Jim Kay’s breathtaking illustrations from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition (out Oct. 6) have been trickling over from his native U.K. little by little, giving us a peek into the drawings of characters that have captured imaginations across the globe.
EW is honored to exclusively reveal four never-before-seen images from the book. Give them a look below, as Kay tells us about the inspiration for each piece of art — and the famous faces inside.
“I thought it would be nice to have starlings on the quidditch hoops,” says Kay. “Where I lived in Edinburgh, you call them ‘murmurations of starlings’ when the birds form these beautiful swirling patterns.” He says the painting was never intended to be in the book: “I did it as a preparatory sketch for what was supposed to be the final illustration, but [Bloomsbury] liked the looseness of it.”
Kay admitted that putting his own stamp on Harry and friends was tough but says, “There are a lot of portraits in book one because that’s me saying, ‘These are my characters; this is how I see them.”
He tells us he wanted to “cast” the book like you’d cast a film, finding real children to draw and paint so he could age them naturally across the seven books. Harry Potter proved the hardest:
“I was looking at all these photographs of evacuee children from the 1940s — in England, you’d call them ‘blitz kids’ — who have been taken away from their home during the blitz. They had sort of thick, scruffy hair, and round glasses, and looked sort of underfed and malnourished, from really tough East End parts of London as well. I wanted that real character coming through, some adversity. But also slightly fragile, because he’s thin, and he’s smaller than usual.”
Luckily, Kay spotted the perfect young model while riding the London Underground, and told the boy’s mother he’d like to photograph her son as a character to work from. The boy, Clay, is a stage performer, so he’s fantastically skilled at interpreting the spectrum of emotions Kay asks him to project.
“What I like about early portrait painting,” Kay says, “is that you have objects in them that are representative of that person. So the dried plant there is honesty — but on the honesty is also a little camouflaged praying mantis. It’s sort of saying, there is honesty with Dumbledore, but with a catch. There’s also a little bottle of dragon’s blood because he wrote a book on dragon’s blood. And knitting because, of course, he likes to knit.”
Dumbledore’s likeness has a special place in Kay’s heart: “He’s based on an amazing illustrator I know, who I absolutely idolize. He’s been an inspiration for years for me, so it’s a huge deal that he’s lent his face to Dumbledore.”
“Oh, this was difficult!” Kay says of the above illo. “I did struggle with that. I always choose these compositions with hard perspectives. This is a difficult viewpoint because you’ve got one chess piece right in the foreground, and others in the background, but you’re trying to give dynamism, movement to the composition.”
Hermione, Kay says, is based on his niece. “She’s smart, but also slightly bossy,” he says. “I’m always messing about and she’s always correcting me, putting me in my place.”
Ron was inspired by a boy he met while giving a talk at a school. His mother was the school librarian: “I met his mum, and when I saw her son come in, I just knew straightaway. He’s perfect. He doesn’t have red hair, but it’s not so much that I’m after: It’s just the way they walk about, the way they chat, you know. He’s got a very good sense of humor.”
The stone faces above are based on the Lewis chessmen, a group of 12th century chess pieces. “They have these wonderful faces,” Kay says. “The great thing about sculpture and carving is you often stylize: The way something looks is dictated by what you’re carving it out of.” If you’re carving in ebony, which is a hard material, your designs need to be simpler, Kay explains. “I was looking at chess pieces from Malawi in Africa, and they were beautifully stylized,” Kay says. “I think in book two I’ve got some hints of those Malawi sculptures.”