Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 11, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Priscilla Alpaugh

Priscilla Alpaugh has worked from her studio at ArtSpace Maynard since 2001. She has created murals, greeting cards, designed logos and t-shirts, painted traffic control boxes, created animations for the DoInk application and has also worked for Wee Forest Folk in Concord, MA as a painter, designer, and instructor. Priscilla has illustrated several self-published books for other authors.

Priscilla received a BFA in Painting and Illustration from UMass Amherst and MFA (ABD) in Illustration in the ISDP program at Syracuse University.

After turning to Illustration full-time in 2014, Islandport Press released her first traditionally published book “Hold This!” In 2015. She won the Portfolio Showcase at NESCBWI the same year.

She is co-leader of the SCBWI, Greater Boston Illustrator’s Group, a member of SCBWI, the Association of Bookplate Collectors and Designers and is the New England Representative for the Graphic Artist’s Guild.

Priscilla lives in Maynard, Massachusetts with her husband. They have two children. When not illustrating she likes to be outdoors. Preferably walking in the woods, Sea kayaking or cycling.

Here’s a description of the process involved in making one of my recent illustrations.

Usually they start with an idea and a pencil sketch but this time, I happened to be playing on my iPad and made a sketch that I really liked.  I took it a little further and turned it into a value study.

I realized that I wanted to turn this into a watercolor so I sketched loosely in pencil. I scanned it into the computer, darkened it and printed it out.

I then put that darker image on my light box and place a piece of watercolor paper over it. I painted layers for the rocks, water and boat and also two versions of the ripples on the surface of the water. I also scanned those layers into the computer.

At that point I assemble those parts in the Procreate app on my iPad Pro.

I have saved a collection of scanned in colored papers and various textures. I chose a piece of blue Canson paper and layered it along with the others.

As I combine the layers I erase parts of the colored paper that I know I want to be the lightest. I adjust opacity and add depth to the image with digital painting. I can also fix problems, change things and add missing items. In this case I moved the corgi, added a lifejacket and bucket and added shadows beneath the boat.

I played with shadows on the boat, reflections on the water and overall lighting.

I decided that there needed to be a stronger contrast between the boat and the water so I removed the boat’s brown watercolor as well as the shadows. I chose a light source directly above the character and lightened all the appropriate surfaces.

I make myself stop playing with it  at some point and  leave it for a day before I look at it again. With luck, that’s it and it’s finished!


Interview Questions for Priscilla Alpaugh


  1. How long have you been illustrating?

In terms of children’s books, I’ve been illustrating since 2004.

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

I created a catalog, packaging art and greeting cards for Teaberry Meadow, a friend’s collectible figurine company in 1986. I was compensated with my antique stand-up drawing table along with the usual currency.

  1. Why did you choose Mass College of Art and UMass Amherst to get your BA in painting and illustration?

I chose MassArt because it was the closest art school to home that offered a degree in Illustration. I was able to live at home and commute into Boston. I left MassArt because the head of the Illustration department discouraged us from pursuing Illustration for children because “only the top 2 or 3% ever make it”. I headed to UMass because my parents owned a house a mile from campus. There was no Illustration program, but I convinced the faculty to let me create one and my BFA project was to Illustrate “The Tanglewood Tales” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. If you saw the art you’d know I was in a Nancy Ekholm Burkhert phase at the time.

Why did you decide to go to Syracuse University to get your MFA – what did the ISDP program consist of?

I graduated with my BFA and started building a portfolio. I received wonderful feedback from Little Brown back when you could walk in and show your portfolio. I knew I needed further instruction so I applied to Graduate schools. Pratt, SVA, Syracuse, and since RISD didn’t have an MFA program I applied to their MAT teaching program.


Although accepted to all, I went for interviews and realized that I would not be happy in New York City. I also realized I didn’t really want to teach art. Syracuse’s ISDP program was what is now called a “low-residency” program. We attended for three weeks in the summer and then traveled to London, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City for a week each where we met local illustrators and toured museums and private collections. It was the best experience I’d ever had.


Did the school help find illustration work for you?

No. In my case I got married right away and started a family. I don’t know if others in the program were helped.

Do you feel art school influenced your illustrating style?

No. I now realize my style was there all along. Making lots of art was the way I found it.

Did you start out doing greeting cards?

Looking back on it, I think cards were my first real foray into selling illustration in any quantity. In 1986 I made cards for Teaberry Meadow and Big Turkey Productions. They’re still selling! I recently started new lines of cards that feature mice, corgis and monsters.

Please tell us about your snow buddy ornaments. How did you start making them and what are they made of? Do you sell them?

My ornaments and other critters sprang from a desire to make a dashboard figurine/talisman for my daughter when she left for college. I was making the monster greeting cards and made her a tiny monster. That led to a series of monsters and I made some of them into ornaments. I sold them at ArtSpace Maynard’s Open Studios and Holiday Sale. They were very popular! The following year I started making snowmen of all sorts and they were an obvious choice for ornaments. I plan to sell a limited amount of them through my Etsy shop. The ornaments are made of colored Sculpey. I make them six at a time by hand which limits production. I’ve never enjoyed making the same thing over and over, so each one is different. Animals are my newest creation: chickens, herons, frogs and more.

When did you decide that you wanted to illustrate for children?

I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator. I knew I liked to be inspired by a story or idea. I wasn’t someone who would make art just for the sake of making art. My style has always been either super realistic or appropriate for kids. In high school, illustration for kids became my focus.

It looks like you made a book dummy for Don’t Eat That. Did you ever publish it?

Yes! That was a project for a self-publisher that was released last year. He chose to produce it through Createspace and it’s available through Amazon. It was a really fun project since I love drawing dogs!

Was Solomon Sire and the Fantastic Fib your first illustrated picture book?

No but it was the first one I was paid for. I did a book on a volunteer basis for the Lincoln Cultural Council, “Three Stories by Farmer Ray”, by Ray Adamson, which was my first book with an ISBN. It was more of a pamphlet since it was 2006 and print-on-demand didn’t exist yet. Solomon Sire was my first full color hardcover book that I was paid to illustrate.

How did that book come your way?

It came through membership in the SCBWI Greater Boston Illustrators Group. A self-publishing author reached out to our coordinator Sarah Brannen who passed it along to members of the group for consideration. The author saw a kayaking mouse on my website and thought that was what she wanted her main character to look like.

How did you connect with Islandport Press to illustrate Hold This?

This is my favorite story since it’s a great example of why you should never give up.

In 2007 I was asked by a friend to illustrate a story about a little girl and her skiff on an island in Maine. I worked on a series of images and they were by far the best thing I’d done to that point. I decided to mail out samples to two Maine publishers, DownEast and Islandport. This was in 2008! Then in 2014, six years later, I received an email from Melissa Kim at Islandport Press. She still had my postcards from 2008 and wondered if I would be interested in illustrating a picture book. During that time, she had moved to California and come back, which made it even more incredible.

To me, this is why it is important to stay the course for as long as you can. During that six-year period I was working full-time and raising a family, so I was only able to work on my Illustration now and then. I did keep at it though and in 2011 I started working on The Fantastic Fib as well as my portfolio, as well as attending various SCBWI events. While I was working hard the work was not coming in and I was beginning to think I should just give up and keep it as a hobby. By the end of 2013 I seriously considered quitting. It was at this time that I attended a portfolio workshop at Ruth Sanderson’s Studio and decided to give it one more shot. That workshop along with the Islandport work, gave me the confidence to enter my portfolio for the first time into the showcase at NESCBWI 2015, where I won the Showcase Award!

I see you are represented by The CATAgency. How did they find you?

At the New England SCBWI conference this year where I had a portfolio review with Christy Ewers. She was very generous with her compliments on my work. (It was all new work, produced within the last year). If you’ve met Christy, you’ll know that she’s one of those people you want to be around all the time.

After the conference I did a major postcard mailing and reached out to the art agencies who seemed like they’d be a good fit. I got positive feedback but no offers of representation until I heard back from Christy!


Have you done any book covers?

I have not but I would love to as I enjoy solving problems and it seems that a successful cover arises from solving lots of them!

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

It would depend on the project and the author. I have done several and they can be challenging. It is important to me that the client knows what they want the end result to be. Do they just want the book to exist? Do they want to make it and sell them independently?  Are they hoping to get the attention of a traditional publisher? All these are valid but I want to make sure the author is educated in terms of the options and what they mean.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Not yet, but with the CATagency representing me I hope to have many different opportunities.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

Not yet but I would love to.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own children’s book?

I do. I have been playing with that little girl and the skiff off and on since 2007 and am working towards making it worthy of publication.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes. As an illustrator, I know my art making skills would win hands down over my story-telling skills in any hand-to-word combat. I’ve been trying to make the little girl, corgi and skiff story work as a wordless picture book.


What do you think is your biggest success?

Not giving up.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I love pencil or colored pencil with watercolor. I combine the scanned in art digitally.

Has that changed over time?

Yes. It was a process of building skills and understanding what it was about the work of my favorite Illustrators that I loved so much. I just kept trying things and in the process of doing so, I learned to see what worked for me and what didn’t. After I realized that the loose pencil/colored pencil sketch was far more appealing than the tight pen and ink work, I focused on making that work the way I wanted it to. I also found the iPad Pro changed my work significantly. I was never a fan of digital art until I started using it. It changed my work in that it was easy to play with combinations of the pencil line and watercolor that I’d scanned in.

Did you participate in the Illustrator workshop at the conference? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

This past year I didn’t participate in the intensive workshop. I was teaching two workshops and they overlapped. I have been involved in Intensives at NJSCBWI and NESCBWI. The New Jersey intensive with David DeWitt provided one of those ah ha! moments as he assured me that my loose sketch style could work well as final art.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?

My studio is on the north side of an old school building a mile from my house. There are about 80 artists in the building. There are several wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows. I share the space with two other artists. I am incredibly lucky to have this place.

It’s my dream studio. I have an antique stand up desk in front of one window to draw and paint on, an antique flat file, an area dedicated to a computer/scanner and printer, a bookcase overflowing with children’s books and lots and lots of small animal figurines and stuffed animals.

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

Now that my kids are grown, I pretty much work all the time because I love it so much. I do however try to make time for fun with family and friends.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Usually, yes. I’ve learned that my best work comes from sketching the thing I need to draw repeatedly until I know what it looks like. I then put the reference away and draw it from memory as I want the image to be my style not a copy. There’s always something to be learned from looking at the real thing.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Definitely. Had I started trying to get work right after grad school I would have only been able to get my work seen by sending out postcards and in-person portfolio presentations. Since I started pursuing illustration full-time just recently, there are endless ways for my work to be seen. My website was the first way people found me and now social media allows me to get my art in front of more eyes than I can even imagine. The positive feedback from all over the world helps a lot too.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I am a huge fan of Procreate which is a Photoshop-type app on my iPad Pro. I do most of the digital work there and then bring it into Photoshop to finish.

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

I have had a Wacom tablet longer than I’m willing to admit. I recently upgraded to a Cintiq as an experiment. It wasn’t until the iPad Pro came along that I was able to feel comfortable drawing digitally. The flexibility of working wherever I choose has helped a great deal. Several pieces in my portfolio were created entirely in the wing chair in my living room!


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

My dream has always been to be gainfully employed making illustration. I’d love to create a picture book that children and parents will love enough to pass along to their children.

What are you working on now?

Project-wise, I’ve just finished up a book for a self-publisher called “I Love you Still”. A client reached out to me to help her create a baby memory book for parents who have lost children. It was a very difficult subject but the author created something special.

I’m doing a few commercial illustrations and designing a commissioned bookplate. My biggest focus though is improving my work! There are so many things that I know can be better and I’m trying to make new work that addresses those problem areas.

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.

I know it must sound like I’m an iPad Pro salesperson, but I can only say that for me, the iPad Pro changed my work more than anything besides hard work. The Procreate app is easy to use and it’s easy to transfer your art from the iPad to your computer to deliver it to your clients. My actual physical media hasn’t changed, it’s traditional and scanned into the computer. The assembly and adjustments are what’s different.

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

No one ever became a successful illustrator by thinking about it. Make art that resonates with you and make as much of it as you possibly can. Look at Artists whose work you love and figure out what you love about it. Don’t be happy with what you’ve done until you’ve done another (if you have enough time) to make sure you can’t do it even better.

Thank you Priscilla for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Priscilla’s work, you can visit her at:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Priscilla. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wow! I really love your artwork. There are so many wonderful aspects of what you’ve shared here. I like the wa your drawing have background color and the way the animals seemto be alive on the page. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Loved seeing all your art and reading about your illustration journey! Looking forward to more books from you!!


  3. This artwork is enchanting. I am obsessed with the dog and puppy asleep on the stairs. I can’t stop smiling while looking at that picture. Thanks for an interesting interview and a veritable plethora of sweet illustrations.


  4. Your work is gorgeous, Priscilla! Happy to see it featured here!


  5. Wonderful interview, Priscilla! Loved learning about your illustration journey and seeing so many of your illustrations together in one place. Your voice really shines through.


  6. So happy to have you in CAT Inc! And you are right about Christy!!!! Lol


  7. Thanks for so much insight into your creative adventure. I looked forward to our next meeting. Beautiful illustrations.


  8. I really enjoyed seeing so many of your wonderfully expressive illustrations.


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