Mary GrandPre is an American illustrator and writer whose works have been shown in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and The Wall Street Journal. Some of her most widely known work are all of the covers and illustrations for the entire Harry Potter series (American editions) by J.K. Rowling. And given that over 400 million of the Harry Potter books have sold worldwide, GrandPre’s work is some of the most recognizable in the world.
Interview by Lena Desmond, Marilu Duque, Conner Houghtaling, Ashli Rosario, & Yara Souza.
Howl: What process did you take to design the books?
GrandPre: Other than reading them of course. On the Harry Potter books, the process was much the same as the other chapter books I’ve illustrated, except for the element of secrecy, needing to keep it all under wraps. Basically I read the books, and then come up with sketches for the cover and the chapter headings, depending on the content of the story, not giving too much away in the visual. Then I submit the sketches to the art director and he goes over it with the editor and in this case, JK Rowling. As soon as all is approved, I go to final color pieces.
Howl: Did you draw out the designs on paper or did you use some type of design program such as Illustrator and Photoshop etc.?
GrandPre: I do not use the computer in the design work, so yes. I used tracing paper and then on the finals I used a good quality pastel paper.
Howl: What was your inspiration in drawing your pieces for Harry Potter?
GrandPre: The writing. JK is very visual in her writing, so it was easy to envision what she was telling us.
Howl: Apart from the Harry Potter series, what other book cover art have you done?
GrandPre: Most of my other books are children’s picture books…to date about 18 books. I’ve also done other chapter books, and ad work and posters, etc.
Howl: How long does it take you to finish one piece of art, and do you jump around from piece to piece or do you stay on one then finish and move on to the next?
GrandPre: It all depends on the art. Coming up with the ideas sometimes takes longer than the color work…so sketching can take three days or more for a complicated piece. Or if it’s a simple image, a half day. The color work can take anywhere from 2 days to a week, again depending on the complexity. I usually stay with one, finish it, and move on the to the next.
Howl: Do you usually have a lot of ideas for one single thing, and if so, what do you choose to draw as your main? Specifically, is it hard for you to choose one scene to draw on the cover?
GrandPre: Yes, I usually do have a lot ideas for a single piece. I like to show the art director 2 or 3 approaches and get feedback…and then decide which one to draw.
Howl: Do you enjoy your job?
Howl: Other than the book itself, did you talk to J.K. Rowling herself to decided on a good cover together or was this a one sided thing?
GrandPre: I didn’t communicate with her. It’s standard practice to separate the illustrator and author because we each have our ideas of how things should look. The author may have input once the sketch is done and from that point on changes can be made.
Howl: What do you believe to be your best cover art/piece?
GrandPre: If you mean with the Potter books, I’d say the last cover is my best,.. I think it’s the best portrait of Harry and I like how it ties back to the first one with the use of the curtains.
Howl: Do you have an other projects on the making now that the Harry Potter series is over?
GrandPre: Of course…I have been working on several picture books since the Potter books finished up many years ago, and now I am exploring ways to create art that I’ve never tried before…gallery work, and personal work…hoping for it to bring more personal satisfaction.
Howl: Did you always want to become an artist?
GrandPre: Yes, ever since I was a child. My parents were very encouraging and I found a great peace and happiness in creating art as a child.
Howl: Why were your American cover versions of the Harry Potter series different from the U.K. covers?
GrandPre: Because a different artist did the UK covers.
Howl: What advice would you give to people aspiring to follow in your footsteps as an artist?
GrandPre: Just follow your heart, and keep at it. Keep practicing and take advice but always listen to what you know to be true for yourself. Don’t give up. Think positive and you will see good results. Get help with things that you might not be very good with, like marketing, communications, technological challenges etc. and keep learning new and better ways to create!