Mary GrandPré Reveals the Secrets Behind Her Illustrations of “Harry Potter”

Mary GrandPré may be an ordinary Muggle to everyone else, but to the Harry Potter fandom, she is a celebrity. Not only did she illustrate the American editions of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but she is also the creator of the lightning bolt-styled logo that is still used today.

GrandPré designed the covers for all seven books in the series and also made the chapter illustrations. Her images were the first people had of what Harry looked like, years before Danielle Radcliffe embodied the role of Harry Potter on-screen.

What is really interesting about GrandPré’s illustrations is that she did all of them with almost no input from the author herself. She didn’t even meet with or speak to Jo until after the books were all published in 2007. The two of them first met when Rowling toured the United States to promote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Most of my communication was with David [Saylor], because he’s the art director. But I did meet Jo in Chicago for dinner when she was on tour with Scholastic’s people. I got to sit by her at the dinner table and she was really appreciative of the work and said ‘I love what you’re doing.’ So that was really great.

GrandPré revealed that Rowling seldom asked for any changes during the illustration process.

I never knew when they were talking to her and what they said. I really just heard from David what had to be changed or anything. Usually, there weren’t many changes at all. She was always pretty agreeable to everything.

Many of the Potter films were released while GrandPré was still working on the books, but her work remained unaffected by the movies themselves. She simply didn’t watch them until she finished illustrating all the books.

On the massive popularity of Harry Potter, GrandPré said that she didn’t expect her artwork and images to become the phenomenon it did. She drew the Harry Potter logo on a whim, having no idea that it would become one of the world’s biggest franchises. But when David Saylor saw those electric letters, he knew it was perfect. GrandPré, of course, never saw it coming.

They pretty much just went with it. And that was it.

Many of GrandPré’s original illustrations are currently being exhibited at the New-York Historical Society that is running the sprawling Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition. This exhibition situates the world of Harry Potter in a larger history of fantasy in world cultures. You can have a look at some of the pictures here.