Saturday, July 8, 2000

'Harry Potter' artist adds magic touch

By Jacqueline Blais

        J.K. Rowling is the “Harry Potter” celebrity of the moment, but Mary GrandPre is the artist who has given Americans their first concrete picture of the boy who loves magic.

        Ms. GrandPre illustrates children's picture books.

        David Saylor, art director at Scholastic, had kept her work on file. He thought her “lovely and magical” illustrations would be perfect for the American edition of the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It was already published in Britain, and Mr. Saylor was in search of an artist who could make Harry come alive for an American audience.

        “I thought it was just like any other call from a publisher who wanted a book cover,” said Ms. GrandPre, 46, who lives in St. Paul, Minn.

        It wasn't hard for Ms. GrandPre to draw Harry - flyaway black hair, black glasses, nice smile - because Ms. Rowling, Ms. GrandPre says, provides “rich visual information.”

        And when Ms. GrandPre looks into a mirror, she sees Harry Potter. A trace in the curve of her chin, the shape of her nose. Just a hint. “My friends tell me,” she said, “he looks a lot like me.”

        Before she begins drawing, Ms. GrandPre reads the book several times, gets caught up in picturing things and loses track of the plot.

        She works in pastels for the covers, using warm shades of gold, oranges, and touches of regal purple and blue to create a mysterious but not-too-scary feeling.

        For the black-and-white sketches at the start of each chapter, she works in charcoal. They hint at what's to come without giving away the whole story.

        Her favorite character sketch: horrible Aunt Marge ballooning (through Harry's wizardry) on Page 16 in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

        Ms. GrandPre was a talent from the start. Her early inspiration was from the Catholic Church, the stained-glass windows and holy cards. Her first drawing, at age 5, was Mickey Mouse. “I remember my parents praising me for it,” she said, “then I continued with the rest of the Disney characters.”

        She likes “stories where we get really emotionally involved.” Harry fits the bill: “He's definitely a kid you want to know.”

        In the first book, Harry turns 11 and leaves the world of muggles (nonmagical folks). He progresses a year with each book.

        The challenge: “Be true to him as his character changes and he grows up.”

        His smile grows wider, more confident, with each cover. That, she says, is more about “how he carries himself, how he looks different from the inside out,” than it is about his physical appearance.

        That's not so easy, she says, because “I only see him once a year.”

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