“To have a creative output, in my case drawings and illustrations, I need creative input, inspirations, and influences. I need to experience things I don’t experience on my own.” – Yuko Shimizu Share this quote on Twitter

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Yuko Shimizu

What is your morning routine?

In me you may have found the person who takes the longest in the morning. It usually takes me over two hours from the time I wake up until I leave my apartment for my studio.

My morning routine changes daily depending on whether I go out running or not, whether I have a lot of lunch preparation or not, etc. However, there are a few things I always follow: I have a real breakfast to start the day, or to break-fast, and I make this special vitamin C booster drink, though the recipe changes depending on the season.

The vitamin C booster drink is pretty good. Lots of fresh ginger grated, raw honey, propolis, and half a lemon or lime. In the summer, I add seltzer water in it, which makes it taste like homemade ginger ale. In the colder season, I add lukewarm water (so the good enzymes of the raw honey won’t be killed by heat), and it taste like ginger tea.

I started taking raw honey because my good friend and fellow illustrator Gary Taxali was on a raw diet about 6-7 years ago. When I told him how much I love honey, he told me to try raw honey, because it tastes even better. Which was very true. But the best part of taking raw honey almost every day for years was that it totally fixed my pollen allergies. From having to take medicine for one whole month to now, I may have a day or two in spring I may sneeze a lot, but that’s it. It’s nature’s miracles.

I have a weak throat, and in the winter I easily lose my voice from a sore throat. Because I teach (at the School of Visual Arts) I cannot afford to lose my voice. When I was in Italy for a business trip in the winter, I started losing my voice. A local took me to a pharmacy and introduced me to this magic thing called propolis. I have never not had a bottle of propolis in my medicine cabinet since then, and when I travel I take a small spray with me.

My studio is in midtown Manhattan where there aren’t many choices for a good lunch. On top of that, most of the places are overpriced. So, for the past five years or so, I’ve been bringing lunch from home almost every day. I usually cook a lot on the weekend that can be frozen, and take them to work to reheat throughout the week. I even steam tons of rice at once and saran-wrap them in one meal portions and keep them in the freezer. It’s an Asian rice hack that works great. I do prepare salads and vegetable dishes in the morning.

To keep myself healthy, I have slowly changed my habit to make lunch the biggest meal of the day. I eat very small dinners nowadays. But my lunch bag is packed with food: sometimes a few days of lunch at a time, so my morning commute looks like I just went on a big grocery shopping trip.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

I used to read about fifty books a year when I was living in Japan. My school commute was an hour and a half each way. When I started working (I had a corporate office job for eleven years before I moved to New York to go to art school) my commute got shorter, but it was still over an hour. Sadly, smartphones have changed the commute train scenery in Japan now, but it used to be everyone quietly reading books. Japanese designs for paperbacks are quite remarkable. The size of each book may be half the size of an American paperback, but the paper is super thin and, conversely, super sturdy. Because of the Japanese writing system, they can still keep the font size pretty big. So, efficient.

Now, my time on the subway is only fifteen minutes, and because of smartphones and tablets, I have lost the habit of reading. In the last few years, maybe I read ten books a year at the most. But to have a creative output, in my case drawings and illustrations, I need creative input, inspirations, and influences. I need to experience things I don’t experience on my own. So, the new routine I started earlier this year is to, finally, get back into reading; reading really good books that fuel my creativity.

I now intentionally take the local train instead of switching to the express train as it gives me five extra minutes of reading time per commute (I also use the time I used to waste on my phone toward reading throughout the day, and especially at night). So far, so good. I am getting a lot of reading done.

What time do you go to sleep?

It’s hard to say, because sometimes I work at the studio until late at night. I try to go to bed between 11:00pm and midnight, whenever I can.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

Once the light is off, I am out. I am easy. If I am getting really stressed out and anxious, I sometimes take melatonin, but I don’t want that to turn into a bad habit, so I only take it when it’s absolutely necessary.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

Yes and yes. I don’t know how people get up without it.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

There is no set breakfast menu. Sometimes it’s cereal with lot of fruits and unsweetened but full-fat yogurt on top. Other times it’s toast with butter, with raw honey and cinnamon sprinkled on top.

If I feel really hungry, I may add scrambled or sunny side up eggs on top, and a big cup of English breakfast tea with lots of milk.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Two to three times a week I go running in the morning, right after I wake up and have a glass of water, before breakfast.

This routine is new for me. I’ve been doing it for about a year now. I tried various different workout routines, but it was hard to keep them up. Also, because I am a freelancer, and my schedule can shift from day to day, I wanted something that has a lot of room for schedule changes, and that won’t take up too much of my time. When it’s too much work, I know I am not going to stick with it.

So, I run when I can, when I feel like it. I usually run for two miles or less, so for a maximum of fifteen minutes or so. Minimum twice a week, usually three times a week. It’s nice to sweat from the top of my head and get my heart rate going. It’s a good wake up call.

Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

Meditation? No, but running can sometimes be like meditation, right?

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

Both. There are always emails I have to reply to in the morning as, with the internet, borders are diminishing, and many of my clients work in different time zones.

With that said, I don’t have a computer or internet connection set up at home, and I don’t even check email over the weekend.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

When I have breakfast, but only to browse Facebook or Instagram to check what my friends are up to. The only push notification I get on my phone are calls and text messages. I think I’d go crazy if notifications were always popping up on my phone.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

To relax and enjoy the morning, and have a good start to the day.

I don’t know how people can have a good day when they rush around in the morning. Maybe this two or more hours in the morning thing is my meditation process. Regardless of how crazy the day’s schedule is going to be, or even when I know I will have to pull a fourteen-hour work day, I still keep this relaxed morning routine.

When I see people who look like they have good jobs eating breakfast from a paper plate on the platform, I feel sad…

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water, and pretty much as soon as I wake up.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

I may take more time if I don’t have to rush in the morning. I have The New York Times home delivery on the weekend. It’s nice knowing I have the time to flip through and read the paper.

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

I’ve brought lemons and limes onto international flights in the past so I can have that first thing in the morning. I know you’re not supposed to do that, so shhhh. No, I don’t do it anymore.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I have to be flexible, otherwise the routine, which is supposed to relax me, will turn into a stressful event in itself.

I travel a lot, so I know I won’t be able to follow the same routine all the time. When I can’t, I do my best to find another way to calm and relax myself in the morning.


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