We had the good fortune of connecting with Ikumi Kayama and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ikumi, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I do my best to be as specific as possible with my market and clientele. I imagine my ideal client and speak directly to them in the marketing materials. My target market is surgeons and researchers who need illustrations to teach and share their surgical techniques with other experts and students.
Before launching the brand, I researched the clients and the works they love and need for their audience. Writing about my illustrations helped the clients find me. Along the way, I found the things I find effortless (formatting, adding labels, saving for web and print, etc.) was immensely valuable to my clients. I started advertising these perks that made me stand out a little bit more.
Because I tried to think in my clients’ shoes, it became easier for me to communicate better. I understood what illustrations they needed and showcased the basic underlying structures necessary to clarify the new ideas and techniques. I know the size and positioning of blood vessels and nerves are critical, and I’m more than happy to move them 1mm to the right when we make edits and updates to the illustrations.
I created a logo that I used consistently on my website, marketing materials, watermarks, and paperwork to be recognizable by the clients. It took several years for the branding to stick with many trials and errors. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve had fun with this puzzle.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
No one knows what scientific or medical illustration means, even though everyone has probably seen a drawing in a science book or at a medical office. I like to say I draw brain surgery and rocket science. Specialized artists trained in both science and art create these illustrations. Unfortunately, many people think that technical drawings come from Google or “just exist.”
Working in an art business is a continuous non-linear journey. It’s not easy since business is objective, and art can be subjective. In the beginning, I thought I just had to be the “best” artist to be successful in business, and it’s not true at all. Then as I learned more about the business side of things, I found that I was doing many things backward.
The biggest challenge I’m still facing is how to treat my passion as a business. It’s the hardest thing for me to make a business decision against my passion. What my clients want is not what I want. I don’t have enough time to get everything done. I have to say no if the client’s budget is not enough. For these reasons, I believe it’s important to have boundaries and create personal work to create the art that I want.
I’m most excited about illustrating books that would help doctors and surgeons worldwide to help patients. I remind myself often because it’s easy to lose the big picture when I’m obsessively moving arteries and nerves in a drawing.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live near Washington, DC, so most of my friends want to go downtown to the museums and the monuments. That is perfectly fine, and I will happily join them. My favorites are the National Museum of Natural History and the Portrait Gallery.
The DC area also has a rich system of nature reserves and parks. I’m a big birder so I would take them to my favorite birding spots nearby. Birding is like a treasure hunt. Migration time is always exciting as the region sees many bird species in spring and fall that are usually not seen in the rest of the year. It’s so satisfying and magical to find the tiny warblers in their beautiful colors and patterns flitting around on the tops of the trees. We can take sketchbooks and paint the scenery along the trails.
If they visit in the spring, it’s sheep shearing season! The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is also known as the Chesapeake Fibershed since there are so many small sheep farms with different breeds of sheep. I love visiting the farms, meeting the sheep, and potentially buying a bag full of freshly shorn fleece. It’s so peaceful to watch the sheep and the lambs.
If they visit in the summer, we can do a beer crawl or visits to the winery. DC has many microbreweries, and not all of the beer is IPAs. We can rent bicycles and bike hop from a brewery to another brewery for an afternoon of fun.
Eating out is a highlight! Because people come to DC from all over the world, the variety of cuisines can be overwhelming. If they are adventurous, I would suggest Ethiopian cuisine. There are several great places nearby, and the honey wine is delightful. There are so many delicious vegetarian dishes too. If they are all about cheese and meat, I will take them to a Salvadorean pupuseria. Pupusas are similar to pitas in shape and idea. What goes inside is delicious, from cheese to chicken to Salvadorean flowers.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents and my sister for always having to look at my illustrations of “dead things” or “guts” yet still having nice things to say about them.
Everyone at GNSI: the most welcoming, accepting group of professionals!
Other: TedX talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX8sqJYj06I&t=1s
Bio Photo credit: Mervi Hjelmroos-Koski, PhD All illustrations (c) Ikumi Kayama/Studio Kayama LLC