Published on Oct 5th 2020
Award-winning artist and storyteller Emily Gravett speaks with us to celebrate the launch of new Quidditch Through the Ages Illustrated Edition. From broom-making to ancient tapestries, here’s how she brought the wizarding sport’s history to life.

From today, fans can look forward to a new version of Quidditch Through the AgesQuidditch Through the Ages Illustrated Edition, written by J.K. Rowling as esteemed fictional Quidditch writer Kennilworthy Whisp. This Hogwarts Library book was published all the way back in 2001, originally for Comic Relief and Lumos. Now, nearly 20 years later, the book has been given a makeover, thanks to illustrator Emily Gravett and UK and US publishers Bloomsbury and Scholastic.

The textbook specifically documents the history and evolution of the wizarding sport of Quidditch, from its humble beginnings in the 11th century right up to its more sophisticated development as the competitive game we know and love in the 20th century.

We chatted to a locked-down Emily from her home in Brighton about the creative process of illustrating Quidditch Through the Ages, which involved everything from measuring Quaffles to writing her own Snitch comic.

What was it like illustrating a book specifically dedicated to a fictional wizarding sport?

I think that’s actually what appealed to me about the book. Because Harry Potter’s so iconic, I didn’t think I’d be very good at replicating popular characters. But I was given a copy of the original book, and with every page I was just thinking, 'Oh my god I could do that, and that and that...'

I was putting rings around everything. It really lent itself to those books you buy in the museum after an exhibition - the nice and glossy ones full of the artefacts. So, it was a really good opportunity for me to try loads of different techniques and jump about in time.

I was trying to get the right feel of the colours and the styles of each era I was in [for example, this Butterbeer advert below was inspired by the 1950s vintage Guinness adverts] – but not too strictly, because this is still fiction!

It’s true that the book weaves in so many different historical styles from all over the world – how was it approaching such a varied project?

I was sort of mimicking old masters – like the oil painting is inspired by [Pieter] Bruegel. I don’t really oil-paint, I water-coloury dabble! So I tried to find methods to make things look the right way. It was quite a big learning curve, really. And every time I started a new thing I’d look at it and think, 'That’s an illuminated manuscript, what sort of paper would they’ve used?... Would they use gold?... Would it have breaks through it? Would it have cracked off at the top because of the age?', 'I’ve got to learn how to do use hand-lettering!', 'What kind of style of handwriting would’ve been around in this era?'

I was trying to replicate that and I worry not very well! Bruegel, who I mimicked in one of the paintings , would be turning in his grave!

How did you find illustrating some of the lesser-known wizarding world characters, such as Ludo Bagman and Kennilworthy Whisp?

It was actually easier, for me, when they’re not visually known. It was about what would I imagine them to look like. So, with Kennilworthy Whisp, that’s based on my dad! I’ve got a really good photo of him in a silly hat – and I extended his beard in Photoshop!

And as an illustrator of your own stories (Emily has won the Kate Greenaway Medal twice for her picture books) how was it stepping into someone else’s?

It was actually really fun because what I hadn’t really appreciated about the [Hogwarts library] books is that they’re actually really visual. How much scope is there on an imaginary sport? But every sentence, there’s something visual in there. The hardest thing was trying not to expand on it. I did write a few little articles and make up adverts, but I didn’t add new content – but it felt a bit like my book halfway through. I’ve made up some extra adverts in there with my words, like The Snitch comic, I wrote the dialogue for that.

What was your process and inspiration for creating some of the pieces in the book?

I made some of the pieces before drawing them to make things feel more realistic. So I do pottery and I made the little plate for the Japanese woodblock. ... I made a broomstick as well. And I made that out of the correct wood – I’ve got a place in Wales and I was doing it there – and I looked out the window and saw an ash tree and made this broom. I hung it on the side of the woodshed and I think I freaked out a few people, with just a broom hanging there! It’s surprisingly easy, but obviously it doesn’t fly!

Now that you’re part of the Wizarding World family – tell us your Hogwarts house and favourite character.

So, I am Ravenclaw! Which I think is quite good. I’ve read it’s about being a thinker. My daughter came out as a Slytherin and re-did the test as a Gryffindor. And my favourite character is Hagrid, I love his house and he likes animals too.


Quidditch Through the Ages Illustrated Edition is out today in the US (with Scholastic) and in the UK (Bloomsbury).

For more Quidditch content, why not visit our Quidditch hub to play quizzes, read features and learn more about the new book!


Ornament

Ornament