A Storyteller and his Neighborhood Book Project

A children’s book that I had a part in has been selected by Doylestown Bookshop to be part of their “Local Author Partnership Program”. It will be featured in the bookstore during the month of March, and I’d like to explain its unusual journey to publication.

I helped with this unique type of book project this past summer and fall. Professional storyteller Ray Gray asked me if I could help coordinate a children’s book idea that he had – to take one story out of his storytelling repertoire, have a group of children from his neighborhood illustrate the story, and put it all together into published book form.

It was delightful getting to know Ray, whose career in storytelling at schools, festivals, and performance venues reaches back to pre-digital technology days, when he had to haul props and his own audio and visual equipment that was rather ahead of its time. To prepare, he transcribed his children’s story “Ice Cream Mud” into a manuscript and I laid it out in book dummy form. His local neighborhood has many families with schoolchildren, and their parents were supportive of involving their kids in this project.

The parents and 8 or 10 children, ages approximately 7 to 13, were invited to Ray & his wife Nancy’s lovely home one evening to kick off the project. Ray told his story Ice Cream Mud, which was based on experiences with his son when he was young, with great emotion and humor to the children. Then I led them through questions about the main characters and how we might all draw the horse, donkey, goose and cow. The kids had fun choosing one identifying item of clothing for each animal – a top hat, an apron, etc. to make the characters unique and appealing. We gave each child drawing supplies and pages of the story, so each one had several scenes to illustrate. Since summer had just begun, we instructed the children to draw their pages through their summer vacation and we would gather together again in the fall to put everything together.

When all the artwork was completed I scanned the pieces and put the book together for printing through an online publisher. The final book is colorful and a delightful read, and is truly a community effort! I hope it inspires more stories and more drawings from these neighborhood kids as they grow, and from other children as they read this and imagine what they can create in story and pictures.

Again I’ll mention that Ice Cream Mud has been selected by Doylestown Bookshop to be part of their “Local Author Partnership Program”. It will be featured in the bookstore during the month of March. Make sure you stop in to see this positive one-of-a-kind creation!

My cover art for a new children’s book

My friend. author Chrysa Smith, has penned a new book for children, with illustrations by me. Titled The Upside-Down Gardener, it takes us through a little girl’s first attempt at growing a garden in her Brooklyn, NY, backyard.

I started with a rough pencil sketch of the lead character Dory looking upside down at some of her flowers –



And then after checking some photo reference I refined it to a more anatomically correct stance –


We want the urban setting to be apparent, so I widened the view to show the backs of the rear buildings a bit –



– and tomorrow I’ll post the full color finished art.

Newly Published Children’s Book ‘Once upon a Poodle’

onceuponapoodle_coverblueI am very pleased to announce that my friend, award-winning author Chrysa Smith, has just released her first full-color picture book entitled Once upon a Poodle, with illustrations by me.

Chrysa’s easy reader series, The Adventures of the Poodle Posse (which I also illustrated) was given a Mom’s Choice Award, a Dove Foundation endorsement, and a top pick on Amazon’s Children’s Bookshelf.


With Once upon a Poodle Chrysa takes us back to the first poodle in that family.  When Woody (a main poodle in the posse series) goes on a hunt for a new brother, all sorts of adventures are in store. His attempts to find a suitable creature to join the family only bring chaos into the house. Feathers fly, gardens are harvested, and nuts are cracked in tale that embraces fun, problem-solving, and learning what family is all about. I had a lot of fun bringing Chrysa’s story to life in illustrations!ouap_wp5
According to one reviewer, this is a great tale for parents who are bringing a new sibling into the home. It is suggested as a read-aloud for young children, a bedtime storybook, a great lead into the posse series and a story for dog-lovers of all ages.
To purchase a copy of Once upon a Poodle you can see my Store page, or the author’s site http://www.wellbredbook.net.

ouap_wp3You can find out more about the book and Smith’s school presentations by contacting her directly at chrysa@wellbredbook.net – she’s a lifelong feature writer, pet-lover and children’s book author. ouap_wp2Chrysa’s journey as a children’s book author is also featured in the fall issue of Bucks County Magazine – you can see the article online at http://www.buckscountymag.com/launching-a-poodle-posse/


More Poodle Pics 2

I’m continuing to illustrate Once Upon a Poodle by Chrysa Smith, coming down to the wire now.  Here are a couple new illustrations (others are shown in previous posts, scroll back to see them) :



Poodle Posse Picture Book: a few more pics

The new picture book I’m illustrating for easy readers is progressing – Once upon a Poodle, by Chrysa Smith, and it should be ready for publication sometime in the early fall.  A few bits & pieces –






I’ll post more updates as we go along.


Poodle Posse Picture Book

Author Chrysa Smith has written a prequel to her stories of the Poodle Posse, books that are geared to grades 2 to 4, and this one will be a picture book for younger children.  I love the title – Once upon a Poodle. Since I’m just in the sketch-tightening stage I can’t show much yet. but here’s one spread that’s pretty much complete.


I’ll post updates as we move the book along. The other Poodle Posse books, and info about Chrysa’s school visit programs, are on her site http://www.wellbredbook.net/ .

And allow me just to again plug our Bucks County Illustrators Society book Fantasy Tales, which includes terrific art and stories by 19 illustrators, available on my Store page here.


Honored to Win First Place in Book Illustration at Phillustration 7

I am very honored and grateful to the Philadelphia Sketch Club and the judges for Phillustration 7, for awarding my illustration “Ghost Tour” First Place in the Book Illustration category this year. I painted this piece last fall for the children’s book Let’s Visit New Hope, written by Gayle Goodman and Roy Ziegler and sponsored by the New Hope Historical Society.


(c) Pat Achilles

There were no shortage of terrific illustrations in this year’s show in several different categories. Other members of the Bucks County Illustrators Society, of which I’m a co-founder, also had outstanding work exhibited, including Glenn Zimmer, Deb Hoeffner, Pam Hamilton, and Rebecca Rhodin. Joe DeVito served as one of this year’s judges and his pencil concept sketches for a King Kong project he is working on were also prominently featured.

The crowd at the Sketch Club was large and enthusiastic for the opening reception yesterday – Pam Hamilton took this wonderful panoramic shot of the gallery:


The Sketch Club is a venerable Philadelphia institution, having started in the 1860s, and is considered the oldest continuously running organization for artists in the country. Outstanding painters and illustrators of the past who have been members include Thomas Eakins, N.C. Wyeth, Henry Pitz, Walter Baum, Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber; and Ranulph Bye, among many others.


Sketch Club President Rich Harrington and the staff created a varied and exciting exhibit that I recommend to everyone who enjoys ‘fine art that tells a story’ – which is how good illustration is defined. I am thrilled and grateful to receive this recognition, and thankful also to authors Gayle and Roy for writing the book that inspired my illustration!

The Sketch Club is located at 235 S. Camac Street in Philadelphia, and this show is up until November 27, with gallery hours Wednesday, Friday,  Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

My illustrations for the delightful new “Adventures of the Poodle Posse” children’s book

pp5vmmcoveryellowfrontI’m delighted to announce another book in my collaboration with author Chrysa Smith – this makes five in the series – who writes for kids about the fun shenanigans of a family of poodles.

The latest book is a Christmas story, A Very Merry Mixed-Up Christmas, and it follows our bunch of excited poodles through a possible threat to the holiday (when Elfluenza strikes the North Pole), and an unexpected and delightful present for the posse. There are also fun activities after the story including a hidden picture and a Canine Countdown to Christmas.  The book is perfect for young readers from second grade on (and dog lovers of all ages).

pp5wp1Chrysa’s Poodle Posse series has been awarded a silver Mom’s Choice Award, top pick on Amazon’s Children’s Bookshelf and an endorsement from The Dove Foundation for excellence in family-friendly media. Reviews have been heralded as ‘awesome’ and ‘engaging.’ She is available for author visits to schools and organizations, where in addition to storytelling she teaches the children writing, comprehension and observation skills. Information on buying the book and Chrysa’s author visits is on her site at www.wellbredbook.net .

pp5wp2I have a lot of fun illustrating Chrysa’s stories, where the poodles behave like regular dogs while their owner, Mrs. Flout, is around, but become real characters when they are left on their own. Other books in the series are built around other seasons and holidays – a beach story, a Halloween story, even a Groundhog Day story! The poodles all have their distinct personalities – Woody is the oldest and wisest, Archie is a sweet rescue dog, Daisy likes the finer things in a dog’s life (like her tiara), Bobby is a whirlwind of activity.  I highly recommend these fun books, there are sweet hidden lessons in these bouncy stories, and kids will take them happily from the Posse.


Self-publishing ‘Let’s Visit New Hope,’ Part 5: Publishing with Amazon’s Createspace

lvnhcoverfront300The new children’s book ‘Let’s Visit New Hope’, written by Gayle Goodman and Roy Ziegler and illustrated by me, Pat Achilles, has just been released by the New Hope Historical Society. We used Amazon’s online publishing service, Createspace, to publish it.  This series of posts will follow the steps in the creation of the book.

Before I started the finished art for this project, I read as much as possible on the publishing process for Amazon’s Createspace, its online publishing division.  We had determined early on that we would use Createspace for our book, and it’s quite important to know how different publishers request art and pages to be supplied – the process varies from publisher to publisher. I definitely recommend Createspace, my experience with them was excellent and we’re all very pleased with the printed books.

Once all the artwork was complete and approved by the authors, I started the final stage of production, making the electronic file. I scanned each illustration and set up single pages for each of the 32 interior pages of the book in MS Publisher. (Many designers use other programs such as InDesign to create book pages, but even old-time Publisher worked fine for this project.) We had chosen to send the book to Createspace as a complete pdf file, which is recommended for heavily illustrated full color books. (Createspace also accepts word documents.) They would use my pdf to print from, so there was less chance of something going wrong. Createspace has excellent member forums to give tips on designing and for answering questions, such as this. Here is what one Publisher page looked like as I designed it:


I placed the words and pictures on the page, being careful to keep important art and text well away from the outer edges of the page.  Books like this are trimmed after they are bound, and trimming is not always completely precise – so you don’t want an important image like a character’s face getting trimmed off the page by accident.  However, for art that I wanted to bleed off the page – like the blue wind in the windmill illustration above – I left to trail off, knowing it would be trimmed. Createspace gives you clear instructions on how large a margin to leave to keep art and text solidly on the page.

I then made a Publisher file of all 32 pages and created a pdf from that.  I also designed the front and back cover as one large pdf, since Createspace asks that the cover is sent separately. This is how the front-back cover pdf looked:


I submitted the interior 32 pages to Createspace first (they request you do this before sending the cover) and after a day or 2 they sent me an email saying my file had passed their initial look-through – in other words, I had set up the file to their standards, sized pages correctly, embedded fonts as they requested, and so on.  I went through the same process in submitting the cover. At that point I could request a proof of the book, which I did after getting the authors’ approval.

Createspace produces an immediate proof of your book online – you can look at your book page by page on the screen, to check for mistakes.  This may be enough of a proof if the book were all type, as most adult-level books are; but for a heavily-illustrated children’s book, it is always recommended you request a printed proof as well. This is because seeing colors on a computer monitor is quite different from seeing the colors printed in ink on paper.  So we also requested a printed proof of our book.

I’ll mention, in looking at the online proof I noticed a mistake we made – a missing apostrophe in one establishment’s name in the text.  I called Createspace and the remedy was: I corrected the text on my Publisher file, made a pdf of just that page, and uploaded it to their site, asking them to substitute that new page for the old one in our 32-page pdf.  They made this switch with no problem.

Within a week our printed proof arrived at my door.  The authors came to my house and we all examined it carefully – the proof is created to look exactly how the printed book will look, and it is your last chance to request changes before Createspace prints your run of books.

We thought the color reproduction was excellent, and found only one problem with the proof.  On the double-page spreads, where the artwork spread continuously from left page to right, there was a noticeable white gap in the center – like the ink didn’t print all the way down into the gutter.


I called Createspace and they explained that since these book are bound with glue – they are not staple bound or perfect (sewn) bound – they do not print too deeply into the gutter. They have found that the glue does not adhere as well to inked paper as to raw white paper, and so the book pages would fall out eventually if the glue started to pull away.

We accepted that small defect because there was no other option, approved the proof and ordered our first batch of books. Initially we were told by Createspace that our fairly large order of several hundred books might take 2-3 weeks to be delivered, depending on the volume of other books they were printing at the time. Happily, our order was delivered in about 1 week, well before our launch date. And even more pleasing, the completed books were glued a little tighter than the proof, which closed up just about all of the white gutter gap.

I would certainly use Createspace again for self-publishing books. Their reps were consistently polite, well-spoken and quick with answers to any questions I had. I mostly spoke to the same few reps in my project too – an appreciated detail – so I didn’t have to re-explain every detail of the project to a new rep at the start of each call. Our finished product looks wonderful and we are extremely pleased with the speed and ease of the process.

Thank you for following along on the journey of this book project, I hope it’s shown you some of the ins and outs of self-publishing a children’s book.

You can obtain author-and-illustrator signed copies of ‘Let’s Visit New Hope’ by ordering through the New Hope Historical Society’s website at http://www.newhopehs.org. Previous posts in this series are on my blog, just scroll through https://achillesportfolio.wordpress.com/pencilled-in/ .  To subscribe to my blog, click on the +Follow box at the lower right of your screen and you will get email notifications when I have posted new articles.