For the last few years award-winning illustrator Jim Kay has spent his time working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to reimagine the wizarding world in illustrated form. His work is the star of Bloomsbury’s new illustrated editions of the Harry Potter books, which have earned him recognition from all over the world. With books 1 to 3 published, Jim is currently hard at work on the 4th, The Goblet of Fire. The detail and passion drawing lessons for children 10 12 years sits within the pages becomes fully realized when talking to Jim, who is dedicated to finishing all 7 books.
He has inspired a new generation of readers through his work, and reminded original fans how truly magical the world J. Rowling created 20 years ago still is. Here we chat to Jim about his creative process and the ups and downs of illustrating such an iconic and globally recognized phenomenon. How did you first get involved in illustrating the Harry Potter books? What had you previously worked on? I’d not worked on a great deal.
My first real full-length book was Monster Calls, which was by Patrick Ness and based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. So it really came out of the blue. How would you describe your style? I don’t feel like I have a style yet. I’ve adopted a scattergram approach and lots of different styles appeared in book 1.
When I find , it will make life so much easier because everyone will know what I’m going to do. Bloomsbury has been very patient and willing to try a lot of different things. It’s a really uncomfortable job to do. What do you find difficult about illustrating?
I never get it right straightaway. For every illustration in the book there’s way too many that have gone wrong. It’s a little soul destroying when it feels like you’re just feeding the bin. On the other hand, if I’m not drawing I feel I’m missing something. It’s something I have to do, it’s not instinctive though, it’s almost forced. Your work is often very detailed in its aesthetic.
Have you always focused on the finer points of an illustration? When I was a child, I read lots of Richard Scarry books who’s an illustrator who really embraced detail. The response I’ve had is that people, especially children, like looking for things. I want to give people something to discover on each reading.
How do you balance what’s already in the book’s text with your imagination? There is definitely a balancing act in terms of treading on the author’s toes, but so far Jo hasn’t really pulled me up on anything. It’s amazing because I never thought Diagon Alley would even get past the sketch stage. Partly my job is to fill the gaps and expand the east and west of the universe Jo has created. The challenge is the sheer volume of text you’re going through. You’re not illustrating just one book at a time, you’re referencing 7 continuously. But Bloomsbury is very experienced with that now and has a Potter bible that I refer to all the time.
Aside from the written text, what else provides you with inspiration for the illustrations? I constantly scour museums, libraries, National Trust properties, everything. I love the paraphernalia of old buildings and architecture. I want to show more of what the wizarding world wears because it has to be quite different from the muggle world. What is your process when working on an illustration?
I’ve got to a point where I’ve created a drawn shorthand, so I’ll draw something in this shorthand and I know it’s the composition I want. But I don’t often stick to the rough, it usually evolves further, I am very chaotic in the way I do it. I get bored really easily so I like switching mediums all the time like trying new paints. I often use paints that are awkward to use like tester pots from DIY places mixed with things they shouldn’t be mixed with like wax. I also use damaged brushes and other things that make it unpredictable.