Monday, June 6, 2016

DOGGIES AND DUNGEONS – A Brush With Harry Potter Illustrator Mary GrandPré

A few years back, when I still had my graphic designer’s shingle out, one of my clients was a humane society organization. I was writing, designing and producing marketing communications materials for their capital campaign.

As often happened with my clients, the project eventually grew from simply creating a printed campaign “case statement” to encompass a range of other communications tools, including a comprehensive communications plan.

One of the needs that plan suggested was an evocative graphic—perhaps a piece of commissioned art—that would go beyond the rather dry bricks-and-mortar case and tap into prospective donors’ deep emotional attachment to animals. Given the competitive nature of the Twin Cities area’s philanthropic “marketplace,” it would have to be something really special.

To assert the art’s value, we would reserve its use for special donor appeals and recognitions, among them presenting a high-quality, limited-edition giclée print—perhaps signed by the artist—in appreciation of major gifts and pledges.

         Instead of the polite refusal for which
         I’d steeled myself, she began asking 
         a few questions.

It was up to me to find the artist. Indeed, I’d had many occasions to commission talented photographers and illustrators for my work with clients over the years.
But I felt strongly that in this case talent alone would not do.

I recalled a local Minneapolis illustrator whose work, many years ago, had been represented by one of the artists’ reps who called on me. Mary GrandPré’s portfolio had long since disappeared from the reps’ books; I heard she’d moved away and hit it big with a plum assignment: illustrating all the Harry Potter books.

Nothing ventured, I figured, and set about to track Mary down. It took a while, but I found her; she lived in Sarasota and, fortunately, had not (yet) had reason to delist her phone number.

To my delight, Mary got my voicemail and returned the call. She could not have been nicer. And, instead of the polite refusal for which I’d steeled myself, she began asking a few questions about me, my client and the project.

Turns out Ms. GrandPré is a huge fan of humane animal organizations, having found her own beautiful, aging yellow lab, Chopper, at one. When I described my client’s work and the campaign’s goals, Mary agreed to work with me—pro bono.

Mary GrandPré

Our first hurdle was Mary’s trying to find the time; she’d just started on Rowlings’ next title in the Harry Potter series and would be swamped for months.

I’m so glad my client was patient, because the project was beset by one stumbling block after another. After she finished with the Potter book, Mary encountered several overwhelming personal challenges, including a major, life-saving surgery and adopting a child from China.

    A ragtag band of companion animals emerges 
    from a dark, threatening forest to catch sight 
    of the welcoming lights of home.

But we both stuck with it; I was walking a fine line between compassion and coercion. I’d already sent her my rough concept of how I wanted the composition to look. True to her word, a few months later she returned a full-poster-sized charcoal sketch. I tweaked that and, after a couple more halting rounds back and forth, it was done.

It had taken well over a year, but I know Mary and I are both proud of the finished product. Rendered in arrestingly deep, rich pastels, a ragtag band of companion animals, lost at night, emerges from a dark, threatening forest to catch sight, just over the next hill, of the welcoming lights of home.

Faithful Friends – Keeping the Promise ©2006 Mary GrandPré

When it was all over, I learned of yet another emotional hurdle Mary had faced. She explained that the beautiful golden lab leading the other animals in her illustration was modeled on her beloved Chopper, who’d died as she was working on the project.

A signed giclée, with a personal note from Mary, hangs in my office. The original, whose return GrandPré has refused, is preserved in my archives—its powdery pastels far more fragile than my memories.
For more information, or to engage Mary GrandPré, visit her website,


jean said...

Amazing how much the story of this illustration enriches the viewing. You have lived such an interesting live, Jeff. Thanks for sharing this.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Jean. Yes, it was a fascinating story for me, and, despite its departure from the usual Nature & spirituality focus of my blog, I couldn't help sharing it. Glad you enjoyed it.

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