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‘I would draw Harry Potter very differently now’

Thomas Taylor, who drew the first book cover for the Harry Potter series, published 23 years ago this week, on opportunities lost and found

The published cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The published cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Taylor

I look back at the cover I did for JK Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and think I would draw Harry very differently now. His hair should have been messier and I should have put more thought into his outfit – he should have looked like he was going somewhere magical. 

I was 22, starting out as an illustrator and working in a children’s bookshop in Cambridge. This was my first commission after leaving art school and a big deal. I was so focused on fulfilling the brief and meeting the deadline that I wasn’t really thinking as much as I should have done about the story. Besides, when you start out in  a creative career you don’t want anyone to remember the first thing you did because it’s probably a bit rubbish. In my case, my first piece was quite high-profile and I can’t escape it. 

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Not that I really want to. I love the fact that for most British kids this was their first experience of Harry, and it’s exciting to have created something that has been seen by so many people. 

I handed my portfolio in on spec at and the publisher Barry Cunningham saw it and called me out of the blue. He invited me in and handed me a huge pile of paper in manuscript form to take away and read. The book was obviously still a work in progress – I could see editing notes on the document. I wish I’d known how famous the book would become as it would be valuable now, but it went into recycling! 

To begin with I was asked to supply ‘a wizard’ for the back of the book, so I created a generic one, making it look a bit like my dad for a laugh. But as Pottermania took off, people speculated who the wizard was. They clearly wanted it to be someone specific. Then a few websites speculated that I had advance knowledge of what was going to come next in the series. Bloomsbury, fed up with being bombarded with questions, asked me to create  a Dumbledore to replace it. 

Taylor's original illustration Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Taylor

I didn’t buy a copy of the first-edition hardback, which I kick myself about. Only 500 of these were ever printed and some have been known to fetch £46,000 in auctions. We had 10 first-editions in the shop and I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I should buy one of these,’ but the publisher had promised to send me a copy. I wish I’d bought all of them now.  I didn’t get the job to do the other covers. I was a bit disappointed, but looking back I was a beginner and they needed a more experienced pair of hands.

Anyway, by then all I really wanted to do was create picture books for younger kids. I did get offers of work off the back of Harry, but had to explain that it was not the direction I wanted to go in. Now I appreciate it’s great to have on my CV, but it didn’t really feel like that at the time – it was something I tried to hide. 

I finally left the bookshop two years after The Philosopher’s Stone and started working as an illustrator full-time. I now write books, ironically in the same genre as Harry Potter. was published last May and has been really successful, and has been optioned for a film. Its sequel has just been published and I am working on the third one. It’s a little bit like coming full circle – although not quite, because this time around I’m leaving the cover art to someone else to do! 

 

 

— As told to Lucy Dunn