In mid-November I was lucky enough to attend a workshop at Gallery Nucleus in LA, featuring one of my most favorite illustrators and biggest inspirations – Yusuke Kozaki!
I think I owe a lot to Kozaki.
When I was in high school, I picked up Fire Emblem: Awakening up on a whim, simply because the art style was just really, really appealing. (Ok, in honesty, I’m pretty sure my actual quote was, “All the characters look super hot, I wanna play it.”) I loved it, and made so many friends through it. Friends I speak to still to this day, and more friends through those even. I drew and learned so much in those days. His art style ended up being a gateway to all sorts of other things my life would be entirely different now without. Safe to say when he came to visit the United States, I needed a chance to meet him.
I got to meet him briefly at Anime Expo 2019 in Los Angeles, for a simple signing 🙂 He signed my Awakening artbook and drew Frederick, my forever husband, for me!
When I heard he would be back just 4 months later for teaching some classes in LA, I thought, hoo, that would be such an honor. I’d get to learn from a man I have admired for a long, long time. So I went! As a bit of a gift to myself for all the work I had been doing (and would keep doing) for my Fire Emblem fan plushies…
I learned a lot about Kozaki, more than I could have ever learned online, and more than I could have ever guessed from his work. Learned about his family, his pets, his workflow, what a down to earth guy he really is! And what a big fan of western animation he is. He’s just like us, haha. He collects figurines like us, takes his daughter to school, cooks dinner for his family. His specialty is curry! I learned that he lets himself take a lot of time to just think. He’ll let an idea simmer in his head for hours, like a slow cooker making a warm and delicious meal. He gets distracted while he works too, just like the best of us. He often got distracted while showing us images on his phone and would instead show us his daughter or pets instead (lol).
In analyzing his artwork throughout the years, I’ve always noticed how perfect his work is. Meaning, his lines are very clean, his coloring is very clean, everything is very polished, even at 100% zoom – I dunno about you, but if my work was looked at at 100% zoom, you’d see all the times I was too lazy to make lines properly connect, or where my coloring might go out of the lines. I’ve never seen that with his work, so from his work alone, I always got the idea that he’s a very meticulous and serious person, haha.
It’s rather reassuring that Kozaki is a normal guy just like you and I, but he must have an extremely steady hand or a lot of patience to make such clean illustrations! I think you can learn that he must be, if he takes hours thinking on a design, then hours drafting it, then even more time actually drawing it out and rendering it. I have to wonder what his typical turnaround time is. His workflow looks like silhouette -> sketch/construction -> detail, which is pretty standard for most of us, or at least, that’s already what we’re taught in the visual development schools.
Some good tidbits I remember:
- “When I have art block, I go to sleep.”
- His artistic inspirations are Ken Sugimori & Otomo Katsuhiro
- He loves the Goonies so much. He owns an official piece of the set.
- His preferred genres to draw are like futuristic/sci-fi stuff; he said medieval settings aren’t a favorite of his because armor is hard to draw (a big, relatable mood)
- He is aware that Nomura (of Kingdom Hearts fame) takes the cosplayers into account when designing a character, but Kozaki admits he’s not that nice LOL
- He likes to draw older men. Thank you for feeding us, Kozaki-sensei
Another big thing that stood out to me when he was telling us about himself was he never graduated from uni! He just did good work, found a decent job, and kept at it. He flourished from there. How admirable! You don’t need university to be successful, kids! (I say this as someone in university and wondering if it’s really worth it, so it’s very encouraging, haha.)
I hope he comes back to the states more often 🙂 I’d love to take another class with him!