New Interview with Jim Kay – Plus, See His Snape, Dumbledore, and More!
If we were excited on Friday when we saw Jim Kay’s Professor McGonagall and the Great Hall for the first time, by now we’re practically OVERCOME with anticipation of the illustrated edition’s release this Tuesday. Although it seems almost impossible to wait another minute, we can try to fend off desperation by reading several new interviews with artist Jim Kay – AND finally seeing how he has rendered Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore.
Probably because he’s been so hard at work actually, er, illustrating the illustrated edition, we’ve heard relatively little from Jim Kay so far, though we know that even J.K. Rowling herself loves his illustrations. Now that the release of the first installment is almost upon us, Kay has taken some time to speak about the experience.
First off, if we fans were pleasantly surprised when we learned there would be gorgeously illustrated editions of our favorite books, Kay himself was floored to be selected as the artist to bring this edition in to the world:
I’d not really drawn children. And I’m not known for a cheerful style of illustration. […] You don’t want to be known as the person who ruins the most popular children’s book in history.
In fact, the commission for Philosopher’s Stone is the first time Kay has really drawn children at all. He explains the unique challenges of capturing the likeness of a child – and finding the right models for his illustrations of iconic characters like Harry, Draco, Hermione, and Ron.
We’re quite isolated here. I use mirrors a lot. I don’t know any children. This book forced me to interact with people. I needed young models that I could refer to over seven years. […] Children are mercilessly unforgiving to draw. If you put a single line wrong on a child, you age them by about five or [ten] years. One under the eye, and they look like an adult.
Kay found his models in a variety of ways – the model for Harry is a boy he spotted on the London Underground, Hermione is based on his niece, and Ron and Draco are based on boys from a nearby school. On top of the difficulty of finding children who can serve as the inspiration for these iconic characters, Kay had the additional complication of not being able to reveal what project he needed the children to model for at first. (Luckily, that’s all cleared up now!)
And though many of us anticipating the illustrated edition are adults, Kay hasn’t forgotten whom he’s really drawing for – children.
I see a lot of children’s books where the eye level is set at an adult’s. Which I find odd because children see the world from a lower perspective. It’s nice drawing giants because it reminds you of being a child again. The illustration of Hagrid is that perspective, looking up.
Despite the amazing opportunity that illustrating Harry Potter is for Kay, that doesn’t mean he’s free from anxieties about the project, which has proved even more difficult than he might have expected.
I had a terrible crash of confidence while I was doing it. Once I started drawing something, I was convinced I was going to ruin it, so I’d go on to a separate sheet, and another sheet, and another sheet… So I’d have 10 different bits where ordinarily you should have this nice finished painting. But I got really bad shakes when I was doing this. I think because of the size of the project. It’s the first time I’ve worked on a project where everyone knows what the story is. Ordinarily, you’re working on something that’s unpublished. And the enormity of it… I had to change the way I work because I couldn’t paint the way I used to. When I get my confidence back, I’ll start painting in one go, and it’ll be much quicker. But it’s shot at the moment.
All of which must have made the approval of Jo herself quite meaningful:
She sent a really lovely letter, and that’s the first time it hit me that this was real. Imagine you’re a vicar, and you find a Post-it note from God on your fridge. It was like that.
We want to second that and more, Mr. Kay. You’ve done a beautiful job of interpreting a story we all hold dear to our hearts, and we can’t wait to see more.