Artist Spotlight: Josie Portillo

May 15, 2014

You may remember meeting Josie Portillo when we wrote a blog entry a few weeks back about her gorgeous map illustrations. Now, she's a part of our Red Cap family, with a brand new line of illustrated greeting cards! We're so happy to have her with us, and are very excited about her brand new designs. We caught up with her to ask her a few questions and get to know a bit about her work and life in Los Angeles. Thanks, Josie!

Interview with Josie Portillo for Red Cap Cards

You live and work in LA–do you take inspiration from your surroundings?
Absolutely! Los Angeles' natural landscapes are just as diverse as its people and communities. Inspiration in inevitably everywhere.

What was it like to be a child in Los Angeles?
I'm lucky to say I had a very pleasant childhood. I'm thankful for having been raised in a city that embraces diversity and creativity. My parents both immigrated from El Salvador in the 1980's so like many others here, I'm a first generation American. Los Angeles provided a nice middle ground for the two converging cultures, so I grew up with a strong sense of identity and an awareness for other cultures and backgrounds. I think understanding different walks of life has been extremely helpful in creating artwork that can connect with a wider audience.

We love your “map” work. Do you plan to illustrate any other cities?
Thank you! Yes, (as soon as I get a free minute) I'm planning on continuing maps of cities I've traveled. I loved New Orleans so much when I visited a few years ago, so that's next on my list as well as a map on my personal take of Los Angeles.

What is your favorite medium to create with?
I'm in love with gouache. I like using lots of different opacity layers when illustrating and think gouache lends itself so nicely to that. I work digitally most of the time but like to incorporate some traditional paint layers in the beginning of my process. Because gouache can be such a tricky medium the results can be a lot more organic, fun and unexpected.

Interview with Josie Portillo for Red Cap Cards

Have you always wanted to be an illustrator? Did you create art as a child?
I never took art classes as a child but loved to draw a lot. I initially wanted to become an architect so my older brother who was enrolled at Art Center College of Design's Saturday high school program encouraged me to take a foundation design class there. My teacher there saw some of my drawings and suggested I look into illustration as a career option – something I had never considered. I was 16 then and that's when I started taking drawing pretty seriously. 6 years later I received my BFA in illustration from Art Center College of Design. And funny enough, my brother became an architect – so I get to live vicariously through him.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Reading is important to me, and is a big source of inspiration. I'm also inspired by some of the travels I've done and a lot of what I do is based on memories of experiences I've had and places, people, and things I've seen. As far as reference goes, I was looking at a lot of 1950's children's books when I was in college – I think a lot of the simplistic shapes of that era stuck with me.

What is your favorite piece you have ever created?
I enjoyed working on this piece for NPR's annual calendar. The assignment was to create my own interpretation of what NPR means to me. Not only was it my first commercial project but the creative freedom it gave me made it tough to narrow down my ideas. I just knew I wanted to integrate my hometown in there so I wandered into downtown LA during a jury duty lunch break and sat around the streets eating a kabob plate and sketching what I saw – the idea of an informed and integrated community by way of news access fell into place at that moment.

Interview with Josie Portillo for Red Cap Cards

I also enjoyed working on this poster for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The kind folks at the Hollywood Reporter asked me to create a visual representation of the festival and gave me so much creative freedom to do so. Sometimes the projects with the most creative freedom are the most challenging but the fact that art directors can trust my judgement means the world to me.

Interview with Josie Portillo for Red Cap Cards

What is your studio space like?
I share my apartment work space with my photographer boyfriend Scott and our two interns, Chori and Roscoe – (they're really just our lazy doggies). We spend a lot of time working from our home office so I've taken a liking to collecting indoor plants as a way to feel connected with nature. Keeping our space organized and lots of natural light for painting are also a must!

Interview with Josie Portillo for Red Cap Cards

What do you like to do in your off-time?
I like to read, spend time with my dogs, family and friends and whenever I can squeeze in the time, I like to dedicate a part of my day to sitting around at my local coffee shop soaking in my surroundings. Also every Sunday I play on a coed soccer team in order to counter the long hours of sitting at my desk.

If you could work in your dream job (other than what you are doing now) what would it be?
I've always wanted to be doing something in the creative field. If it wouldn't have been illustration it might have been architecture. There was also a moment in high school when I was making my own clothes and handbags, so I briefly considered going into fashion. That might have been fun but I'm thankful I found my path doing illustration.

Interview with Josie Portillo for Red Cap Cards

To view designs by Josie Portillo, visit her shop page.

Photos courtesy Josie Portillo