Illustrator’s Gift to Readers Is the Wrap

Image courtesy Josie Portillo
The Los Angeles Times recently featured this print by South Pasadena illustrator Josie Portillo in a holiday gift wrap-themed Saturday section. The image can also be downloaded on the paper’s website.

Those who picked up a copy of the Dec. 12 edition of the Los Angeles Times had access to some gift wrap — including one design that came courtesy of a South Pasadena artist.
The publication’s most recent Saturday section — normally replete with lifestyle and things-to-do features — instead highlighted 10 graphic prints by nine Los Angeles-area artists, with the physical paper meant to provide fun wrapping paper and digital versions offered as phone, desktop or Zoom backgrounds. Josie Portillo, an illustrator who has lived in South Pasadena for eight years, had a curated print featured among them.

Josie Portillo

“It was my first time working with them, and it’s been such a dream of mine to work with them, since I was born and raised in Los Angeles,” Portillo said in an interview. “To be able to work with them was really special.”
Portillo’s print depicts a number of Angelenos out and about against an almost sandy backdrop, with festive palm trees and cactuses among them. People (and their leashed pets) are in typical winter attire — beanies, sweaters, scarves — while the foliage is adorned with Christmas lights and snowmen and surfers wear Santa hats.
An illustrator who contributes to publishing editorial and advertising work, Portillo said she was unsure how the Times found her — it could have been because of her social media, she noted. The publication reached out to her in November to curate the illustration.
“They were very flexible and gave me free rein,” she said. “That’s just what I came up with. One of my favorite things about the holidays in L.A. is seeing everybody go about their business, and right now, during the pandemic and being indoors right now, I’m really missing that. Maybe that’s why I drew that subconsciously.
“I love people-watching during the holidays,” Portillo added. “It’s just that personal connection that I wanted to come across.”
Since her design appeared in the paper, Portillo said her social media engagement has skyrocketed and people have been sharing more posts of her work. She observed that though the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered in-person art exhibitions, mass internet use has also been something of a boon for other low-key artists and illustrators like herself.
“I actually feel like I’ve connected with a lot of other illustrators via social media,” she said, “because again we’re not able to go out, so it’s a nice way to connect with somebody who’s going through the same thing.”
Portillo added that she did get to meet and connect with one special person during the pandemic. She and her husband had their first child five months ago, an event that neatly worked out with having to stay home as much as possible.
“It’s definitely an interesting time to have a child,” she said, adding she worked from home 90% of the time pre-pandemic anyway. “There was not much I needed to modify, and my husband’s a photographer, so he’s pretty much works from home, too. It’s been not too crazy in that sense, and with a newborn, you usually want to stay in and adjust to your life anyway. That was a perk of this pandemic; we were able to do things at our own pace and not feel pressured to do a million things.”
Portillo, who grew up in the El Sereno and Alhambra areas, graduated from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena in 2009 and has worked as an illustrator since. Her work can be found on her website ( and Instagram (@josie_portillo).
To download her image featured by the L.A. Times, visit