In celebration of this Friday's release of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Birth.Movies.Death. will be unleashing an entire week's worth of exclusive Harry Potter-themed content upon you, the unsuspecting BMD readership. Expect many a great editorial in the days ahead, and be sure to pick up your tickets to Fantastic Beasts via the Alamo Drafthouse if you're checking the film out this weekend!
Produced as a cover for a potential Harry Potter-themed magazine, the image above comes to us from Texas-based artist Abi Daniel, and we're thrilled to be able to share it with Birth.Movies.Death. readers as part of our ongoing Harry Potter Week festitivities. We'll have lots of terrific Harry Potter content this week in honor of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (get tickets here!), so check back in every day.
I sat down with Abi to discuss her gorgeous painting, and she was generous enough to supply some work-in-progress images from her process. Let's take a look!
First of all, this cover is incredible. I don't have a question here, but I wanna go on the record with that.
Man, thanks so much for saying that. It means a lot. I am blushing.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! Where are you from, how'd you get into the business, etc?
I’m a native Texan from Houston. I was incredibly fortunate to attend an amazing art school in Baltimore (MICA), and I’m forever grateful for the training and perspective I gained there. I studied illustration in school, focusing primarily on painting, but didn’t start working professionally as an artist until about four years after graduation, when I got an unexpected toe-hold in the gaming industry. I spent four or five years earning a living as a concept artist, working for various game studios, which was really formative for me in that it taught me how to work well with others and to take constructive criticism without getting bent out of shape. I departed the gaming world and started pursuing freelance design and illustration gigs at the same time as I started helping to run my husband’s screen printing shop, Bearded Lady, and have been slowly building up a client base and a portfolio since then. At this point, most of the projects I work on are super fun and engaging, which I think is one of the biggest things I could ask for.
There's so much iconography to draw from in the Harry Potter universe. What made you choose this particular image?
Well, when I was asked to do the piece, this subject matter was thrown out there as an option. I jumped on it because, funnily enough, I had already been on a tear sketching these bounding stags with flames and smoke and sparks billowing around their antlers. It’s just a half-step from that to make a stag itself be the billowing (luminous) smoke. We decided it was kismet and went for it.
What was your process in creating the piece? This is watercolor, yes?
Yep, this is watercolor. I love to work with it, though this is the first piece I’ve done in that medium in a while. I usually like my composition to be pretty settled before I start painting, because there are no take-backs or paint-overs with straight watercolor, so I worked out the drawing separately before starting the painting (ed. note: below, Abi's original sketch for the piece).
I started with duo-toned colored pencil sketches, which is how I almost always approach ideas in the beginning stages. I was having trouble getting the right gesture for the stag in my sketchbook, though, so I decided maybe I needed some extra room. I grabbed an 18”x24” piece of cover stock, tacked it to the wall, and drew standing up so I could get all dynamic and sloppy. At that point, it looked like this:
But I decided he should be facing the other direction, and the drawing was too big for my watercolor block, so I photographed it, downsized it and printed it out at the right size for my paper (about 13”x20”). Then I worked out the rest of the composition with more colored pencil, till it looked like this:
And then I transferred the drawing using graphite transfer paper, and got down to painting. Watercolor is such a gradual layering process for me that the whole thing ends up looking like a hot mess until it gets tied together at the very end. It’s kind of harrowing in the middling times. I'm pretty happy with how this one turned out, but I was flat out terrified when I was halfway done. It almost always happens that way. Each piece has an oh-crap-it-sucks gauntlet I have to push it through.
What's your favorite of the Harry Potter novels? How about the movies?
I think the book I enjoyed the most was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I liked how hard they dug into adolescent angst and the feelings of frustration and helplessness that are so consuming during that time in almost every kid’s life. I also liked the shift of tone with the book, as it felt like a turning point in the series where the stakes were raised and things really started to get serious. The darkness and impending doom began to outbalance the humor and the tone of adventurous discovery that was more dominant in the earlier books. Also, thestrals. Those are rad.
Regarding the movies, I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen the last few. I have a stupidly huge backlog of movies to catch up on, and they’re definitely on the list.
What would your Patronus be and why?
Part of me would really like to see a completely ridiculous and undignified Patronus, like a dung beetle, because it would be hilarious and awkward. But if I was choosing one for its badass qualities (which is kind of the point with a Patronus, right?) I’d probably go with a small hawk, like a sharp-shinned hawk. They are incredibly nimble and acrobatic and fierce.
What else are you working on right now, and where can people find more of your artwork?
I’m working on some assets for a brewpub here in Austin called Pint House Pizza. I painted murals behind the bar in one of their locations last year and have been working on some pretty cool projects with them over this past summer. I designed a full bottle-print that will be screen-printed directly onto their beer bottles, and I’m super stoked to see how the final product comes out. Also, next week I’m having an art show of process drawings from a book that I illustrated last year called How to Be a Texan - the Manual. It’s next Thursday (November 10th), at the gallery we have at Bearded Lady (3504 E. 4th St. 78702). The book was a challenging project, with around 50 individual illustrations, but I’m old buddies with the author Andrea Valdez, so it was also really fun and rewarding.
Also, people can always find my stuff on my website, hoarsefly.com, but honestly, Instagram is probably the place I’m the most “live” in terms of getting what I’m working on out there so people can see it. When I have a heavy workload, I can tend to turn all hermit-like and disappear from social media, but I’m getting better about posting more regularly.
Final question: are you excited about Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them? Have you read the books? I'm totally unfamiliar and going in cold.
I’m in the same boat as you! I read all of the Harry Potter books, but haven’t read Fantastic Beasts yet. I kind of like the idea of waiting to read the books until after seeing the movie this time around.
Thanks to Abi Daniel for producing such an amazing piece, allowing us to feature it here as part of Harry Potter Week, and for taking the time to answer my silly-ass questions. You rule, Abi!