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Juana Martinez-Neal

Mentee Portfolio vs. Grand Prize Winner Portfolio

Hi again! The Craft of Portfolio Making – Post #2 is here!

Last week, we worked on putting together your brand new Physical Portfolio on the post “How to Put a Children’s Illustrator Portfolio Together”. Today, I will try to expand on what we briefly touched on Image Selection and Flow & Continuity on last week’s post while sharing my 2011 and 2012 Portfolios.

Why am I sharing my 2011 and 2012 Portfolios?
For two reasons:

    1. Every year I considered attending the SCBWI Los Angeles Conference, I looked at the information for the Portfolio Showcase and the list of winners from previous years. Every year, I wished I could see their winning portfolios. The portfolios were not available. I want to change that now by sharing my portfolios.
    2. The Portfolio I put together in 2011 earned me 1 of the 5 SCBWI Los Angeles Conference Illustrator Mentorships offered that year. A year later, my 2012 Portfolio was awarded SCBWI Los Angeles Conference Portfolio Showcase Grand Prize Winner.

Sharing the selection of illustrations may show what the judges were looking for those years. Hopefully that will help you win a portfolio award, an Illustrator Mentorship or the Grand Prize at the Portfolio Showcase this year.

2011 SCBWI Los Angeles Illustrator Mentorship Portfolio

Each year during the Portfolio Showcase, the Illustrators Committee members and a guest Mentor select 5 to 6 portfolios for the Illustrator Mentorship Program. By entering your portfolio to the Portfolio Showcase, you automatically have a chance to be part of the Illustrator Mentorship Program. The Program helps push your work to the next level.

Here are the illustrations included in my 2011 Portfolio. Illustrations were shown in the same order in which I present them here (left to right, top to bottom).

In 2011, the Mentors were David Diaz, Priscilla Burris, Cecilia Yung, Pat Cummings and E. B. Lewis. Each one of them gave me a 15 minute portfolio critique. Here is the list of some of the comments I heard that day:

    • Add expression, emotion and interaction to the characters
    • Overall good sense of design but avoid being decorative
    • Push the use of patterns further
    • Use hierarchy of sizes and color to move the eye around the page
    • Create rules for characters and stick to them
    • Study folk art and the paintings of Rousseau, Gaugin, Kahlo and Rivera

After the Conference, I took a month to process all the information the Mentors had given me. During that time, I didn’t paint or draw. Once I was ready to get started, this is what I attempted to do with my work:

{ Design vs. Decoration } Every time I sketched and found myself adding more and more elements to a page, I stopped and asked myself if the elements would help communicate the emotion. If they didn’t, I removed them. I continue to practice this exercise the most. I continue to struggle with this point the most.

{ Characters } I tried to know my characters. Once I started making them someone I knew, I achieved more emotion and personality. The “Ant and Grasshopper” pieces were the perfect project to practice this.

{ Patterns } I had to paint the final art for “Dana’s Trip” after the Conference. It gave me a chance to experiment with patterns, folk art and culture.

{ Color } It had been a year since I switched from colored pencil to mixed media. I was more comfortable with the new technique but I felt my palette felt right out of the tube. I reduced the amount of colors in my palette and tried more muted pieces.

The pieces below were the results of my attempts to fix the problems pointed out by the Mentors. And this is specifically what I did when I was putting the portfolio together:

    • Included 2, 3 or 4 pieces from the same project
    • Only 1 illustration was a loose, stand alone piece
    • All illustrations from the same project were placed together to help with continuity
    • The stand alone piece was at the end to help “close” the portfolio
    • Opened the portfolio with pieces that filled the pages better (bigger images)


2012 SCBWI Los Angeles Grand Prize Winner Portfolio

These are the illustrations in the 2012 Portfolio. Illustrations are shown in the same order in which I presented them. The judges for the Portfolio Showcase that year were: Neal Porter, Tamar Brazis, Deb Warren, Jennifer Rofe and Stefanie Von Borstel.

Curious what other Grand Prize Winner Portfolio looks like? Check Eliza Wheeler‘s post: Portfolio Comparison: What made an SCBWI winner. Eliza much like me was a Mentee and the Grand Prize Portfolio Winner the following year.

Want to learn more about the Illustrator Mentorship Program? Watch this video where Cecilia Yung, Art Director and Vice President at Penguin Books for Young Readers in the U.S. and SCBWI Illustrator Committee member, tells you all about it.

Know of any other Winning Portfolios shared online to add to the list? Have any questions? Leave a comment. Please, do come back and let me know if this post helps you this Conference Season.

Best of luck to you and until next Tuesday for the new and last post in this Portfolio Making Series. We are also closing with a Giveaway! A brand, new, 11″x14″ Kolo Newport Album. Come back for that! :)

Children's Portfolio Series and Giveaway


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Children's book author and illustrator, mami of three, wife, sun aficionado, amateur singer and Margarita lover born in Lima, Peru and living in sunny AZ.


  • May 21, 2013

    Priscilla Mizell

    This post is such a treat, Juana. Thank you for sharing your experience, feedback, and art. It was fun to watch the video and hear them talk about your success, too. :)

  • May 21, 2013

    Great post Juana – it’s so helpful to be able to see the whole portfolio!

  • May 21, 2013

    Thank you so much!! Your help is priceless!

  • May 21, 2013

    Another thoughtful, helpful post, Juana! I have been working on the my portfolio sequences for a while, so it’s nice to know I’m on the right track.

  • May 21, 2013

    Wonderful pictures ! They made me ***smile ***
    May I ask, is it water color or made with illustrator/photoshop?

  • May 21, 2013

    Thanks so much, Juana!! Sharing this…

  • May 21, 2013

    What a great post, great work and great sharing! Thanks so much, it is very interesting to see what portfolios do well and why, especially reading the feedback you received. I love the thick texture on your images and wonder how you created that.

  • May 21, 2013

    Thanks for sharing your portfolios! So much to think about after reading this.

  • May 22, 2013

    Maria E. Salas

    OMG, the grand prize winner!! that’s so cool!! Congratulations Juana!!

    And definitely, this post is also a grand prize winner.

  • May 22, 2013

    Virginia Rinkel

    Your sharing is very helpful. Thank you and look forward to improving myself.

  • May 23, 2013

    Patty Mynczywor

    What a great post! It is wonderful to see the progression in your work and to hear how you handled constructive advice from the mentors. Your experience and the way you generously shared insight on the whole process is very inspiring. Wishing you continued success! Your work is amazing.

  • May 25, 2013

    Thank-you for presenting your work and including the insider advice. I hope more people share their portfolios. It certainly communicates the kind of information we all need to know, but never seem to share. You are an asset to the kidlit community. Thanks, and best wishes.

  • May 25, 2013

    Gorgeous work, worthy of a grand prize! Thank you very much, Juana, for taking time to give us a behind the scenes look at your journey to success. I look forward to seeing and buying the books you will create!

  • May 27, 2013

    This is really very helpful. I also like your advice on how to put a portfolio together. Thank you!

  • December 15, 2015


    Hi Juana,
    Your illustration ‘Fall’ is one of my favourite pictures, I have it as my wallpaper often. Is there a way of buying an official copy? Or download? Thanks ?

  • October 21, 2018

    Thank you so much for sharing these articles. I’m planning to reguster for the SCWBI 2019 Winter Conference and though I would love to share my portfolio, I’m exhausted by the struggle trying to figure out what to do.

    Do I create a storybook of myself as an illustrator? Do I just include artwork with no text?

    My style is all over the place, since I tend to adapt it for different age groups and projects. Do I showcase it by age group, or do I pick one age group and stick with it?

    Seeing all these portfolios helps. So, thank you again for sharing.

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