Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 8, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Yuko Jones

Yuko Jones was born and raised in Japan, and spent much of her childhood drawing and painting. After completing her degrees in English, Psychology, and Human Development, she embarked on her career in early childhood developmental research. While working with children, she realized how picture books can play a crucial role in their development, and she wanted to become part of the positive impact.

Yuko believes everyone has special abilities to make this world a better place, and she hopes her work will inspire children to embrace their unique gifts.

When she is not illustrating, you will find her testing (and tasting) new baking recipes, savoring short stories and coffee, and practicing yoga. Yuko lives in Western NY with her husband, two sons, a black cat, and two guinea pigs.

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites (FSG 2021) is her debut illustrated picture book.

Member of SCBWI and RACWI


I usually sketch either on translucent marker paper or printer paper (they both work great), and then transfer the image onto watercolor paper (I used Arches 140lb hot press paper for this one) using a light box. For this piece, I stained the paper with coffee prior to this step to create a vintage look. Then, I go over the pencil drawing with a ink pen.

Next, I applied several layers of watercolor to create rich, saturated color.

I also sprinkled some table salt while the paint was still wet to create the texture on the green garment. I used white acrylic paint for the clouds.

Then I added white and yellow soft pastels to add more color and texture, and it was complete!

Another example of sketch to final.

Start of adding color.

Final illustration.

Interview with Yuko Jones

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing and painting as long as I can remember, but I started building my professional illustration portfolio in 2015.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

I sold some art prints and original artwork at my Etsy shop back in 2014, but I only did it for a couple of months.

When did you move from Japan to the US?

I moved to the U.S. in summer of 2001, shortly after I graduated from college in Japan.

Did you go to school in the United States?


What inspired you to get degrees in English, Psychology, and Human Development?

My love of reading lead me to study English, and my fascination to understanding human behavior lead me to learn Psychology and Human Development.

What school did you attend? Did you get all three at the same college?

I earned my B.A. in English at Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan), and B.A. in Psychology at SUNY Geneseo, then M.S. in Human Development at University of Rochester.

You say you noticed how important picture books were to child development while doing early childhood research with children. Was this when did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

Yes. I was fortunate that I worked on a research project, where many picture books were used as part of a science-based preschool curriculum. I saw how picture books help children connect the dots, helping them understand their own emotions and make sense of the world.

Are you still doing childhood development research?

No. I now consider myself a full time illustrator/stay-at-home mom.

Did you take any children’s illustration classes?

No, I’m 100% self taught artist. I did take a couple of watercolor classes, a figure drawing class, and oil painting class back in college.

What do you think helped you develop your style?

I’d say practicing a lot has helped me develop my style. Having other people critique my work, either by critique partners or art directors, also helped me see my work from different perspectives and realize what makes my work unique.

What type of things did you do to find illustration work?

I attended several SCBWI conferences since 2017. The SCBWI workshops are the best places to improve your craft, have your work critiqued (I always attended portfolio showcases or consultations) and network. After a while, I realized I kept receiving the same feedback from different art directors, and that helped me understand what was working and what wasn’t. I used to send postcards to editors and art directors a few times a year to share my updated portfolio, but now my amazing agent, Christy, takes care of that for me.

How did you connect with Christy Ewers and how long have you been with their agency?

Christy and I followed each other on Instagram for a while, and then one day I asked her a question about a SCBWI webinar session she was hosting. I really liked how she responded to me (she is very thoughtful!), so I decided to send her a postcard to let her know I would be querying her. It’s important to find an agent you can personally connect with. Asking them questions or sending them a postcard could be a good way to start a conversation.

Do you want to write and illustrate picture books?

Yes!! That’s my next goal!

Are you working on developing a book dummy to show off your work?

I don’t have any book dummies yet, but one of my goals this year is to write a nonfiction biography picture book about a pianist who persevered despite her hearing loss at the height of her career. I’m looking forward to digging into the research process!

Do you try to spend a certain amount of time each day on illustrating?

Yes, I usually schedule the time to work on illustrations daily. Scheduling and blocking the time to work has become crucial since schools closed due to the pandemic in March, and I had to juggle homeschooling my kids and completing the final art for the picture book project.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes, I converted one of the bedrooms into my studio. It’s still a make-shift studio (I need a bigger desk etc.), but it’s a comfortable place to get some work done and stay up all night if I need to meet a deadline!

Do you ever used your art for gift cards, merchandise, or sell prints of your work?

Yes, as I mention in the question #2, I used to sell art prints and original artwork at my Etsy shop. I didn’t like the process involved (taking and posting photos, packaging etc.), so I closed the shop after a couple of months.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

Not yet, but that’s something I would love to try!


Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

No, I haven’t had an opportunity yet, but I’d be happy to try illustrating for children’s magazines.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Watercolor, ink pen, and Photoshop.

Has that changed over time?

I always used watercolor, ink pen, and Photoshop, and then there was a period I layered a lot of colored pencils, soft pastels, and acrylics to create texture. Now I’m going back to my original way – watercolor, ink pen, and Photoshop.


Would you consider working with a self-published author to illustrate their book?

No. I know there are some beautiful self-published books out there, but after going through the entire process of bookmaking with a traditional publisher, I understand how much is involved in creating a picture book. Illustrating a picture book is a big job and you put several months and many many hours to complete the work. I’m happy to delegate all the other tasks to the editor, art director, designers, and the marketing department and everyone else involved (they are all incredibly talented and know exactly what they are doing!), so I can focus on the fun and creative aspect of picture book making.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

Thank you so much for your encouragement! There are three things I do that might be helpful.

First, take actions! I like to think outside of the box and see how I can connect with others in ways that help meet my goals. I’ve contacted many illustrators and art directors over the years, sometimes just asking questions to improve my craft, other times simply to network. There are so many wonderful people in this industry, and they are usually kind enough to answer my questions. But it’s important to remember to be respectful when you contact them.

Second, share your goals with your friend. Sharing your goals with someone you trust makes you accountable, and increases the chance of achieving your goals. This needs to be someone who is encouraging and believe in your dreams.

Last one is start submitting your work even if it’s not 100 percent ready. I think a lot of people hesitate to send their work just because they feel it’s not quite perfect. Make your work the best you can right now, and starting submitting it. If you receive a rejection, improve your work, and resume submitting again. Also, a rejection can only bring you closer to your goals if you use it as fuel to improve your work.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

No, but I’d love to try a Wacom Cintiq Pro! That would be my next investment!

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

I use various traditional medium to create my work – ink pen, watercolor (my favorites are Winsor and Newton and Daniel Smith watercolor paint), colored pencils, soft pastels, acrylics. I tried different watercolor papers over the years, but my favorite so far is Arches cold press 140 lb. Once I’m done with painting, I scan my artwork (I use Epson Expression 11000XL and love it!), and then digitally edit using Photoshop.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Yes, I research a lot before I start a sketching process so I can understand certain postures, expressions etc. I use images on Pinterest and Google image search for references.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely! I would’ve never met my agent, Christy, the way we did without Instagram. And thanks to the online portfolios and email, I can continue to promote my work even during the pandemic.

What career dreams would you like to fulfill?

I believe every child is wonderful just the way they are, and they are born with unique talents and gifts. I hope the books I create encourage children to embrace their own uniqueness as well as others around them.

What are you working on now?

I recently completed the final art for the nonfiction biography picture book, Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites (FSG 2021). It was a big job, but it was so creatively satisfying! I’m currently working on the cover, and I know it’s going to be super cute, thanks to the amazing Macmillan team for all of their guidance!!

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I answered most of that in the question #26. But if I could give tips to an illustrator who is just starting out, I’d say invest into a good quality scanner early on if you use traditional medium and scan your own artwork like I do. I used to go to FedEx Kinko’s to scan my artwork, but having my own scanner changed the quality of my work and how quickly I can produce. I got my scanner used at eBay for under $1,000 (a brand new model would be over $3K), and purchasing a gently used/refurbished scanner may be a good option. I also use Escoda Prado watercolor brushes, and I can’t live without them!

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

I think it’s important to think how you can differentiate yourself from others, meaning what’s unique about you and make your work stand out from others. Maybe it’s your culture, your beliefs, your childhood experiences, and the perspective and wisdom gained from those experiences. For me, it’s my culture, my faith, my background in child development, my love of cooking and music, the way I think and reflect. I think knowing yourself and expressing from that place is very important. Don’t worry about trends. Trends come and go.

Thank you, Yuko for answering the interview questions and sharing your expertise with us. Please let me know your future successes so I can share it with everyone.

To see more of Yuko’s work, you can visit her at:






Christy T. Ewers
The CAT Agency, Inc.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Great interview! Beautiful illustrations, Yuko. So glad you are finding success as you start your career. See you at RACWI when the time is right.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. These illustrations are simply gorgeous. I especially love Mr. Bunny’s house. So sweet.

    Liked by 2 people

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