Interview:// Cliff Wright


Cliff Wright is a multi talented artist. He has illustrated numerous books, from the familiar animal characters in The Wind in the Willows, to specialising in illustrations of the second and third book in the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets & Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Admiringly, Wright has been an active campaigner for animal rights. He was involved with a project run by International Animal Rescue to raise awareness for the ‘dancing bears’ of India and designed Christmas cards for Greenpeace. He has also been an artist in advertising campaigns for large organisations and corporations, such as IKEA.

Born in Brighton, England 1963, Wright graduated from the Brighton College of Arts in 1986 and developed water colours based on wildlife and children’s book ideas in the early phase of his career. In 1989, he published the self-written and illustrated picture book for children When the World Sleeps, which was runner-up in the Mother Goose Award competition in 1989 to 1990. He followed this up by two more highly successful illustration projects called Crumbs! and The Tangleweed Troll.

In 1997, Bloomsbury approached Wright so he could illustrate the British first edition cover for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He became the first to illustrate the following concepts and characters: Hedwig, The Weasley’s Ford Anglia, Hogwarts, Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Sirius Black. The cover illustration for the first book was drawn by Thomas Taylor, a young artist out of college. However, the publisher’s decided they wanted to change the style of the illustration for the second book and selected a more experienced illustrator. This meant that Cliff Wright was the obvious choice for the third book.

I attended an exhibition at Trading Boundaries last year, which was held by Cliff Wright. There we arranged this interview to find out a little more about him, his projects and plans…

How many workshops have you done now?

“Oh god knows, hundreds; to thousands of people over many years! I’ve taught in various different countries across the world. This year I am going to be teaching in Italy, Switzerland and hopefully Alaska! It’s been one of those life journeys for me, never thinking that I’d be teaching anybody to begin with. Then as I did one workshop, I would get asked to do another somewhere else. So it’s been a journey for me, as well as taking other folk on a journey, and I now see that drawing is 10% drawing ability and 90% seeing ability.”

What makes your workshops different?

“Well, I teach from a basic perspective, that we all draw from what we think we see. I know that to be true, because I know I do that for myself. I have taught a lot of people, and my drawing workshops have become an experiment into how we see. When I started them, I experimented with how children see and draw, learning a lot from the fact that everybody draws from what they think they see. Drawing exercises can prove that is the case, and the task when we draw is not so much to develop our drawing ability, that’s certainly part of it, but to develop our seeing ability.”

You designed the concepts and characters for Harry Potter, how did you picture them?
Is that something you did through J.K. Rowling‘s verbal images that she portrayed? 

“When I read a text, I see images. I know a lot of people do, but I see them quite clearly. So it doesn’t take much to read a line and then imagine what that looks like. I only need to read a single line, then the mind is conjuring up imagery and I wasn’t tied down by anything. There had been a single front cover for the first book, but as I was commissioned to do the second book of the series, I wasn’t tied to following that design in any way. It was a completely different style from what I do, so I was able to stick with it.

I wasn’t given a lot of time to read the books, so I couldn’t finish them before my illustrations were published. The descriptions of the characters from first book weren’t detailed. If you remember, you know that Harry is described as having the glasses and the hair that doesn’t behave itself and the scar, but his face shape isn’t described in any way. So it’s up to your imagination to see what comes out.”

What drives you?

“That’s a really good question. I would say the first thing that drives me is instinct and touching the heart, you know? Again, I’ve taught lots of people and we have this conversation all of the time, if your instinct doesn’t come out you can get depressed. But then I get inspired by other artists and creative souls. I mainly get inspired by nature and wild animals. I have lots of stories from over the years, of amazing encounters that fuel me and feed my soul. So that’s really where the creativity comes from.
It’s the recognition that if one does impart ones own creativity from the heart, then it will speak to other people, because we are all connected in that space. It’s kind of like this floating creative energy, spinning around above us and occasionally we reach up and grab some of it. But it’s a personal thing in one way and a universal thing in another. Our task is to take the creative source and make it as individual as possible, but in doing that, it will make it as universal as possible.”

Well, thank you so much to Cliff Wright for agreeing to speak with me. If you would like to hear more of the interview, click on the box below 🙂

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