“I find wildlife endlessly inspiring. A lot of my work draws on the things I see… I’ts always there and the inspiration is always outside and it’s just waiting for you to utilise it.”
Jim Kay is my new idol. Seriously – have you seen his illustrative work for the children’s Harry Potter Illustrated Series? I bought the first three, currently the only ones released so far, and I think if I’m not careful I can easily waste my whole day perusing the pictures. Jim Kay has been commissioned to illustrate all seven books, so I’ll be pre-ordering his subsequent works like a fangirl. (Published by Bloomsbury, written by J. K. Rowling, of course).
I found this video really great to watch – it’s only five minutes long, check it out – He has a good tip about making physical models – even just quick, rough ones from paper and plasticine to assist him with illustrating a scene in many ways from different angles or with different lighting. Extra work to be sure, but the results speak for themselves.
In this video, Jim talks about his experience of illustrating the third of the Harry Potter books – The Prisoner of Azkaban. He speaks about the dementors, and how, as ethereal, floating, weightless beings they provide a wonderful sense of movement and rhythm throughout the book. In just one or two brush strokes you can create a beautiful representation of the creature. He plans to make the books more malevolent and sinister as the series itself grows darker with the gradual rise of Voldemort and as Harry grows older and has more difficult and challenging tasks to face. A fan of all things spooky, I am utterly gleeful at this statement, of course.
I was struck but this illustration of Sirius Black, hiding in the shadows (spoiler alert) of the Shrieking Shack. He captures such terror in what is otherwise a straightforward composition and his eyes – often called the ‘window to the soul’ immediately capture your focus and draw you in to the page, willingly or unwillingly.
I particularly like how his illustrations capture the characters in the way we all know them visually without them being too much like the actors and actresses that portrayed them in the movies. It allows the authenticity of the original story and characters to be retained and treasured by those of us who know the books to be ten billion times (accurate figure) better than the movies, which are still utterly delightful but come nowhere close to the books.
It’s interesting to hear him speak about the use of scale in his works. In particular, he talks about this scene of Buckbeak on Hagrid’s bed – how a large animal on a giant’s bed just looks like a normal sized animal on a normal sized bed – a bit of a dilemma! So he placed a chicken on the end of the bed to allow the true scale of the Hippogriff and the giant bed to become apparent.
His insight into his portrait of Professor Snape is a great example of how objects in a scene helps to tell a story about the overall illustration and “fill out his character in visual form” – it’s one thing to paint a portrait of a person, but another to add context and clues with additional objects. Think about the classic, The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base, and how objects in clear sight were actually hidden clues to the mystery at hand to be solved. It is the same in Jim’s approach to his portrait of Snape: the slug is a hint at his prior membership in Professor Slughorn’s slug club, the mole in the glass jar representing Snape’s role as a spy (or a mole, or a double-agent) working for both sides, and (grab the tissues!) a Lily of the valley plant as a beautiful nod to his (spoiler alert) love for Lily Potter. Together, all of these visual elements come together to reveal the mystery of this person – who he is and what his story might be.
Do yourself a favour and get your hands on some copies – I buy most of my books from Book Depository (free worldwide shipping, wheee!), all packaged securely and come with cute little illustrated bookmarks. But ahem, it’s also best to buy local, where you can, so try your local bookshop first.
I’ll leave you with some encouraging words from JK (That’s Jim Kay, not Rowling): “Remember, it’s your ideas that are important, the technique will come along with practise. So don’t be down-hearted if things don’t always come out the way you’d intended. I’ve never produced an illustration that I think is ‘finished’ or that I’m particularly happy with, but I keep trying. Sometimes it’s the mistakes that make us interesting and different, in my opinion.”