Yu Kito Lee “Yuey” is an illustrator from Japan based in Los Angeles.
She lives with her husband and three kids, and has published illustration projects plus licensed products in stationery, greetings cards, toys and games.

From a small town in Japan to a small town in New England

Hello! My name is Yu, but I usually go by Yuey (I know, it can get quite confusing).

I grew up in a small town nestled between two beautiful rivers in Gifu, Japan. It wasn’t a straightforward path to get here, but looking back, it seems obvious that I would become a children’s book illustrator.

My childhood was all about drawing. I would scribble on any available blank paper, doodle in textbooks, and draw manga after school, heavily influenced by Sailor Moon and the CLAMP series. Although I dreamed of becoming a manga artist during elementary school, I always considered drawing more as a hobby rather than a career option.

Yu as a child at a local festival
Yu's hometown

At the age of 16, I decided to study abroad in the US I attended a boarding school in New Hampshire with barely enough English communication skills. Although it was my choice to be there and the experience was invaluable, the early days were challenging, to say the least.

The only time I really felt like myself was during art class. It was liberating to have something other than language to express myself and communicate with others. For the first time, I realised that art could be more than just pretty images; it could be a powerful communication tool.

Yu's boarding school in the fall
A still life painted during art class

The motion graphics era

I went on to study at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. After finishing my foundation year, I chose to study motion graphics instead of illustration. I was fascinated by this new field where picture and animation meet.

After graduation, I worked as a motion graphics designer for various companies and agencies for about 10 years. During this time, I learned a great deal about designing images to convey specific messages and emotions.

Motion graphics might seem quite different from illustrating children’s books, but they share a lot of the same discipline for storytelling. Another benefit from this era is how comfortable I am working digitally. I usually start with very rough, scribbly sketches on paper, but most of my work is done in Photoshop. I love the ability to experiment easily and combine the discipline of graphic design with my illustration.

Early days of my illustration career

After having my first child in 2017, I wanted to try something different and re-explore my love for illustration. I wasn’t drawing much during my motion graphics days, but I slowly reconnected with pen and paper. I took a lot of online courses to understand the illustration market and where I might fit in.
During the sleepless days of early motherhood, I developed my first illustration portfolio and signed with an illustration agency in 2019. With the support of the lovely agents who took a chance on this unripe illustrator, I worked on various projects in publishing and licensed products, including stationery, greeting cards, toys, and games.

Examples of Yu Kito Lee's illustration work

More illustration work by Yu

A new path to children’s book illustration

I really enjoyed working on a wide range of projects, but my love for children’s books grew as my own stack of children’s books got taller with the addition of two more kids. I discovered a whole new meaning in children’s books while reading them to my own children. They are not only beautiful and imaginative but also very helpful in encouraging my kids to navigate big emotions and challenging situations.

Storytime is a special place where we can slow down and immerse ourselves in wonderfully imaginative worlds. I left my previous agent to focus on exploring a career in children’s books. I’m currently looking for picture book projects while further developing my portfolio.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. As I embark on this new chapter, my goal is to inspire children to discover their inner strength, one story at a time.

*Header illustration: Ell Rose
*All images: Yu Kito Lee


For a look at more of Yuey's work:

Yuey's website: www.studio-yuey.com/

Yuey's Instagram: www.instagram.com/studio_yuey/


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
Find their work at fourfooteleven.com
Follow them on Instagram and X/Twitter
Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.