Tuesday 7th Nov 2017
The colourful new book showcases the work of Olivia Lomenech Gill, who brings the pages of Newt Scamander’s most famous work to life.
The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Illustrated Edition is packed full of magical creatures, some of them never-before-visualised. When Olivia Lomenech Gill took on the task of drawing them, the artist decided to tackle the work as though it was a reference book.
‘For me it was like a modern bestiary,’ she says, and cites the weird and wonderful creatures in Conrad Gessner’s famous sixteenth-century book Historia animalium as an influence. ‘When you see the interpretations in those medieval books, they’re often very sweet-looking, or very weird. I thought that we can’t really use that approach for this book, as it needs to be not stylised in that way – they’re meant to be living creatures.’
It’s true that, excusing the Snidget, very few of the animals in this illustrated edition are ‘sweet’. The Snallygaster, for instance, has terrifying teeth, and the Hidebehind looks like something you really wouldn’t want to meet in a dark forest. And the dragons, such as this Hebridean Black, are suitably huge and intimidating.
‘I’ve always been interested in animals, but I haven’t been invested in drawing lots of them,’ Olivia continues, ‘so when I started work I went to those early books and wanted to keep a feel of them in it. The process of copperplate etching is quite nice, as it has an antiquarian feel about it. You’re very aware that you can’t do the same sort of thing on every page, as you need to have a flow and rhythm to the book, some breathing space.’
Olivia says she works from life, which is (obviously) rather difficult when magical creatures don’t exist. But some of the inhabitants of Newt’s book are an amalgamation of real animals, and that meant she had a starting point – such as with the Hippogriff.
‘Over the hills from us [in Northumberland] we’ve got Kielder Water and a fantastic man with a bird of prey centre. He allowed me to have really close contact with the birds, so I was able to draw a Steller’s sea eagle, which was the model for the Hippogriff, very close up. They are just such incredible creatures. And I don’t think people realise the size of the talons!’
Hippogriffs have, of course, appeared in the Harry Potter films, but Olivia didn’t use that design, or indeed the creatures from the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, as inspiration for this project. (Although she does admit that when she did see a picture of Buckbeak, she was disappointed that his talons were too small – Draco might disagree.)
Other cool creatures in the Illustrated Edition include a fantastic six-legged Wampus, a creepy Basilisk (based on the geometric design Olivia’s son found on a sword hilt in a book on Japanese armoury), and a Chimaera resting a forepaw on the decapitated head of a classical statue.
‘The Chimaera I was really stuck with at the beginning,’ says Olivia. ‘I thought, “Oh, that’s going to be very difficult.” How do you show the destructiveness of this, without being too horrible and gory and frightening? So I used a metaphor [with the disembodied head].’
Some creatures aren’t as easy to see – such as the Dugbog, cleverly disguised as a log. ‘With some of the pictures, I asked if we had to include the beast, because if they’re difficult to spot…’ she smiles. ‘I liked the idea of people looking at the book for years and never finding it! But that’s just mean.’
So, now the book is finished, what does Olivia think Newt Scamander would make of her illustrations? ‘I did wonder that question myself,’ she ponders. ‘What would he think? I hope he’d be pleased!’
You can buy the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Illustrated Edition here.