- Mary GrandPré is famous for designing the American “Harry Potter” books and for inventing the iconic lightning bolt-styled logo.
- She did it all while hardly speaking to J.K. Rowling, she told INSIDER.
- The first time she met or spoke to Rowling was in 1999, when the author visited the United States to promote “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
- Rowling communicated through Scholastic’s creative director, David Saylor, but she seldom asked for any changes.
- That type of arrangement between an author and illustrator is common for children’s books, Saylor told INSIDER.
To a generation of “Harry Potter” fans, Mary GrandPré is a celebrity.
She’s famous for illustrating the American editions of J.K. Rowling’s book. She designed the covers for all seven of the main books in the series, made the chapter illustrations, and invented the famous lightning bolt-styled logo that’s still used today. Her images were the first images people had for what Harry Potter looked like, years before Daniel Radcliffe was on the scene.
GrandPré did all that with almost no input from Rowling herself. She told INSIDER she didn’t even meet or speak to the “Harry Potter” creator until after “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the third book in the series, was published in 1999.
During the years she worked on the books, GrandPré mostly communicated through Scholastic Creative Director David Saylor.
“Most of my communication was with David, because he’s the art director,” GrandPré said. “But I did meet J.K. in Chicago for dinner, when she was on tour with Scholastic people. I got to sit by her at the dinner table, and she was really appreciative of the work and said ‘I love what you’re doing.’ So that was really great.”
That type of arrangement is common in the world of children’s book publishing, Saylor told INSIDER. Even in a project with as massive a scale as the “Harry Potter” series, the creative director and editor manage the flow of all the work.
“It’s traditional in children’s books that publishers match an artist with a book, with consultation from the author,” Saylor wrote in an email. “In the Harry Potter series, the art director (me) and editor (Arthur Levine) were the contacts between illustrator Mary GrandPré and author J.K. Rowling.”
INSIDER spoke with GrandPré in October, following an on-stage event at the New York Historical Society between GrandPré, Saylor, and Brian Selznick, who illustrated the 20th anniversary American edition of the books. The New York Historical Society is currently running a sprawling “History of Magic” exhibit, which situates the world of “Harry Potter” in a larger history of fantasy in world cultures.
The exhibit includes many of the original illustrations GrandPré made. During the process, she said, Rowling seldom asked for changes.
“I never knew when they were talking to her and what they said. I really just heard from David what had to be changed or anything. Usually there weren’t many changes at all,” GrandPré told INSIDER. “She was always pretty agreeable to everything.”
Most of her work was sent to Scholastic over fax machines.
“Back in the day, Mary would actually fax me her chapter illustration sketches,” Saylor wrote in an email. “Arthur would then send the sketches and cover for approval. Jo was delighted to have Mary work on the books and she commented on all of Mary’s sketches, as well as occasionally offering guidance about the details.”
GrandPré work was unaffected by the movies themselves, many of which came out while she was working on the books. She said she simply didn’t watch them until she finished the books.
And unlike the illustrations made for Bloomsbury, the series’s British publisher, GrandPré’s made illustrations for each chapter for every book. She also invented the famed “Harry Potter” logo, where the letters seem to be formed from lightning bolts – a typographical motif that’s since been used for the movies and virtually every piece of marketing for the series.
GrandPré didn’t expect her artwork and images to become the phenomenon. She drew the “Harry Potter” logo, for example, almost on a whim. She didn’t know it would become one of the most identifiable and recognisable fonts for one of the world’s biggest franchises.
But when Saylor saw those electric letters on the page, he knew it was perfect.
“They pretty much just went with it,” GrandPré said. “And that was it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when Mary GrandPré and J.K. Rowling first met. They met in person for the first time in the fall of 1999, after “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” was published, not in 2007.