Q&A with Emily Gravett, Illustrator of “Quidditch through the Ages”
In 2020 we had the delightful opportunity to send some of our most burning questions to Emily Gravett, illustrator extraordinaire and the artist behind the illustrated edition of Quidditch Through the Ages.
- What is your Harry Potter house?
After carefully answering the Sorting Hat questions, I have discovered that I am in Ravenclaw. I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I looked it up and discovered Ravenclaw traits are cleverness, wit, intellectual ability and creativity.
I don’t think I can claim too many of those, but they are definitely traits I would like to possess!
- How did it feel to be invited to illustrate Quidditch Through the Ages? How did you manage under the weight of expectation while working in an established and beloved universe?
I had a mixture of emotions when I was invited to illustrate Quidditch Through the Ages. After the initial excitement, I was very nervous that I wouldn’t be up to the job. It’s a big book, and there was a lot of work involved. The Harry Potter universe is so iconic I was worried that I didn’t have anything to add, and especially in the area of Quidditch, which being a sport is not what I’d consider my natural area of drawing expertise.
When I was first asked if I would consider illustrating Quidditch Through the Ages, I wished that I’d been chosen to illustrate Fantastic Beasts or Beadle the Bard – both of which had subject matters that I feel more comfortable with (animals and fairy tales)
Initially was asked to do some sample illustrations from Chapter 7 (Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland) I think this was mainly for the publishers to see if I was up to the job, but for me it was a bonus as it gave me the opportunity to see if I was capable.
I realised almost instantly that I had been handed a dream job. Quidditch Through the Ages is brilliantly written for an illustrator. It’s a really visual book covering loads of different eras, geographical areas, and with hundreds of witty anecdotes- all of which cry out for an illustration.
- There are so many references to medieval and Renaissance art throughout that really give Quidditch a sense of history – what was that like to research and create that? Have you been secretly waiting all these years to sneak a Hieronymus Bosch redux into a children’s book?
I have to admit, my research is probably a bit shaky. I decided that as a fictional book I could afford to be less than accurate with time frames and styles. It was fun looking things up, and I definitely gained a new respect for my artistic forbearers. I raided my dad’s bookshelves for inspiration as he has a lot of art books.
As for Heironymus Bosch- much as I love his work, in this instance it was Bruegel the Elder’s ‘The Triumph of Death’ that inspired my ‘Scenes from the 1473 Quidditch World Cup Final’ The real one was painted in 1562, so not the right era.
I don’t think Bruegel would’ve thought much of my technique, but I like to think he had a sense of humour, so would have seen the funny side.
- The book feels like a real live historical scrapbook, with so much handcrafted memorabilia. Were you in charge of creating all those team patches and pendants, tshirts and tickets?
Part of what made this book so enjoyable to illustrate was the opportunity to try lots of different techniques and styles. The team patches were one of the very first things I created for the book, and one of the reasons I knew I was going to love it. They were made by scanning in old patches that I bought from junk shops. I used elements of the ‘real’ patches ( textures/shapes/dirt patches etc), and then re-designed them for the teams on my computer. I developed a way to ‘sew’ in photoshop that I also used in the fold out tapestry depicting a medieval snidget hunt (in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry) So, the patches you see in the book are completely fake. The funniest thing is that Bloomsbury made up a few ‘real’ patches from my designs, so now I have a collection of real fabric patches. They look exactly like my illustrations!
- Were your editors very precious about the rough art you were sharing? How much freedom to play were you afforded?
The team I have worked with at Bloomsbury have been fabulous. I was expecting to be quite tightly restricted, but because there’s very few of the main characters in Quidditch Through the Ages, I had a lot of freedom to interpret the text as I wanted. We worked out a plan early on, of which chapter I would have done by what date, and I stuck to it. I was happy for them to decide the chapter order, otherwise I may well have been tempted to tackle the easier chapters first.
As for sharing the roughs . . . Although we started off with the plan for me to share roughs in advance, I found that I was just diving straight in and producing finished artwork. This of course resulted in a few changes when it came to the editing process, but a lot fewer than I thought there would be. The team at Bloomsbury put their trust in me, and I hope that I repaid that by doing the very best job that I could.
- Were you at all tempted to make any subtle visual changes or tweaks to Harry Potter lore while you were given license to tinker under the hood?
I don’t think tweaking ever really worried me. As I said previously, Quidditch Through the Ages, is quite separate to the Harry Potter story, and as a Hogwarts library book (fictionally) pre-dates Harry Potter. I was told not to worry if something had been visually represented before, and to just do things my own way. Which I did!
- When you’re inevitably invited back to illustrate more Harry Potter, is there a character or creature you’re dying to have your way with?
That thought has never crossed my mind. Quidditch Through the Ages, is a stand-alone book, and one of the reasons I loved it was the lack of known characters in it.
- In a pinch, do you think you’d acquit yourself well in a game of Quidditch? What position would you play?
I think that I would acquit myself spectacularly badly in a game of Quidditch. I used to play a sport called Roller Derby, which in my head has become somewhat mixed with Quidditch. I played Roller Derby for about four years, when I was really old enough to know better (it’s a full contact sport on roller skates) I reached a point with that sport when I realised that however hard I trained, I was never going to be very good. I gathered more and more injuries until the fear (and the injuries) got to me and I sadly had to retire my skates and lie very flat (for the next two years- until spinal surgery sorted me out). That was only roller skates, and with no large balls being aimed at me. I dread to think how I’d fare on a broomstick.
- Finally, one from the archive, because we especially love your picture book from a few years back, Tidy. Is it common in England to come across a badger brushing a fox with a hedgehog, or was that a bit of artistic license?
Oh yeah- In England we see that every day! Actually, the sad truth is most of the badgers I see are squashed on the side of the road, and hedgehogs are becoming rarer and rarer.
Foxes on the other hand are plentiful, especially city foxes, who spend their time stealing footwear and redistributing it to other people’s doorsteps.