Interview: Ken Iizuka – Freelance Illustrator

Tell us about yourself…
I am Ken iizuka and I am a freelance illustrator and part time printmaker based in Brighton. Both my parents are Japanese but I’ve been bought up in many different countries excluding Japan (born in the Philippines, lived in Yemen, Nepal, Cambodia, Uzbekistan and the UK). What really drew me to pursue a career in illustration was the fact that you could potentially work from anywhere in the world. Having been a bit of a nomad all my life, I felt that this made sense. I’m not quite there yet in terms of success, but I’m putting a lot of hard graft in right now to get my work seen by everyone out there so I’m hoping my big break is just around the corner.

How did you get started?
I’m not really quite sure exactly how but when we were in Yemen (where my youngest brother was born) my mum used to do make this monthly newsletter to send out to the folks back in Japan. She used to get my younger brother and me to draw anything we wanted, (“It cant be rude!”) and then cut them out and stick them in. It also meant that there would be less graffiti on the walls of the rented houses. I think that had a pretty big influence on where I’m at today.

Illustrator Ken Iizuka

How do you keep motivated?
Motivation is something that’s easy if you have a commission to be getting on with but when there’s nothing it can be hard. I don’t really think that there is a universal method but from my experience thinking about my past part time jobs I did as a student gets me focused. I worked in door to door sales for a window and double-glazing company (a little soul destroying), a restaurant (I had too many accidents waiting the tables so I was allocated to just dishwashing), and scrubbing toilets and mopping the floor of a small supermarket at 6am in the mornings. The pay was measly and I always hated it. So I guess its mainly fear of not being able to achieve my dream and having to succumb to doing a job I’m just not suited to fires me up haha.

What do you hope to accomplish in your work?
Simply put: I want to be able to make a decent living doing what I love.

Illustrator Ken Iizuka

What, if anything do you tell your younger self?
Write yourself up a contract for both your client and you to sign before starting on a project. It’ll save you so much trouble when it comes for them paying up. Seriously!

What is the best advice you’ve been given?
I think a visiting tutor in my second year on my BA told me “Ken, you can do anything you want”

Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
If you want it badly enough and work your arse off, someone somewhere will notice it and help you out. I’m still on the chase and I’m not giving up any time soon.

Illustrator Ken Iizuka

What are your thoughts on art school?
Art school works only if you work for it. Too many people go into art school thinking “I’ll just do what’s asked, get a decent grade and then I’ll be an illustrator”. It’s a dream within a dream. If you don’t push and expose yourself to new things, you’ll graduate with a similar portfolio that you came in with. In the illustration business no one cares about how you came out with a 1st Class degree with Honours from so-and-so university. Also, use all of the facility available to you – after university access to a laser cutter/printing press etc is going to be hard to come by and expensive. You can learn so much from technicians and it is in your interest to take some time to get to know them. The print room technician was like a second mum to me and we still stay in touch.

How could the art industry get better in your opinion?
People who ask to get work for free in exchange of: “good publicity” or “it’ll be good for your portfolio” is the biggest threat to killing off young artists. If you asked the plumber who’s come to fix your toilet the same thing he/she’ll probably tell you where to stick it. Illustrators provide a service – we deserve to get paid like everyone else. And like everyone else it’s a skill that we’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort into.


Any other arists that you would like to recommend for others to check out as well?
Julia Soboleva – Her unique rendering of the human figure combined with her interesting use of colour makes her really stand out amongst the other young emerging illustrators.

Nele Anders –  I met her on my MA at Brighton University and her work is charming and tactile. She draws out little worlds that you wouldn’t mind renting a flat in.

Billy Mathers – I’ve done a few exhibitions with him and I’m always envious of the bold and spontaneous lines he is capable of producing. It also helps that he is also very fun guy to be around.

EVERYONE at Art School Disco – A collective of illustrators, print makers, ceramic artist and fashion accessory designer who’s been collaborating and exhibiting together ever since they graduated their BA in 2010

Follow artist, Ken iizuka, on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

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