Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 8, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Juana Martinez-Neal


Juana Martinez-Neal was born in Lima, Peru and has been illustrating since she was 16 years old. Juana was awarded the Illustrator Mentorship in 2011 by the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCWBWI).

In summer 2012, she was awarded the prestigious SCBWI Portfolio Award Grand Prize. Juana has illustrated for educational publishers including McGraw-Hill and Capstone Publishers, as well as Cricket Magazine Group and Nestle, Inc. Juana attended the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru – School of Fine Arts.

In 1995, she moved to the United States and now lives with her young family in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Here is Juana talking about her process.


While I’m working on my books, I always keep books open on a lay out area that I have next to my table. I had books illustrated by Ana Juan, Rebecca Dautremer and Yuyi Morales while I was illustrating “Dana’s Trip”.


I hang completed pieces in front of my table. My bookshelves get covered with artwork, too. I look at the work while I’m painting and I’m always finding something to tweak after a couple of days of completing a piece.


Final Sketch for “Three Little Pigs” included in the 2013 Storybook Brushes Wall Calendar.


I always do my tweaks the old-fashioned way: tracing paper over sketches.


Detail of “Three Little Pigs” while still in process on finishing the piece.


 Final Illustration “Three Little Pigs” included in the 2013 Storybook Brushes Wall Calendar.


A little bit of how I work: I start by transferring my sketch to the acrylic paper. I continue by laying out paper with matte medium to create my textures until I feel it is just right. After I let it dry, I start painting. I use acrylics.


I paint with layers and keep adding details as I am getting the different areas done.


As I’m working, I refer to my final sketch. I also hang the illustrations as I complete them in front of me. It’s my way to keep a the color palette and characters consistent throughout the book.


You attended Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru – School of Fine Arts, before moving to the United States. Could you tell us a little bit about the school and some of the classes you took?

Back when I attended the School of Arts at PUCP in the early 90’s, it was a 6-year art school. The first 2 years were core art classes. You had to take composition, life drawing, sculpture, intaglio, serigraphy, woodcut, perspective, and more. You also took classes like Art History, Anatomy, Mathematics, Psycology, etc. Years 3 and 4 were Specialty years. You chose between the 5 specialties: Painting, Sculpture, Printmaking, Graphic Design or Industrial Design. Classes focused on your specialty. The last 2 years were Studio years, mainly focused on developing your work and style.


Interior art from “Dana’s Trip” published by Kalimat November 7, 2012.


Do you feel your experience at the college helped develop your style?

Attending art school gave me the art concepts that I used until today. I think attending art school is invaluable.

Have you taken any art classes, since you moved to the US?

Yes, I have taken classes at various colleges, institutes and art centers. I’ve taken from linoleum printmaking, mixed-media techniques and dark room photography; to more software oriented classes like Photoshop and Illustrator at UCLA extension back when I lived in LA.

My goal is to take at least 1 workshop a year. More if time and deadlines allow me. I believe that every class gives me tools that I can apply to my illustration, mixed media work. Plus it takes my mind away from my regular work.


What was your first book?

My first book was a “The Wall”.


How did you get that contract?

“The Wall” was a collaborative book written by several authors from the Phoenix’s Writers Club. “The Wall” was a chapter book and they needed black and white interior illustration plus a cover. This was back in January of 2006, I was just getting back to children’s illustration.


The Wall was published by Neelie Publishing Who is Neelie Publishing? I see they are in Arizona. Is that how you connected with them?

Neelie Publishing is a small publishing house in Arizona. Eileen Birin is the author that runs it and she uses Neelie to publish her books. Eileen was one of the authors from “The Wall”.


Juana Illustrated The Messy One which came out in January 2012.


How did this opportunity come to you?

One of the Art Directors from Capstone made a call to illustrators. I emailed some samples and a couple of days later I got the offer for “The Messy One”.


Is Picture Window Books an umbrella name that many small publishers use? 

No. Picture Window Books is the Picture book division of Capstone Publishers in Minnesota.


Have you seen your work change since you got out of art school?

Immensely. When I attended art school, I was a painting major. Although my work was a lot more whimsical and representational than the rest of people in my class, I wanted to force a more artistic approach to how I viewed the world. Back then, I didn’t know I could be and make a living as a children’s illustrator. Ten years had to go by and I had to move to the US to realize that I could be a children’s illustrator. Thinking back, the clues were there all along but I just wasn’t ready to see them.


Book Cover Art for The Night Before My Birthday above and three interior illustrations below.




Do you have a favorite illustrator?

Yes, I have a few illustrators that I admire. They are Rebecca Dautremer, Ana Juana and Constanze Von Kitzing.


Ellie the Different Elephant cover art above – Interior Art Below.


How did the author of Lellie the Different Elephant find you?

She saw my work at


I notice that Wasteland Press is a self-publishing book company.  What did you think of the quality of the Lellie the Different Elephant put out by them?

They did a good job. I have no complaints.


What was the first piece of art you did and got paid for?

A black and white illustration that was published in the SCBWI Bulletin. I still have the check. Never cashed it and never will.


This was done for a workshop Juana took in September 2011 with Joann Hill, Art Director from Disney Hyperion. The assignment was to illustrate “The Gingerbread Man” story.


Of all the books that you illustrated, which one is your favorite?

This is a hard question. I have things that I love from all of the books. I really can’t pick one.


How have you found that experience of working with authors wanting to self-publish their book?  Do you feel they give you the freedom you want?

My 10 years working with graphic and web design clients taught me how to listen to clients and how to hear to those subtle red flags. To me it was pretty simple: if during the first meetings I heard anything that made me feel uneasy, I would say no to the project.

Overall, I feel fortunate to have worked with some great authors. They have all believed in my work and vision. They gave me their ideas and told me what they wanted to see but always believed in my work and experience and gave me freedom.


Can you make enough money illustrating books for self published writers?

I was and I’m sure you still can. I have stopped taking self-published projects for some time now. I’m focusing on something else at this moment.


What goes into the decision to work with a specific author?

I needed to like the story. I have to see the illustrations in my head the very first time I read the manuscript. I also had to believe in the author’s mission, motivations and ideas.


Do you have a contract written up to use?

I never start working on a project until I have a signed contract and the deposit with me. The Graphic Artist Guild has the “Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines” that includes sample contracts. I would recommend buying it:


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I’m a mixed media artist. I love using acrylic mediums, papers, acrylic paint and colored pencils.

Juana epapepe2

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I do research for every project. I occasionally take pictures if I need to figure out light or a body posture. Most of the time, I use Google images. I save, rename files and place them in an Inspiration Images folder for each project. Then as I’m sketching or painting, I go through my folder for reference.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Only while I’m tweaking sketches. Photoshop allows me to move things and characters around until the composition looks just right to me. I’m extremely anal and my sketches include everything that I will include in the final art.


“Tiger Teeth” was done for a fundraiser to benefit the Phoenix Zoo.


Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

Yes, I own one and have used one in the past but never for my illustration work. I’m a traditional artist. I find a strange pleasure looking at my artwork and knowing that everything that will be reproduced is right there in front of me. No tweaks, no fixes.


“Poppy Learns Something Special”  Nestlé 2012


Cover and interior illustrations from Poppy’s Best Day Ever


Poppy The Best Day Ever and Poppy’s First Day of School: Are these both published books or are they books that you are working on?

Both book are published. “Poppy’s Best Day Ever” was released on August of 2011; and, “Poppy’s First Day of School” was launched on July of 2012. The books were done for Nestle “El Mejor Nido” which is the Hispanic division of Nestle, Inc. They were part of the company’s Summer reading program. What I liked the most about the program was that the copies of the books were not sold but handed out in Hispanic areas throughout the country. In 2011, 150,000 copies of “Poppy’s Best Day Ever” were handed out. For their 2012 release, the number of copies was increased.


Do You still work with writer’s who want to self-publish their book and need an illustrator?

I no longer take on these kinds of projects.


Have you ever thought of writing and illustrating your own books?

Yes, I have some stories I’m working on at the moment.


Do you work with ECKO House Publishing for them as a freelance artist or where you hired by the author?

I was also hired by the author to do the illustrations for the chapter book.


How did you and Stefanie Von Borstel at Full Circle Literary connect?  Has that happened recently?

Stefanie and I met at SCBWI Los Angeles Conference this August. She saw my work at the Portfolio Showcase. We started talking at the Conference and officially signed a couple of weeks ago.


Do you have a studio in your house?

After working for years in spare bedrooms and dining room tables, we built my studio in 2005. Everything just as I wanted and dreamed it. From flat files in the walk-in closet to glass doors and skylights. It’ll be hard to move in a year.


Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

I’m a simple person. I write them down in a piece of paper and look at them as often as I can. When I attain one, I remove it and add a new one to the list.


Are there any painting tips (materials, etc) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

If you use acrylics, try using gesso instead of white. It will make your colors more matte and chalky, more like gouache. I prefer that to the plastic, shiny look that you get as you add more layers of paint with acrylics.

Another tip, love your sketches but don’t let the sketch tell you how to paint. I transfer my sketches to paper and then I cover them with a base color, whichever I need. The sketch is there but looks really light. I don’t worry about covering it. I find that if I do it this way, I paint without worrying about details. Details will come in the next layer and I can always go over any area and tweak it until the painting is just right.


“Gee-Up, Neddy” Babybug Magazine July-August 2012


What kinds of things do you do to promote yourself?

I hand postcards at conferences and carry portfolios in both my iPad and my iPhone. I  try to blog regularly and keep a FB page and a twitter account. I do try to do at least 1 series of blog posts a year of some sort. The last 2 years 3 children’s illustrators and I have had the November of Mini-Interviews

Just now, we have a new project: A collaborative 2013 wall calendar. We are 4 children’s illustrators from different parts of the world and are mailing those calendars to publishers. You can read about our group “Storybook Brushes.” If you are interested, you can order a copy of the calendar. We have a few for sale.


Above and below from the Ant and the Grasshopper


What are you working on now?

I’m working on a chapter book, a new Nestle Nido book, some magazine work and my personal projects.


Above and below from The Ant and the Grasshopper


Are you the only artist in the family?

Nope. My father is a watercolor artist, my father’s father was an artist, my grandfather’s father was a violinist, my brother is an artist, my uncles were writers and painters. All on my dad’s side. My mom is a craft woman. She enrolled me in ceramics and painting classes since I can remember.


Did you always know that you wanted to be a Children’s Illustrator?

No. Everything just happened. My father was an AD for many advertising companies in Lima. Once when I was 16 he got an account for a toy company. My father is an incredible realistic artist but doesn’t know how to illustrate so he asked me to sit and draw some children for him. More to keep me busy, to tell you the truth. So I drew. I remember my dad’s eyes getting round and big when he saw what I did. He knew I was a children’s illustrator but I didn’t. At least, not yet.


With the market changing so rapidly. Many people are thinking about using e-books to publish their picture books. Do you have anything to share in this area?

Yes, remember you still have to consider that even if your book is digital, you will still have to pay the illustrator, the company that formats your ebook and the developers of your app. You then have to sell and promote it. And simply put, how many copies would you need to sell in order to get your investment back? I encourage you to search online for other people who have done e-books and apps and listen/read their stories. You must know in order to make an informed decision.




Can you share your thoughts about self-publish your story?

I would not recommend it. Self-publishing a book is expensive – $20,000+. You will have to wear many hats, way too many in my opinion. You’ll be the writer, editor, art director, distributor, marketer and the venture capitalist. And being honest, each of those jobs are better done by someone who works full time doing only the job they excel at. That’s why I feel you should want to submit your manuscript the traditional way, first.


Do you have any words of wisdom to share with other illustrators?

I don’t consider myself a wise person but I can share one thing: Always say yes. You never know what opportunities will come from that initial project.


Juana, thank you so much for sharing your talented illustrations and process with us.  If you would like to see more of Juana’s artwork or follow her, you can find her using:  Website+Blog

Please take a minute to leave Juana a comment.  I appreciate it.  Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Juana, your work is amazing! The colors are brilliant (excellent “gesso” tip), and I LOVE your animals! I actually felt a pang when I heard you were going to have to give up your dream studio 😦 And I, too, was first paid for my illustrations and writing in the SCBWI National Bulletin 🙂 I photocopied both checks, cashed the one for the 6 B&W illustrations (they published 3), and cashed the one for the poem, but framed the cash. I’ve always seen it as a symbol of better things to come. Theystill have yet to come! lol

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful work, Juana, and Kathy, for putting it all up for us to enjoy 😀


  2. Juana, your work is beautiful. The colors are vibrant but what really struck me was your use of grey scale. The skin on the elephant and rhino came to life! Congratulations on your success and wishes for the future.


  3. Kathy and Juana, thank you both so much for sharing this amazing interview and collection of artwork. I love Juana’s textures, compositions, color and mood. I wish I could have attended a 6 year art college in Lima. Your family sounds amazing and I’d say despite your’e saying otherwise you are indeed very ‘wise” and super talented!.Wow!


  4. Gorgeous art and great interview. I love the textural look of the pieces. There is a lot of depth and joy in each one. I’m sure we’ll continue to hear and see a lot from you.


  5. LOVE her vision and painting!!! just so lovely and unique and fun…. thanks for sharing… 😉


  6. Love Juana’s work!
    The textures, colors and attention to detail are amazing.
    Great interview.


  7. Juana, such gorgeous, gorgeous work. You are inspirational. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, Kathy!


  8. Thanks Kathy and Juana for this rich article! I really enjoy the colors and emotive quality that you bring to your artwork!


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