Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 22, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Pat Achilles

Pat Achilles is an award-winning illustrator with over 20 years of experience in corporate, advertising, book and editorial illustration. Her styles range from highly realistic to humorous cartoons to children’s literature. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, where she was taught by the delightful Beth and Joe Krush and Bob Byrd. Pat is a co-founder of the Bucks County Illustrators Society and gives presentations on ‘What Authors Should Know about Book Illustration,’ geared especially for children’s book writers, and ‘Marketing for Illustrators.’

Here’s Pat explaining her process:

In planning my illustration of the Pied Piper leading the rats out of Hamelin, I started with compositional pencil sketches. In my own fanciful retelling of the story the Piper will have one comrade-in-arms among the rats, so I wanted those two characters in the forefront of the image, but I also wanted to highlight the 3 figures of the town mayor and his counselors. I roughed out a very general composition of the big shapes in the scene and shaded it in pencil for basic tones and contrast.

I did a lot of pictorial research for this illustration, and probably the most interesting part was the architecture of medieval German towns. The most fun was giving a lot of action to the crowd and especially the rats. I drew the separate parts of the busy scene in detail on tracing paper.

Then I put all the tracings together into one drawing.

After tightening up it somewhat, I transferred it all to illustration board and made the foreground more prominent by outlining in prisma pencil.

I then painted it in using acrylic paint washes. I took a few pictures of the stages.

And here is the finished art.

Interview Questions for Pat Achilles

How long have you been illustrating?

I interspersed illustration with working in publishing and graphic design ever since I graduated from college, which is over thirty years ago. I have had more opportunity for children’s book illustration for the past nine years.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

Soon after I graduated I drew some spot illustrations for the Weekend section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. After 4 or 5 illustrations for them, that art director moved on, and unfortunately so did my assignments from them!

What made you choose to attend Moore College of Art in Philadelphia?

I visited Moore in my college search and was impressed with their facilities and center city location. It had a strong illustration program and I did have my sites set on a career in that field.


What was your major?


Do you think Moore influenced your style?

Yes, surely. My teachers in illustration included Andy Snyder, who was great at historical illustration, Robert Byrd, whose wonderful sense of humor in his art is still winning awards for him today, and the delightful Beth Krush, who with her husband Joe created the lush and memorable world of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series. All of them were excellent teachers with years of knowledge and skill, and I was kind of a sponge, soaking up everything I could of their experience and dedication.

What type of job did you get after you graduated?

I was hired by the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to illustrate text books – I had worked there as an intern during my senior year at Moore. After that I became a graphic designer and assistant to the Curriculum Art Director at Westminster Press, a small religious publishing house in Philadelphia; when the Senior Art Director there retired, I was promoted to her position. It was a great job because I learned how editors work and got a basic education of the publishing industry.

When did you start the Bucks County Illustrators Society and what inspired you to start it?

The idea for the Bucks County Illustrators Society started when I met Monika Hinterwaldner, another Moore graduate, who suggested it would be wonderful to get other illustrators together to share experiences. Both Monika and I had children in school at the time, and that made networking with other groups complicated, so we co-founded our own network. My husband’s church in Doylestown has graciously permitted us to meet there monthly for about 6 years. (cont.)

Our BCIS mission is to promote the art and business of illustration and to give illustrators an opportunity to meet other professionals in the field. We fulfill that through regular, informative meetings, hosting talks by top illustrators in the area and mounting illustration exhibitions. We have members ranging from recent art school grads to pros who have been illustrating for decades; and each meeting is a surprise as to what sketches, finishes, media or stories of Assignments Gone Wrong we will share! Our website,, has information on our members and a gallery of their work.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I’ve always loved children’s literature and theater, and with the outstanding teachers I had at Moore, who worked mostly in children’s books, illustrating for children was always an attraction for me. I’ve acted for years in community theater and assisted at shows when my children acted as well, and the tools of theatrical storytelling with their costumes and props roll easily into the making of storybook art.

Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? How did you meet and how long have they represented you?

I’ve never had a representative. I would not be averse to having one, but I do magazine work and graphic design when I am not illustrating for children, so my work flow is fairly steady and I haven’t seriously sought a rep. Of the other illustrators I know, several have representatives and consider them a valuable resource in their negotiations with clients.

What was the first picture book you illustrated?

The first picture book was Mommy’s High Heel Shoes by Kristie Finnan, a self-published author. I illustrated Green Andrew Green by Isabelle Holland for Westminster Press before I worked there, but that was a middle-grade level book, so it was black/white illustrations inside and a color cover, not technically a picture book.

How did that come your way?

I took on Mommy’s High Heel Shoes when I met the author at a women’s networking group, the Women’s Business Forum, in my home town. The author was very motivated to self-publish her story and a good marketer, and her book was a success. For Green Andrew Green, a former Moore classmate of mine was working in another department at Westminster Press and kindly helped get my portfolio in front of their children’s book art director. If you look at the art from Green Andrew Green you would notice how similar my style was back then to my Moore teacher Beth Krush.


Is The Case of the Missing Steak Bone & Who Let the Dogs Out? your latest book?

My latest book is also by Chrysa Smith, and it’s a picture book for young children – Once Upon a Poodle. Chrysa does a number of author visits to schools and she saw that her characters were quite popular with very young children, so she wrote a prequel picture book story to her Poodle Posse series, to appeal to that age group. Before that I illustrated the picture book Let’s Visit New Hope, for the New Hope Historical Society. The style I used in that book is a tribute to the wonderful 1960s books by M. Sasek such as This is Paris and This is London.

I see that you have illustrated a few books written by Chrysa Smith. How did the two of you connect?

Chrysa and my husband happen to attend the same church, so we became friends there first; and she had so much success with her first Poodle Posse book that she has asked me to continue illustrating her series.

Are you open to illustrating self-published picture books from writers you don’t know?

All of the self-published authors I’ve worked with I have known previously. A new self-publishing author would have to demonstrate they understand the time and skill that goes into illustration, that they have worked with an editor on their manuscript, and that they have thought through the marketing part of making a successful book. And of course, I would have to be intrigued and excited about their story!

Have you illustrated any book covers?

I have illustrated and/or designed a number of book covers, mostly for business and self-help books, shown on my website.

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s picture book?

It is a goal of mine, yes.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I have not attempted that, although I do love poring over books like those by Chris Van Allsburg.


Have you worked with any educational publishers?

I did sketchwork for a time for Houghton Mifflin, for middle-grade textbooks. The textbooks, which dealt with world history, had chapter head pages that were to be illustrated by photo-illustrators – but before they would do their photo work, complex compositional sketches involving many figures had to be created. I was assigned to draw sketches for composition of these scenes, upon which the photo-illustrators built their art.

Have you ever illustrated anything for a children’s magazine?

I drew numerous story illustrations for Children’s Health Publications, in the first few years that I was freelancing, for magazines like Humpty Dumpty and Children’s Digest.

Have you ever illustrated a graphic novel?


What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

I get a lot of my work now from repeat business and word-of-mouth. One of the best kickstarters for my career early on was joining the business networking group I mentioned earlier. That helped me form a base of clients, some of which I still do work for, and it also connected me with knowledgeable business people – my expertise in business was minimal after college, and I learned a lot from the Women’s Business Forum. (cont.)

I also recommend finding – or forming – an illustrators’ networking group, like we have started with the Bucks County Illustrators Society. We have great camaraderie in BCIS, and when someone has overflow work there is usually someone else who is happy to pick up the job or assist – it’s been a win-win in that way. Social media is of course very important too. I have a website , a professional Facebook page, a blog, LinkedIn, Behance and Twitter, and I post on them regularly.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I most frequently use acrylic paint, either opaquely or in washes, with a prisma pencil for outlining and some details, on illustration board or watercolor paper.

Has that changed over time?

I’ve used that combination for most of my career. I used to do much more black and white work, and for that I like prisma with india ink washes. I’ve drawn a lot of gag cartoons and I find the prisma/wash style fast and fun for those.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes – my husband sings with choral groups so we also have a piano in there, it’s sort of our Art & Music room.

What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

Well, at this point in life, it’s my glasses! But in looking around my studio I see I’ve accumulated quite a few bookshelves stacked full of picture books – Carl Larsson, M. Sasek, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Santore – I often look for inspiration among other authors & illustrators. So I think my bookshelves and books are quite important.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Recently I am fitting in more time to study writing and skills with computer painting in Photoshop. I will always enjoy creating art by hand most, but I feel the need to be more technically proficient; and I’d like to improve my writing to get going on writing and illustrating some stories.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

I always search out photographic reference for the books I illustrate. I feel the characters and locations should have authentic details to make them more interesting, specific and three-dimensional. I have a collection of favorite books on costume, animals, history, foreign countries, flowers, cartoons, musical instruments . . .

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

It has certainly made research easier, and I’ve watched many online tutorials on art techniques. I have had a few clients in England, Canada and across the US, so the internet does get your work in front of customers you’d never otherwise have met. When I think back to drawing art for Humpty Dumpty before the internet, I remember the A.D. had to mail me layout pages, I had to mail him back my rough sketches in place on the sheets, then he’d mail them back to me with corrections noted, then I’d mail him the finished art – it took forever! So now with the internet, art directors can get things much more quickly – so is that a bug or a feature . . .?

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I am just now learning Photoshop drawing and painting, and have not done a professional assignment with it yet. All of my illustration work previously is hand-drawn, although after I scan my hand-drawn work I do usually clean it up electronically. Among my BCIS friends, a number of them work digitally and their work is beautiful, so I don’t have the prejudice against digital work that I used to have.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

I am experimenting with Photoshop on a Microsoft Surface 3 Tablet. It’s handy to carry around, but it is a small screen compared to Wacoms or Cintiques.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I would like to illustrate my own stories, and then also transfer the stories into a children’s play. In my experience, live theater engages children’s imagination like nothing else. And also, with my husband’s musical background, I’m a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and would like to paint a show poster illustration for every one of their plays. I love their characters, language, wit and glorious music – and I’ve done five of the shows already you see, so I might as well strive to get all fourteen in there!

What are you working on now?

I am between children’s books, but on the docket are an illustrated map of New Hope, PA, logos for two businesses, and a monthly feature illustration for a trade magazine. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with some BCIS members to see the Howard Pyle exhibit currently at Drexel University, which is on loan from the National Museum of American Illustration.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

One tip on books for reference – among my books are a few about operas and theater – it’s not only because I enjoy those particular performing arts. The photos from these productions often show beautifully designed props, scenery, movement and lighting and can be great inspiration for dramatic visual art.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

I’ve always been aware that we illustrators should practice our drawing skills, study masters of illustration and explore new media. I think the networking I’ve enjoyed with other artists in the last few years has special bonuses in the friendships and inspiration it creates, and I really recommend it to creative artists.

Thank you Patricia for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Pat’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Pat. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for sharing, her art is a great example I’m hoping to live up to one day😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful interview with a very talented and genuinely nice person. Pat’s illustrations are beautifully designed with clean color and always perfectly executed. Every piece she does tells a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing your lovely work, Patricia!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, Pat! I’m a friend of Kristie Finnan’s. I enjoyed seeing more of your work!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, everyone! Wendy, hi and thank you, it is nice to hear from a friend of Kristie’s. Her ‘Mommy’s High Heel Shoes’ is a lovely story, and unique too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. THANK YOU for sharing your pictures!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pat, your work is magNIficent! And seeing/reading about your process makes me giddy. OH, that Pied Piper! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this with us! Thanks, Kathy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Pat,
    It was so nice to see what you are doing. Your illustrations are colorful and fun! I liked seeing your process.
    I used to work at Westminster Press for you. My name was Nancy Pelham then. I now live north of Seattle and continue to write and illustrate.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you, writersideup, I followed you on Twitter after your kind mention. Your blogs look great, I look forward to reading them! And Nancy, of course I remember your strong figure drawings for Westminster – you drew so many dynamic apostles and prophets for us! I’m very glad to hear from you. I think you were involved in theater in this area too, as I have been? S your writing for the stage or for books, or both?


    • Just for books, but I loved seeing your paintings of Bucks County, home.
      Glad you are involved in the theater. I just go to enjoy.
      Take care,

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m so inspired by your art, Patricia! Thank you and Kathy for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Such incredible work! I especially loved the dancing mice in the Pied Piper story!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I absolutely love this work! I love the whimsy, the fact that it is so colorful, saturated. And I love that typewriter image! I’m a writer myself and use a 1940s to get the job done, so that image is dear to my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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