Yuko Shimizu
March 2011
art in the time of disaster.
this image was taken from

I have been learning about a lot of things in last ten days. I have been learning a lot about what has happened in Japan. I have learned how to watch TV news on my iPod, how to get my calls go through to my parents without busy signal (sometimes I have to call like 10 times), or collect enough information from various sources to assess what is right, what is wrong and what is just pure lie.

But more importantly, I have been learning a lot about responsibility of art and being an artist.  
This is a rare moment when I look at the world and the world of art and design from a victim's point of view.
Well, I am technically not a victim. My family and friends are doing OK, although going though some tough times and inconveniences. I don't even know a single person in the area directly hit by this disaster.
Yet, the world outside Japan sees "Japan as the victim" and treat us, Japanese people abroad, as victims, and therefore, for the first time (and hopefully the last time) I am seeing the world from a completely different point of view.

I contribute illustrations to newspapers and news magazines. I do illustrate tough topic like ongoing war. But I have never had a chance to stand on  the point of the view of what has getting illustrated.

And then I got this link to Fast Company blog post by  John Pavlus. He captured my unorganized thoughts for the last ten days into very easy to read article which makes you think, regardless of you agree with him or not.
I wanted to share this with you, especially that those who are reading this are mainly people in the creative field.

I personally do not mind the specific poster in question here. At the same time, I cannot agree more with Mr. Pavlus' view toward design (in general) during the time of disaster, and responsibility of the artists who create them.

Aren't some of the designs popping up on my and your facebook links, just too quick, too easy, and too smart, and sometimes feel like each designer is rushing to create the most clever image? Doesn't it sometimes feel like it is a competition of a sort? Did they even have enough time to research the subject matter, do they know about the specific areas in Japan and culture, or did they think through of what was the message in the images  before creating the images in rush?

If it it was too long to read my mumbling, you can skip and just read here:
During the time of disaster, those who are affected need to see sympathy, hope and encouragement more than anything.
The last thing they want to see is another image of disaster, like a blood spilling flag.
This is something I have learnd that wanted to share with you today.

Let us show them hope. Because with our pens and brushes and computer mouse, we can.

Thank you very much for those who read all the way down to here.
PS (this section was added later)

Thank you for all your comments.
I know, once a blog post is up and people start commenting, it start to take life of its' own, and people do start talking on the topics that were not necessarily the intention or the main topic of a post. But that is just the nature of it.

I just wanted to add this section (previous section is the original post, I have not touched or revised it.) to explain my intention.

It is not an attack against the creator of the poster that I used the image of (I used it because it was the top page of the original post by John Pavlus). I did mention that I did not mind the particular poster (actually, it is one of the better ones). And, whatever done for charity, and raising money: great. I am not complaining about the charity itself, and I believe neither did the original author John Pavlus. Whatever good intention rules, no doubt about that. I know people have ideas toward whether it is an exploitation, shameless self promotion, etc, etc, well, I have no comment on that, that was not the part of my intent on this post.

It is the images (self-initiated) themselves, initiated by thousands of pro and armature artists and designers, popping up on internet even quicker than the actual detail of disasters unveils (it is ongoing), and many of them (not all, but many) seem so quick, so careless, so research less, and often feels like people are on competition who is the one to post the most clever ideas the fastest. How many of those who had created them can explain the meaning and controversial feelings of Japanese people toward the Hinomaru flag. Or, know about the area of disaster. Like, if you ask any American about the area where Katrina hit, they have pretty good idea and knowledge... for example.)

Most importantly, I wanted to know that the people who are facing disasters in far away land need encouragement, support, hope and sympathy more than anything.
I wanted each artist who is reading this, or thinking of creating some art/design work related to this or any other disasters happening around the world, to have that in mind when creating.

Thank you.
Grand Central Terminal
It will be a while till you will start seeing them at subway stations in New York, but I just got my copy of the MTA  poster and got excited, so I wanted to share it with you a bit early.

MTA Arts For Transit usually commission around 3 artists a year to create posters. Posters are usually posted around NYC area subway and train stations and stay there for a few month.
 I (and often my dog) take subway down to my studio from my home every day. It is very much a part of my life. (always buy 30 day unlimited pass!) So, it was obviously very exciting I was chosen as one of the three for 2011.

The challenge was that the audience is "everyone who uses MTA subways, busses and trains". It is easier to come up with ideas when the audience is narrow and targeted. To make something that is 'for everyone' is so broad, I was at first a bit lost.
Then soon, I organized my idea and decided to work with something that relates strongly to my personal experiences.
I decided that the best way to come up with ideas for sketches was to actually go there and walk around. I took many pictures, most of them from the kids' height, to get the sense of how this place look for children.

As a kid, I lived in a New York suburb for 4 years. My father, who had a job in an office in Pan Am Building (now Met Life Building) which is directly connected with escalators from Grand Central Terminal, commuted on Metro North commuter railroad every day.
Once in a while, my parents took me and my sister to come visit Manhattan on the same train. I clearly remember arriving at Grand Central for the first time, walking into then very dirty but still very stunning main concourse and  looking up at a huge ceiling of stars and my jaw just dropped.

It was 1977. Grand Central was beautiful, but dingy. My mother told me to always stay with her while walking through the concourse, and never to use public bathrooms at the station. A lot of the store fronts were closed. There were a few that sold cheap coffee or egg roles.  I liked them as a kid. I still think about the egg role treat we ate on the train on the way back  to our home in Westchester, and kind of miss it.

Now, I walk into all the fun stores that sell everything from gourmet food to fancy gifts, and I use their clean bathroom. Restored ceiling is bright and shining in my favorite color: teal. But every time I walk back into Grand Central Terminal, I feel like I  become the kid in 1977 again.
By the way, the Asian girl on the top of the illustration is me. Of course, me when I was younger.

If you are interested, you can own this poster, and the proeeds help to maintain the Transit Museum.
Big thank you to Amy Hausmann and Lydia Bradshaw of Arts for Transit.
the accepted sketch is on the right. All my sketches usually starts from very loose composition roughs, like one on the left.

two other variation sketches submitted. On the left is the most 'adult' looking piece with no people. On the right is a kid looking up and imagining, as all the busy people walk her by. the banner on these sketches are dummy I just took from a previously published poster, just to give a sense of what it would feel like with the complete poster look.

Final poster image.

My friend Ai-chan posing with hot off the press poster. Yes, it is HUGE! Although it does not look that way when you see it at stations near you.

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Shimizu is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!
Yuko Shimizu website