much creative freedom and they were happy to see what I’d come up with, rather than telling me to draw this and that. Sometimes it’s good when a client has a really clear idea of the layout and what they want, but for the Liberty project in particular I really enjoyed the process of finding the best visual solution we are both happy with.
The illustration was done entirely on paper a little larger than A1 size, with pencils, with no Photoshop anywhere. It’s so rare nowadays to have a piece of commercial artwork that has not been even slightly digitally tweaked, isn’t it? I was so lucky to have a client like Liberty.
G: How long does a typical drawing take to do?
YM: It depends on the scale of the work, really. Le Cadavre Exquis took me a little longer than a week, in total, and that’s a full A2 pencil-on-paper piece.
G: What’s your most indispensable bit of kit?
YM: Mechanical pencils.
G: What’s been the defining moment of your career so far?
YM: To this day, it’s still got to be the degree show at university, which was nearly two years ago.
That’s when I decided to give pursuing a career as an illustrator my best shot.
G: How has your style developed during your career?
YM: My commercial artwork has definitely become less ethnically influenced, I think. It’s understandable that not many clients want an illustration of historical Japanese maidens weaving baby cots. I still like drawing these slightly strange figures that used to feature a lot in my work, but now it’s as personal projects. For commercial projects, I seem to be drawing more women, especially nudes, and patterns, both of which I enjoy. Also, I’m becoming less and less tolerant of imperfect lines in my illustration. I take hours to get the tiniest details of lines on the right spot, and am not satisfied unless everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be.
G: If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
YM: A cat. I’m not joking. My boyfriend says so too.