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Yuko Okabe
Children’s Book Illustrator

Artist Portfolio

Alex Rowe, Illustrator & Children's Book Artist

Alex Rowe
Illustrator & Children’s Book Artist

Artist Statement
“I’m an illustrator and writer based in the Boston area, having graduated from the RISD Illustration department in 2017. I’m motivated by youthful sensibilities, shapes, color, and narratives that range from the whimsical to the tiny moments.

Creating content for children is a major drive in my work. Aside from constantly doodling, I’m heavily inspired by my daily interactions, day dreams, nightmares, nostalgia, and music. I would like to improve my craft so that my art style can feel more concrete and deliverable.”

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Partial Video Transcript

“Hi Yuko! My name’s Alex, and I’m going to be doing your portfolio critique!

Little bit on how this is going to work: we’re going to start with an overall comment on your work, your direction, your artist statement– and then we’re going to go piece by piece, exploring your work, and then I’ll offer your standard critique!

We’re gonna talk about what you could improve on, what you’re doing well, and then– thank you so much for including two book dummies, which is amazing! So, we’re going to conclude this portfolio by examining those book dummies, and, kind of wrapping it up!

So, we’re starting with this image as the piece to look at the overview of your work, because I think it shows a lot of your good qualities. You say in your artist statement that you’re drawn to youthful sensibilities, shape, color, narratives, both whimsical and the tiny moments. And you really want to create content for children. And, check the boxes on all accounts. This is great.

Your shape and your color consistently is very strong throughout your work. Those are your strongest pieces, I would say. You say you want to improve your craft so your art feels concrete and deliverable. We’ll explore this in more detail throughout, but I really think you’re there.

I think, in a way, you’re asking the wrong question about your work. Now, your work right now, this portfolio– it sounds frustrating, but– it reads as a student portfolio. Now, let me say it reads as a phenomenal student portfolio, but it reads as a student portfolio.

The work that’s displayed is a lot of one-off images, with the exception of your children’s’ books, and what art directors and agents like to see in work is consistency. They want to see the same character repeated multiple times, in different situations with different lighting, different expressions, and right now what I mean by the student portfolio– it looks almost assignment-driven.

Now, again, your work is incredibly strong, and it’s a really good student portfolio, but that’s where I think it just needs some time for you to create more work, more series. To say the frustrating crit phrase, I love it, we just need to see more. Now, there’s…no worries about taking your time on that. Let’s explore this piece first.

One thing this has instantly that I like is black and white. Now, that’s something your work does need more of. And art directors and agents, whether you talk to them or read blogs, they will always say they want to see black and white. They want to see more of it. Especially for illustrators that are just starting out.

Because black and white is cheaper print, it’s easier to produce, it’s faster produced (most of the time), and you have such a good quality for it! You’re– look at the balances of your grays, and your lights and your darks win to let the page shine through– you’re really good at black and white, and you need to show that off more.

Now, with this one, the color incorporated in– I think it gets a little too wild. There’s– I don’t know, a kind of mixture in the colors within where the colors work, and it’s pretty complex, but they kind of start to blur together. What I think it needs is a change in value within the colors. Kind of, a change in saturation almost.

Let’s bring those out; they kind of fall flat and there’s a cool texture and effect of them kind of falling both within and behind the buildings, but let’s see them start come forward as well. And getting some nice opacity in the colors to kind of add to that flow, I think would do the trick.

This piece is really nice. I love it because it’s simple. The colors are simple, the composition is simple, the character is simple, but you’re just knocking it out of the park on all accounts. And, your work gets pretty complex with its color, which is really impressive, but this one is just like– it’s a cool piece that’s done extraordinarily well.

This brings up another point with work in general that we’re gonna be talking about, which– you say that you want to create content for children, but don’t limit yourself. I think a lot of your sensibility has a lot of strength for editorial work, for advertisements, for magazine publication just as well as children’s book publication.

Not to mention, children’s magazines. Like, highlights magazine, cricket magazine– but I gotta say highlights especially. I mean, send out mailers to them right away. Because I think your work would really fit. But, with this one, when you create your portfolio and when you present yourself on a website, you almost want to have a full portfolio for every section of work you create.”

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3 responses on "Illustration Portfolio Art Critique: Yuko Okabe"

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Alex’s comments here, in regards to your desire to make your style “more concrete.” To me, that aspect of your work already comes across as highly developed and self-assured! Selling that voice is another matter, but has more to do with the way you edit and organize your portfolio, which I think Alex covered in this critique.

    The more important thing, at this point, is to continue to hone those fundamental storytelling skills; particularly the way you’re using composition to communicate plot in your dummy books. The page layouts used in the ABC book often feel repetitive and stagnant, but one thing that’s quite successful, there, is the consistent use of a left-to-right composition, which works with the direction in which we read to convey the bursting motion of each animal.

    “Georgie” is much more sophisticated from an artistic stand-point, but you miss out on some prime opportunities to take advantage of tricks like these. In the scene in which the children first gather around Georgie, try flipping the composition so that the line of kids leads the reader’s eye from the left page of the spread to the creature on the right. That would create a really satisfying build to the focal point of the image.

    By the same token, imagine the impact it would create if, when we later see the protagonist walking away from the crowd, she is walking from right to left… Not just against the mass of people, but against the flow of the reader’s eye!

    Newspaper comic artists like Bill Watterson use simple compositional cheats like this all the time, using the page layout and the mechanics of Western language to convey not only movement but character. At the dummy book stage, this would be such an easy fix — All you’d have to do is flip the illustration in Photoshop — but that quick change would pack such an emotional wallop for your audience! Not to mention convey your story more effectively.

    These dummy books were especially fun to read… I love the humor and whimsy in your character designs and illustrations, but you also have some awesome narrative ideas brewing. I’m looking forward to seeing you do even further work on that more expansive pallet! Keep up the great work.

  2. You have a strong illustrative voice, I think this is most evident in the street scene with child and businessmen. The perspective distortion and shape exploration further emphasizes the movement. Definitely want to see more of these!

    I think it’s impressive that you are an illustrator and writer, It would be great to see more of your writing in your developed illustrations. This can also challenge you to work your illustrations with a body of text, rather than separating them on different pages.

    I recommend focusing on more projects with consistent characters or following a story line. Show us more of your awesome storytelling skills. The pizza park and bus are funny concepts but work more like spot illustrations for T-shirts and stickers.

    Regarding technical skills I cannot emphasize how great you treat shapes. I would push this more with characters and environments studies. There is something very appealing about the flat treatment with texture.

  3. I think your work is wonderfully illustrated and very fun to look at. I agree with what Alex was sharing about your strength in using shape and composition to your work.

    I also really enjoy your colors, they are very playful and energetic. However, I think one way you can grow and expand your craft is to increase the number of your typical hues. Based on the images above I’m seeing very similar greens, oranges, purples, and blues. Maybe try changing the value of some of them, or the saturation? I think this could work really well especially when you have more dramatic scenes like the girl in the green shirt with the business men.

    Something else I really like is the textural quality of your work. I love seeing the water marks and the brush strokes of everything. But for this reason, I would consider the Pizza Party image one of your weaker ones because I miss that quality a lot in that piece. I do like the image and I think it’s very clever, but I think the medium you’re using might be fighting you a bit. Imagine what the cheese of the pizza would look like in a watercolor/ink wash style.

    These are more so technical comments, because as I mentioned before I think you have an awesome creative mind that pulls the viewer in. Your work is stellar my friend, keep it up!

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