About the Artist: Shigeo Koike

Shigeo Koike recalls...

I think I was a pretty normal child, but there are lots of pictures of me as a kid playing with rubber band airplanes. I started building plastic models around the 5th grade. In junior high school I was completely crazy about control-line airplanes, and in high school I moved up to R/C. In those days, R/C planes were still incredibly expensive, and I remember begging my parents for one. They bought me a single-channel OS radio. Now that I think about it, I always had airplanes nearby.

"As a child, people often praised my sketching abilities, but I never dreamed I'd end up making that a career."

When I was in high school, I saw a number of really great aircraft illustrations from the United States that I thought were really cool, and I decided I wanted to draw like that, too. So after I graduated, I entered a design school in Tokyo. I think that was around 1965.

But I ended up not going to classes very much. I was hired as a part-time assistant at a professional design office. And after graduation, they hired me full-time.

Detail of Koike's art from Hasegawa's 1/32 Me262 kit, the company's second kit of that scale. Circa 1978. Even modest action, like these bombs being dropped, is hard to find in his more recent work.

Four years after graduation, I went independent. As a freelancer, I was doing both design and illustration at first. I'd draw anything at all, and got a lot of work so I was really busy.

I started working crazy hours, and working all night. I'd been at that for maybe six months or so when one day, while travelling, I suddenly threw up blood. I saw a doctor on the road and he hospitalized me immediately. I had tuberculosis. They put me in a sanitarium for TB patients for about a year. Once I got out, I got married. That was 1972 and I was 25 years old.

The first aircraft related job I ever got was doing the poster for one of the first Japan Air and Space Shows. After doing that job several times, through a connection with them I started drawing pinup pages for a magazine called Tsubasa ("wings") for several years. That job eventually led into the Fuji Heavy Industries calendar. And that's been going on for 36 years now, I think. I would have never guessed it would continue for so long!

About that time, I also took several of my illustrations and went to Hasegawa to sell my services. The first job they gave me was the box art for their kit of the F-15 prototype. You know, the one with the orange wings. That was in 1/72. It's discontinued now.


Focke-Wulf 190s pass a flaming B-24 in this detail from a Hasegawa 1/72 scale model box, circa 1977. Koike no longer paints "action" scenes like this.

For Hasegawa, I was drawing airplanes, tanks, ships, yachts, whatever they asked me to. I loved plastic models, and these were plastic model boxes so I was having a lot of fun. Hasegawa didn't really put any restrictions or suggestions on what I drew, so I tried to make them look as cool as I could. But I didn't really care for painting action scenes, or war scenes, so I didn't do those kinds of illustrations. I think that's actually what made my work stand out back in that period.

A collection of my Hasegawa and Fuji Heavy illustrations called Flyover was published in 1991. Since then, there's been Flying Colors, Flying Colors 2 and most recently Flying Colors 3. With the publication of each one, it seems sort of like I've reached a conclusion of some kind, but I'm still always thinking about what to draw next!

I guess I'm pretty lucky to have been able to work out of my house for so long without hardly any self-promotion. I don't think of myself as a painter, but rather an illustrator. Not an artist, but rather a craftsman. I'd like to keep this illustrator job for another 10 years or so. I hope I can.

Fokker F.32


A Fokker F.32 as portrayed in ink for a Japanese aviation periodical, 1980. Koike only works in acrylics today.

I want to continue to see people's reactions to my work, and to try some new styles and techniques. But I'll keep doing airplanes! Drawing beautiful aircraft in flight is very enjoyable.

I could go for a deeper level of hyper-realism in the work I do for the Fuji Heavy Industries calendar if I wanted to. But I don't find painting that sort of hyper-realism to be enjoyable, and I think paintings like that become boring pretty quickly. I want to keep painting flying aircraft and if I cannot put a little emotion and interpretation into it, it's not interesting for me, and the result is not interesting for the viewer. I want to create images that will hold the viewer's interest for a long time.