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FINDLAY - Mary GrandPr thought she was too busy seven years ago to illustrate the story of a bespectacled boy and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft.
But the book illustrator eventually broke down and agreed to read the then-unknown manuscript. That catapulted her into the Harry Potter phenomenon that's swept the world.
“It could have been anyone illustrating this book, and I'm lucky I said yes,” Ms. GrandPr said yesterday, while speaking to a crowd of nearly 300 at the University of Findlay.
Ms. GrandPr , who's illustrated the five U.S. editions of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, was one of 16 well-known illustrators of children's literature who spoke this week at the university's Mazza Summer Institute. The institute is primarily for children's librarians and elementary schoolteachers.
During her hour-long presentation, Ms. GrandPr of St. Paul flipped through a slide show filled with her illustrations - some finished and some just preliminary sketches - including a few of the popular Harry Potter.
One of her Harry Potter faces, a piece she had only two days to produce, landed on the cover of Time magazine several years ago.
“Time magazine is a feather in your cap as an illustrator,” she said proudly.
But while Harry Potter served without doubt as the outside focus of the institute this week, Ms. GrandPr and many Mazza leaders and participants opted not to make the popular teenaged wizard their sole focus.
If fact, they tried to downplay it at times.
Jerry Mallet, director of the Mazza Museum at the university, thanked Ms. GrandPr after she spoke about her work and her background.
“It's so really nice to see all that you do, and not just Harry. But we love Harry, we do,” he said.
“I know,” she said, nodding from her seat.
During her presentation, Ms. GrandPr spent more time discussing illustrations from other productions, like the children's book Plum and the animated film Antz.
“Harry Potter, of course, everyone thinks he's the highlight of my career, and he's not,” Ms. GrandPr said frankly to her audience.
Ms. GrandPr , who's known for her pastel and black-and-white illustrations, said she got her start in illustrating while sketching at her family's kitchen table with her father.
She said one of her greatest focal points as a child was the stained glass windows she would stare at daily inside her Catholic grade-school church, images she often saw as magical.
“I keep going back to that when I work, even still today,” she said. “People have told me before my work looks like stained glass windows.”
While first trying to make a living as an illustrator, Ms. GrandPr said she worked for a short time as a courtroom artist. Later, she become a freelancer whose first assignment was to illustrate a box of frozen, smoky sausages, a job she tackled with one eye swollen shut from a cold.
“Again, I thought maybe I'm not supposed to be a illustrator,” she recalled.
But Ms. GrandPr stuck with her career, and she began illustrating children's books about 12 years ago. She's now writing her first book - and illustrating it as well - with her husband.
Eventually, Ms. GrandPr said she would like to produce a book of illustrations for adults, with a focus on adult relationships.