Report from the Mary GrandPré Talk


Nov 17, 2003

Posted by: Melissa Anelli | Comments


Dicentra from HPfGU attended Mary GrandPré’s talk with other fandomers from SugarQuill and HPfGU, and posted a report over on HPfGU’s off-topic list. She reported that when Mary gets a new HP book to illustrate, she

makes three preliminary sketches and they choose one, “they” being the Scholastic editor and art director. She does not confer with JKR on the illustrations, because the editors want the artists to come up with their own interpretation of the story. (This is also common practice in the children’s book industry.) This means, then, that the illustrations are NOT CANON. So much for finding secret clues in the cover art…

We hope to beg one of the attendees for some photos soon!
She’s been doing illustrating for 20 years; during the latter 10 she’s been involved with children’s literature. She and her husband are originally from Minnesota, but they recently moved to Florida. In fact, that move was one thing that prevented her from being a keynote speaker at Nimbus 2003. They moved to Florida where her husband took a job as head of an art school. She mentioned that she’s seeing Christmas decorations in the palm trees and thinks: “Give it up, people; you need *snow* if you’re going to do the decorations.” For that reason, she appreciated the snow-covered mountains surrounding SLC.

She showed us slides of her work, but none of it from her work for the novels because she doesn’t own the copyright to those illustrations — Scholastic does, and I think she said Warner Brothers has some rights to it as well. As the illustrator for a chapter book, she is paid a lump sum for her work, which is then the property of Scholastic, and does not get any royalties for her artwork. (That’s a standard contract feature in the publishing world, not Scholastic being tight.) She does own the copyright when she illustrates a picture book, however.

She was very diplomatic when talking about her compensation, but she hinted that she was suppressing a rant. She did say that Scholastic worked out an arrangement for her to get extra compensation in lieu of
royalties (I got the impression that it wasn’t even close to what royalties would have been), and that her compensation has increased with each novel, though I imagine not by near enough. She mentioned that she also created the lightning-bolt font for the cover of the
books, for which she was not compensated.

She began drawing when she was five, and her parents eventually bought her some pastels, which were the least messy of the artistic media (as opposed to watercolors and oil paints, I suppose). All of her current
artwork is in pastels, including the HP cover art. She told us that her dogs tend to track the pastel dust all over the place, so there are multicolored dog tracks everywhere. She doesn’t use a mask to protect herself from the dust (though she says she should probably use one), and imagined that the inside of her lungs is probably multicolored. Nice image, I think.

She uses her finger to blend the pastels: she says that finger oils set the chalk, whereas tissues and other paper smudgers lift the chalk from the paper. She does not prepare the paper with a coat of gesso prior to applying the chalk, but she did show us something she’d drawn on a piece of scrap plywood that she did prepare with gesso. The wood grain showed through, creating a pleasing texture. She used to use fixatives to set the finished work, but she has stopped that because she believes the vapors are hazardous.

She cites Marc Chagall as her primary influence, with Pollack, Hopper, Moore and others whose names I didn’t take down as other important influences. In Jr. High, she was known as The Artist and did stage design for the plays. She went to a Minneapolis school of art design
and waited tables for 15 years before taking a leap of faith and going freelance full-time. She has done some teaching, but feels that she’s not very good at it,
since creating art and teaching it are two very different skill sets. About 10 years ago, she developed her current style, which she calls “soft geometry.” She didn’t develop a personal style before that because the paradigm in the illustration community was that one should learn a variety of styles to accommodate different projects. Then the paradigm shifted, and now illustrators are expected to have a trademark look to them.

She showed us slides of some of the illustrations she’s done over the years. They are all much cooler, IMO, than her HP work. The faces of Fleur, Cedric, and Krum on the cover of GoF carry signs her trademark facial style but Harry doesn’t. She showed us the illustrations from
“Plum,” a book of poetry by Tony Mitton, “Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat” and “Pockets” by Jennifer Armstrong, the cover of Time Magazine, conceptual drawings for the movie Antz, and other little illustrations for magazine articles and pamphlets.

Her artwork is truly remarkable. It’s extremely imaginative, highly stylized, and she uses bright colors with gusto. At some point, she’d like to publish a book of her non-Potter artwork. She and her husband are creating a children’s picture book right now: Amazon has its release date at March 2004.

When David Saylor at Scholastic told her that Time wanted her to do the cover art for their lead story, he said something like: “But I guess you’re very busy, so this might be one to turn down.” She said that most artists dream of illustrating the cover of Time since their earliest years. “What? Are you crazy? Of course I’ll do the cover.”

The art director at Time wanted her to emphasize that HP was getting boys to read, so her first sketch showed three boys (facing out) reading a book underneath a huge portrait of Harry. She was peeved that they were emphasizing boys: granted, boys *were* learning to like
reading because of HP, but there were plenty of girls involved in the phenomenon, not to mention crusty old adults. Her second version showed the backs of the boys’ heads (she hoped one of them could pass as a girl). The final version shows Harry only.

As for the Harry Potter series, this is how it all happened:

One day, David Saylor called her and said that they had a manuscript for a chapter book called Harry Potter and the School of Magic that “might be a series, but we’ll probably do just the one.” She almost didn’t take the job, but then she read Book 1 and really liked it.
They told her (I assume after the first book took off) that there would be three books in the series, then they said five, and finally they said seven.

She makes three preliminary sketches and they choose one, “they” being the Scholastic editor and art director. She does not confer with JKR
on the illustrations, because the editors want the artists to come up with their own interpretation of the story. (This is also common practice in the children’s book industry.) This means, then, that the illustrations are NOT CANON. So much for finding secret clues in the cover art. Sorry! She did meet JKR once in Chicago when she was doing book publicity. She told GrandPré that she likes her covers the best.

However, JKR does approve her preliminary character sketches, but she’s very willing to let GrandPré bring her own artistic vision into the art — which means that she very likely approved Snape With Goatee and other renderings that fans dislike. GrandPré’s favorite character after Harry is Hagrid, whom she models after her St. Bernard. She had deliberately avoided the movies to preserve her artistic vision and only recently saw them. (I assume after she did OoP.) She appeared to be reasonably satisfied with the art direction in the movies, but she *really* wanted to mess up Dan Radcliffe’s hair. “He looked too… British. Too well cared-for.” We informed her that the publicity photos from PoA show a scruffier hairstyle for Harry. She seemed pleased.

Of all the non-Bloomsbury artists to do HP cover art, she is the only one who gets to read the manuscript before creating a cover. Security concerns keep the mss. out of the hands of other artists, which explains why some of the foreign-language covers are so goofy. She
never knows when the manuscript is going to be sent to her: someone from Scholastic calls her and utters a code word to tell her that the manuscript is being sent to her, at which time she has to drop everything and work on HP. She can’t discuss the book with anyone, including her family members, and she has to sign all kinds of confidentiality agreements to that end.

She says that reading is very difficult for her (dyslexia?), and that we fans know the books far better than she does. When she sees each new manuscript, which is always bigger than the last, she groans inwardly because the reading task is so hard for her, and the extra chapters mean extra work for her, probably with the same timeline.

The typical timeline for her role in the book production is:

–Two weeks reading the manuscript (which is loose pages at this stage), then re-reading it and marking character descriptions.

–Three or four days creating preliminary sketches.

–Ten days doing the final rendering.

She doesn’t affect the stereotypical artistic mannerisms, attitude, or ego (though she was wearing all black), and sometimes it seemed strange that this very normal person standing before us had such amazing imagery in her head. She was very tolerant when some children asked her questions about the upcoming PoA movie and also with a very loud guy who appeared to be developmentally disabled.

Afterwards, at the book signing, she was very nice and accommodating. (She’s left-handed, BTW.) By the time we becostumed folks got to her, she had been signing for about 45 minutes (I think). They passed out Post-Its so we could write our names and other stuff if we wanted it
personalized. I had her write “To Dicentra: Rictusempra!” though it came out “Rictosempra.” I don’t think she knew what Rictusempra meant. That’s ok, though.

She thanked us for coming in costume, and when I mentioned that we were a bunch of Internet folks, she asked what site I meant. “Harry Potter for Grownups,” I replied. “Ooohhh!” she said, recognizing the name. “Did you go to the conference in Orlando?” I told her that I
had, and observed that she had been invited but wasn’t able to make it. She told me that the move to Florida, plus some recent surgery and other stuff made it impossible for her to go.

Finding Hogwarts

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.