Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Juana "La Princesa" Martinez-Neal and a PRIZE!

When I was looking at Juana's portfolio/webpage I keep thinking "I have seen this woman's work before, but where?" I looked at my copy of the 2013 September/October SCBWI Bulletin and I remembered! It's like looking back at a now famous actor that played a bit role in a movie you loved. Not that Juana has ever had a bit role. She was actually born with the drawing of that Bulletin cover in her hands. I guess some people are just destined for greatness!

"La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for los Ninos" Written by Susan Middleton Elya. Her newest book "La Princesa and the Pea" (also by Susan) just came out on September 5th!


Dani: Your work for "La Princesa and the Pea" is beautiful. Was it tough coming up with a fresh look for an old tale?

Juana: I don’t think it was difficult but I wanted to create something different and mine, so I spent a lot of time thinking before I got started sketching.

As soon as I know I will be working on a manuscript, I immediately start trying to figure out how I will make this particular project unique and different. I can spend weeks or months thinking on and off. Some ideas will come and I will discard them fast. Some will stay in my head, and I will keep polishing them until I feel ready because that’s the way I will approach that particular book.

I have no doubts that I overthink my approach for each book.

Dani: What or who inspires you to create such vibrant colors and lively characters?

Juana: I love indigenous clothing and weavings from Peru. I do because my parents did, too. I grew up surrounded by them. I think their colors come to me subconsciously when I work.

“La Princesa and the Pea” is especially colorful because I was inspired by the people from the village of Huilloq in Cusco (Southern Peru). I love that area because of the location, the size of the population, and their clothing which use lots of rich reds and oranges with intricate weaved patterns and designs.

On the book, la Reina and el Príncipe are inspired on the people from Huilloq, while la Princesa was inspired on the people from the Colca Canyon in Arequipa. Colors, materials and patterns are very different for both groups. I thought the contrast would give attractive patterns to the book.

When it comes to characters and their personalities, I try to make each person I draw someone who I know in real life. By doing that, I can foresee what type of reaction or expression he or she would have under certain circumstances because I know them.

Dani: Are there any big challenges you have as an illustrator?

Juana: I think the biggest challenges are the ones we give ourselves. My biggest challenge is trying to make each book mine and different from the previous ones. It does pay off once we get to hold the books in our hands and share them with others.

Dani:What's it like writing (and illustrating) your own book after illustrating other people's stories?

Juana: I feel it is easier to work on my own books, and that it is not at the same time.

I love the freedom and the possibilities that come with having a book that is completely mine. At the same time, I could struggle with too many choices and possibilities. Luckily I have a great critique partner, an agent, and a wonderful editor to help me along the way. That was the case when I was working on “Alma and How She Got Her Name/Alma y cómo obtuvo su hombre” (Candlewick Press).The book will be released on April 10, 2018. I can not wait until the book is out, and I hear from readers!

You can see a short Q&A about “Alma” and the exclusive cover reveal at this post at All The Wonders - http://www.allthewonders.com/books/book-cover-premiere-alma/

Dani: Do you have any trade secrets you can share with us?

Experiment! I think that’s the only way to stay excited, and look forward to working on a new piece or book. Try different techniques, get lost in the process, get frustrated when things are not quite like you thought they would look, but keep going. Give yourself a pat on the back for trying this new way of expressing yourself, incorporate that in your technique. And once you are happy with what you have, start experimenting again! Be fearless!

Follow Juana:

Twitter: @juanamartinez
Instagram: @juanamartinezn
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/juanamartinezneal.illustrator/



Juana is giving one lucky winner a copy of "La Princesa and the Pea"
written by Susan Middleton Elya.

If you want to win this book just comment on the post below!


  1. Congratulations on another great book! What a wonderful idea of retelling a beloved story in a totally new setting, Peru. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your trade secrets with us.

  2. Your characters are enchanting, Juana! Thank you for sharing your tips and encouragement.

  3. Great characters! Love it ♥️

  4. Your vibrant colors and unique style make this such a standout!

  5. Juana, your artwork is beautiful and engaging. Congratulations on your new book! I had to chuckle at, " get frustrated when things are not quite like you thought they would look", I have that down perfectly! Haha :)

  6. Hi,
    I have always loved Martinez Neals work. Her characters and subtlety of sensitive use of colors is just amazing. Her work is so amazing with her compositions geared for children. Enjoyed the article and what she had to say.

  7. Love love love your illustrations! They're so rich.

  8. I love the advice to experiment and try different techniques. Thank you for sharing Juana. Your work is absolutely lovely.

  9. Wow! I remember reading your blog posts on putting together a successful portfolio, but somehow have missed your published books, so I'm so excited to read them! Your work is so amazing. Love your colors, characters, and the care and detail you put into the artwork. Maybe you overthink your books, but I'm so glad you do! I also love your advice to experiment, get frustrated, and incorporate those experiments into your style. What honest advice that it truly is a journey and process to achieve something amazing. Bravo!