‘Harry Potter’ illustrator Cliff Wright: ‘There has always been something in me that enjoys the marriage of words and images’

Cliff Wright

Harry Potter 300x225 Harry Potter illustrator Cliff Wright: There has always been something in me that enjoys the marriage of words and images

Illustrator Cliff Wright has designed the covers for several of the ‘Harry Potter’ books, he explains how he got into the industry, the process of illustration and his latest project.

There has always been something in me that enjoys the marriage of words and images – be it in book or film form. Officially, I went to college for a one year foundation and then did three year degree course before beginning the lengthy process of trying to find those who might commission my work.

After two-and-a-half years of visiting countless publishers, design companies, etc. and developing my own children’s  book idea, I finally found a publisher who was willing to take the risk. The resultant picture book was runner up for the Mother Goose Award, thus kick-starting my career. From there I was immediately asked to write another book and began to receive offers from other publishers and authors.

If the book is not one that I’ve written myself then typically a manuscript is sent from the publisher and it’s up to me to decide if I like it. In that way of course, I see the copy before the book is published. If I’ve decided I like the book then I’ll begin by creating rough sketches and ideas and submitting those to the publisher, at the same time gathering reference material and drawing from life as much as possible.

Myself and the publisher will then to and fro with this rough work to decide on characters and composition. At his stage I’m carefully considering the best composition but also aiming for a final painting that will contain as much life and freshness as possible. So I always work roughs out quite small and with the minimum detail. Once we’re all happy, I’ll create the illustration. This final painting will then be sent to the publisher for printing.

When I was asked to draw the cover of the Harry Potter books, the publisher suggested passages from the manuscript, although they were happy for me to come up with alternatives. From then on I read the character descriptions and as much of the relevant passages as possible. I started to create rough drawings based on the images and feelings that were forming in my imagination. It took me about two to three weeks to make a rough copy and the final painting took two to three days.

Some illustrators are worried that the growth of Kindles will kill jacket cover illustrations, however, I don’t see why. I’m sure there will always be people out there who want an actual physical experience of page turning. There is an intimate and re-assuring nature to a real book that the electronic world cannot reproduce. Obviously, the convenience of a Kindle is unquestionable but speed and volume are not the most enduring or important of human needs.

I have three illustration commissions coming up. There are two books, one working with a friend who is seeking to celebrate the extraordinary life of her mother – a survivor of Auschwitz, and the other a fantasy children’s story with an author and publisher in Greece. I also have a private commission for a Harry Potter fan in the US.

I’m also developing my passion for sculpture, there has always been a secret sculptor inside me. Now I’m working on my first sculpture commission and I’m very honoured to be involved in the remarkable healing process of creating a memorial for a girl who took her own life.

I teach many drawing-based workshops too under the name of Nature of Seeing. It has become another passion in me to allow adults and children to explore the real source of creativity, often a life-changing experience, and I’m currently planning my annual spring course in the Highlands of Scotland.

I’m currently working with NatWest on a major campaign for children up to the age of 13 to design a pig for the 21st century. Following the iconic piggy banks of the 1980s, the idea is to get kids thinking creatively about the importance of saving their pennies and coming up with a pig character that will reflect themselves and modern life. There will be a competition to submit designs beginning this week.

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