Yuko Higuchi is a Tokyo based artist who is known for her dreamlike and surreal illustrations. Her unique style of combining cute and fantasy elements bordering on creepy is known as ‘dark kawaii’ and has garnered her a large fanbase. Although she is most often associated with cat illustrations, she paints a wide variety of other animals and also does human portraits. Yuko-san holds a degree from Tama Art University and is a former winner of the Fukuzawa Ichiro Award. With her prolific work for global brands such as Uniqlo, Ladurée, Shiseido and even Gucci, she is a huge name in this genre.

In the case of Gucci x Higuchi, it was probably an easy decision for the label to collaborate, as you can’t say her family name without saying Gucci. Higuchi literally means ‘mouth of the gutter’ in Japanese, which has its roots as a toponymic surname for people who once lived near one. The name is relatively common, especially in western Japan and is historically recorded as being descended from the Minamoto clan, which is the same line that many famous samurai clans descended from.

Photo credit: Gucci

Growing up, her parents kept a household of six to seven female cats, so she has always lived with them. When it was time for her to move out to her own apartment, she adopted Boris, a male kitten who was prematurely born because his mother was hit by a car. She quickly noticed the difference from her previous cats as Boris was a lot more rambunctious and aggressive. Naturally, he quickly became the muse for her sketches and paintings, a kindred progression with the legendary Louis Wain. Incidentally, her art also features a lot of anthropomorphism, which was a similar hallmark of Wain’s.

Yuko-san usually starts her drawings spontaneously with a creature, and then adds fantasy elements to it by letting her imagination and creativity take over the story. What she never does is plan out the scene beforehand in order to have a final product that is cute, as she feels that would be too contrived and calculated.

In the early years of her career, she kept her options open and did not plan to specialize in cats. As the orders and commissions started pouring in, the market’s organic demand for cat illustrations started to eclipse the rest of her art, and this set her on the path to her fame. Exploding in popularity and being in high demand is one thing, but staying creative and producing the work day in and day out is something else. These are not your every day Instagram doodles that can be completed in one sitting, and regardless if you’re a fan or not, anyone can appreciate Yuko-san’s amazing output and consistency over the years.

In addition to her commissioned work, she also has her own merchandise store and has produced many books out on Amazon. There is no secret to her work ethic. In a 2019 interview with 1101.com, she says that whenever she is awake, she is usually drawing. Of course, it never feels like work to her. Drawing is her way of self-expression. She goes on to explain that as an introvert, it is much harder for her to communicate with words and language than with her art.

Drawing is my way of connecting to the world.

– Yuko Higuchi

Here are some of our favorite illustrations from her Instagram page. Check it out!

We can’t wait to see what the future holds and which exciting new collaborations are in store. Meanwhile, head over here to take a look at the Gucci collaboration. Even if it isn’t your cup of tea, they have a free pdf sketchbook of hers for you to download. Yuko-san’s own website has an array of really cool merchandise from pen stands and prints to autograph books and tote bags.

Finally, we’ve selected picked her 3 best books for the English market on Amazon below. She has released many other books but these are her most accessible ones for a non-Japanese reading audience.

Cats And Other Creatures – This 2017 postcard hardcover book is considered a must-have for true fans. The cards are removable and can be framed. While not large, the quality is top notch and the illustrations are beautiful.

Higuchi Yuko Artworks – For something larger, this Japanese edition oversized book has 160 pages of pictures, albeit they are from her earlier work, as this was published in 2013. For a newer publication, check out our final recommendation below!

Circus – this 2019 standalone hardcover book is also a Japanese edition which is based off her acclaimed solo art exhibition, spanning two decades of her artwork. A true coffee table piece.

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