Mary GrandPre reminisces about illustrating “Potter” in new interview

In an interview promoting her most recent illustration project, Jennifer Dewing’s Goodnight Little Elizabeth, Mary GrandPre discusses her classic work illustrating the American editions of Harry Potter.

In the Potter books, there is one overall color to your cover illustrations. Where do you come up with that color – discussions with [the] publisher, J.K. Rowling, or your own interpretations of the tone of the book?

Yeah, I think it is the tone of the book. A lot of times with J.K. Rowling’s writings, she’s very descriptive, and there’s a lot of visual clues throughout the book. The first three books were kind of a mix of jewel tones, and then the art director and I thought for the remaining books it might be nice to call each one out with a specific color. The fourth one was the green, fifth blue – and that was that moody time when Harry was going through puberty and it was an emotional time – almost draining. And then the sixth book was green, and I just think there [were] a lot of descriptions using green, ‘the green light coming from the cave’ and all of that, and the last book was that warm golden tone that kind of [symbolized] that final, triumphant color. We kind of tried to find a color that was symbolic of the story and use it on the cover.

I loved the curtains that started with the cover of the first book, like a play about to begin, and how it came full circle with the art for Deathly Hallows. Did you always have that planned?

Yes. I thought it was a good way to close the series the same way it opened. I liked that; that was fun.

I assume you didn’t talk with J.K. Rowling?

No. Well, not directly. I met her during the series while she was touring the US. She was always part of the approval process for the sketches, but the art director was the one who talked to her.

Were there Harry Potter fans in your life that it was hard to keep a secret from?

Oh, yeah! I had to sign confidentiality agreements and not tell anyone I was working on it. I had to keep the manuscript in a safe. It was all very hush-hush, very odd. … It’s been quite a ride; that’s for sure.

Have you had a chance to see the new 15th anniversary covers?

I got a little preview of them before they came out, and I think they did a really nice job. I think they just wanted to give it a new look without straying too far from what I had done. I think it was a pretty smooth transition. I’m happy with them; I think they look great.

It’s always a treat to hear from the woman who made the Harry Potter stories come alive visually years before the movies ever came out. Be sure to read the full interview to hear about some of GrandPre’s latest projects – including a book she wrote herself! – and get a peek at the work she’s done on Goodnight Little Elizabeth.