New Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them illustrator Olivia Lomenech Gill on bringing JK Rowling’s menagerie to life
Your illustrated guide to the bestiary inside JK Rowling’s head.
“This one’s quite poignant in the book because it’s the original golden snitch. I sort of based it on the Kiwi as that’s the only bird I could find that was relatively round. I’m not quite sure how it flies in reality because it has spherical wing movements... I depicted a tapestry in the background, which is mentioned in the Rules Of Quidditch. It’s all about the different ways of trapping them or hunting them. I drew on Mughal art, which was fun to do.”
“This book is very different as it’s not part of the Harry Potter storybooks. It’s a textbook. That’s what I was really excited about. I visited the Natural History Museum reading room, where I was able to look at the original bestiaries, the Historia Animalium by Conrad Gessner. What was amazing about them, these first inventories of natural history, was that they were a complete fusion between the real and the totally mad. I am so rooted in reality; I’m unable to make things up, but for me it’s about making the ordinary extraordinary. Confucius said: “The wise man marvels at the commonplace.” I had that written in my sketchbook while working on this project.”
“I did this as an etching plate, which is something I specialise in. All of the black and inky textures, that’s done with a copper plate. I also made a model for it, so I have a wax and wire model sitting next to the dragons on my shelf. I looked at spiders and wolf spiders, but this one’s probably a bit Shelob, too – there’s only so many ways you can draw eight legs and a big round body! I love spiders because they keep my house clean! They’re very good mothers, too, apparently.”
“My husband’s French and we speak some French in the family. If you say “hippocampe”, that’s the French for “seahorse”. The description in the book is very specific – it’s got a horse’s head and a fish tail; that’s all it says! So it’s not referring to a real seahorse, which is why I chose the fusion of the horse’s head with the fish tail. I looked at real seahorses, too. They are magical creatures in themselves and once you start looking, you discover there are many more variations than anyone who’s not a marine biologist thinks there are. I found some with these incredible vivid colours.”
“This is one of my favourite dragons. There are 10 in the book, which is quite a lot! This dragon is probably a little bit of a reincarnation of Smaug, in my mind. I didn’t purposefully do that, but Tolkien’s own illustrations of The Lord Of The Rings were always my favourite. This one I created with pen and Indian ink, and a watercolour wash. They’re the Cuillin mountains in Skye. I was influenced by one of the islands, so the dragon is meant to be part of the island, camouflaged. So next time you go sailing around Scotland, you could find a dragon sleeping there...”
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them: Illustrated Edition is published 11 November. Visit www.oliviagill.com.