We had the good fortune of connecting with Keika Yamaguchi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Keika, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
When I came to America from Japan at 5, I couldn’t speak or understand English, so I had no choice but to work extra hard to keep up. And I was surrounded by other hard working and talented people as I grew up and went through college. I thought putting in extra hours was the only way to achieve your goals, and improve your skills. But during college I pushed myself too far. I would pull all nighters for 4 days in a row for 3 weeks almost once a year, sleep in my car, eat only junk food from the cafeteria out of convenience, and neglected my friends and family. I eventually injured my neck and my back, and couldn’t walk comfortably for 3 weeks after I graduated. 11 years later, I still have to be careful not to aggravate this injury. After injuring myself, I learned the value of a good sleep schedule, eating well, and regularly exercising. My parents also helped me realize that though I was putting in a lot of hours, I wasn’t working efficiently because I was too fried, even falling asleep at my desk sometimes. I also realized that I had missed three years of bonding with my dog, and vowed to be more present with her afterwards. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Spending time with her helped me be more present and aware in my daily life and when interacting with others. Today, I work hard but efficiently. I plan my work out before I approach it. I ask myself how much time I want to spend time on something so I don’t spend all day working on a small task. And by timing myself I know how long realistically a task can actually take. Over time, I’ve learned that if I master sleeping, eating, and exercising, l have more energy during the day, am able to better focus, and have more control over myself. Putting in hours isn’t all there is to creative work, giving myself time to play and wonder gives me inspiration for ideas that I can bring back into it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was known as a children’s book illustrator first, and now am currently working as an assistant art director on Looney Tunes. I’m working on a project filled with so many kind and talented people! Meeting people at the right time lead to where I am today. Right after high school my dad had a big illness and had to go to the emergency room frequently, and so I couldn’t apply to any internships like I originally planned to. On top of that, the economy was so bad back then, it was really hard to find a job. But I was able to work on a self published children’s book with a writer through a friend. There was a small income from it, but the deal was that I could work at my own pace, and I worked hard to create a high quality digital and printed children’s book art. I knew that I was going to be behind my former classmates in my career, but I also knew that I had to keep making art that can go into my portfolio to show that I can deliver high quality artwork. Once the book was published, I went around bookstores to ask if they’d be interested in having my book in their store. And I ended up meeting a very sweet and generous bookstore owner, Maureen at Once Upon a Time Books in Montrose. She helped me discover the children’s book community where I met so many supportive and kind people who are now my friends. Several books later Chris, the owner at a gallery I frequented, turned out to also be an art director and brought me on to his animated project at DreamWorks. Working the show, I reunited with Aaron who was an acquaintance during college, and we end up working on Looney Tunes. He’s now my boss and a friend. There’s so many people that I couldn’t fit into this story that helped me along the way, like Justin, Greg, Marla, Paul, Lou, and Keiko. It was very hard after college. There were some tools that I learned at college for getting started with my career, but they didn’t work for me. There’s no one way to do this, but if you’re kind and open with people, keep creating the work that’s meaningful to you, and put yourself out there you’ll make more opportunities that can lead to furthering your career. I want the world to know that, though I’m focusing on animation at the moment, I am not done with my career in Children’s Books. My love for children’s books is eternal and it’s a BIG part of who I am today.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Shout out to parents and all my friends I met who helped me get to where I am in my life today. And extra shoutout to my super supportive wife Eve.