Sunday, August 10, 2003

'Harry Potter' illustrator also designed
opera artwork

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Her illustrations are known to millions of Harry Potter fans. Mary GrandPre, illustrator for the Harry Potter series, provided artwork for Cincinnati Opera's 2003 Summer Festival - including brochures, programs and posters - which ended last month.

The opera will commission a new illustration for its 2004 festival, to be unveiled when the season is announced in September. It is GrandPre's first work for an opera company, although she has designed artwork for orchestras.

The Enquirer caught up with the artist at home in Minnesota, as she was packing to move to Sarasota.

Question: How did you decide what to submit to Cincinnati Opera this year?

Answer: I just went through my existing work, knowing what some of the operas were, and looked for imagery that fit the mood of each opera - not particularly the characters, but the story line and emotional side to each opera, whether it was romantic, or quirky.


Harry Potter illustrator Mary GrandPre created a self portrait ("Moonpie") that the Cincinnati Ballet used to promote its Seven Deadly Sins, part of this year's "triple bill."

Q: Are you especially fond of any of the images?

A: "Moonpie" (used for the Triple Bill). It's a woman holding a slice of the moon. It's probably the most powerful image, because it's a simple and singular image. I like the color palette.

Q: "Moonpie" is a self-portrait, and you wrote a poem to go with it. What does it tell us about you?

A: That was a piece I wrote when I was going through a divorce, and it was about taking care of yourself and just moving on, and taking your slice when you've got to.

Q: What is it like to be the illustrator of the hottest books on the planet?

A: It's mostly really exciting. It's challenging at times because of the responsibility that comes with that. ... I have to live with being stereotyped or pigeonholed, when in fact I've been an illustrator for 20 years, and Harry Potter is just a small part of my work. The good news is it's opened the door to a lot of other things.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in the "Potter" series?

A: Harry, and then it would be Hagrid.

Q: How difficult is it to go from an idea to a picture?

A: It depends on how complex the idea is. If I have to come up with a total scene that includes an environment and multiple characters, it can be really challenging. If it's just a piece that maybe is trying to show Harry in a certain situation, where it's more about emotion or mood, that seems to be more easy for me.

Q: How do you capture the emotion of your subjects?

A: A lot of the way I see things has to do with how light catches on the subject, and how that defines a mood, and an atmosphere. I like things to kind of glow within, and that's easy to do with pastel. I just let it happen as I work.

Q: When you got the call to illustrate Harry Potter, what did you think at the time?

A: It was just like any other illustration book cover job. I didn't think anything, except, do I have to time to do this job and is it going to pay enough? Is it an interesting story? I was very busy at the time, but I squished it into my schedule, and it turns out, that was a good decision.

Q: Have you written children's books, yourself?

A: I'm writing some now. My husband (Tom Casmer) and I have co-written and are co-illustrating one that's being published by Penguin, Henry and Pawl. It's about a boy and a dog.

Q: Would Harry Potter make a good opera?

A: Hmmm. I never thought of it in that way. I guess I just think he's fine the way he is.

Cincinnati Opera note cards ($5), posters ($10) and bus shelters ($100) designed by GrandPre are still available. Call 744-3235.

Janelle Gelfand

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