Mary GrandPré on Her “Harry Potter” Book Illustrations and Transition to Abstract Art

Mary GrandPré is known to Potter fans as being the illustrator of the book covers and chapter illustrations of the Scholastic versions of the Harry Potter books. In a recent interview with the Herald-Tribune, she discussed how she got the Potter job and her love for abstract painting over illustrations.

When GrandPré was asked to illustrate the Potter books, she was a freelance illustrator who had illustrated “a few children’s books.” She admitted that she “didn’t immediately jump for joy” when David Saylor from Scholastic Publishing called her and asked whether she would illustrate the first three Potter books.

I told him I was super-busy; [‘]I don’t think I’ll have the time.[‘] He asked me to please just look at the story and then decide. I said OK, and he sent me the manuscript. I liked the story – and related to the vulnerable, mistreated boy living under the stairs. So I called him back and said, ‘Yes, I’ll find space in my schedule and take the job.’ I had no idea the ‘Harry Potter’ series would blow up to the global phenomenon it would become.

GrandPré eventually decided to take the job, and so began the process of creating the illustrations, which she describes as “very hush-hush and secretive”; due to the nature of the job, GrandPré had to “lock the manuscripts in safes and sign confidentiality agreements.”

This process involved reading the book’s manuscript and highlighting “visually descriptive passages that offered good material for illustrations.”

Once my concepts were approved, I’d sketch out various ideas for the book cover and chapter art. I’d send my favorite sketches to the editors, who’d narrow it down to a final selection, which I’d then turn into finished art for publication.


The US edition of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” illustrated by Mary GrandPré


GrandPré mentioned that while she did meet J.K. Rowling, they never collaborated on the book covers. In a previous interview, she discussed some of the secrets of her Harry Potter illustrations, including the little amount of input Rowling had in the look and editing process of the illustrations.

She also made clear her thoughts on Rowling as an individual, regarding her comments on gender issues, and as an author.

I separate my view of J.K. Rowling’s politics from my love of her fiction. Some of her views are unfortunate, and that’s sad. But she’s still a good writer. If I rejected the work of every artist, musician and visual artist with wrongheaded opinions, there’d be little left for me to enjoy.

GrandPré has now retired as an illustrator after realizing it wasn’t making her happy.

It wasn’t filling me up as an artist. I realized I was just taking orders and drawing what other people were writing about.

With many people assuming that Harry Potter was the highlight of her career, she knew she wanted to create art that made her happy; she now admits that her current work within abstract art is her career highlight.

With her current series of art including lots of colors, her next series “might have a limited palette – or be totally monochromatic.”

I want to create something new. What that will be, I can’t say. Creatively, I’m drawn to parts unknown. I don’t know what I’ll find there – and that’s what’s so exciting for me.

What do you think of GrandPré’s Potter illustrations and her transition to abstract art? Whatever the future of GrandPré’s art holds, we’re sure it’s going to be magical.


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Grace Hurley

I'm an animal-loving Ravenclaw with a Masters Degree in Writing and a passion for the Harry Potter universe since the age of five.