Art + Design

A Contemporary, Gorgeous Twist on Medieval Celtic Art

One of the best parts of my job as a designer at Chronicle Books is getting to collaborate with talented illustrators. When designing Celtic Tales, a compilation of 16 traditional folk stories, I wanted to hire an illustrator whose work would reference the flat, ornamental style of medieval Celtic art, and also add a contemporary twist to the old stories. I turned to British illustrator Kate Forrester for the job, and she more than delivered! Her gorgeous style and strong, cohesive vision really brought this book to life.

To celebrate the recent release of Celtic Tales, I asked Kate a few questions about her work on the book and her career as an illustrator.

Kate Forrester, illustrator of Celtic Tales

Q: What was your first illustration job?

A: From my University degree show, I got a job designing and illustrating a catalogue for a local organic clothing company. The director had seen my work and asked me to pitch a few ideas which led to more work. I was just so delighted that someone wanted to pay me to draw for them!

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being an illustrator?

A: The first contact with a client is actually the most exciting part for me. Obviously I love the creative process too, but I still get such a kick from somebody new getting in touch with a cool concept in mind for me, and just bouncing those initial ideas about. I also love being my own boss and taking holidays whenever I want!

Sketches for Celtic Tales

Kate’s early sketches for Celtic Tales

Q: Much of your work references paper-cutting and silhouette art. How did you develop this style?

A: I like the combination and contrast of flat color and really ornate pattern. I think the simple silhouette shapes are actually a result of me trying to bring some balance to my images, which contain such fine details or often lettering. It worked so well for this project because they wanted to frame each illustration with a Celtic Knot border, so I was able to indulge my passion for detail and keep the central images clean and simple.

Illustration from Celtic Tales

Illustration for Celtic Tales

Illustrations for the stories Little White Thorn and the Talking Bird, and The Brownie of Fern Glen

Q: What are your go-to tools?

A: Faber Castell Brush pens are wonderful for drawing and lettering.

Chapter Opener spread for Celtic Tales

Chapter opening spread from Celtic Tales

Q: What were some of your influences or inspirations when working on the Celtic Tales illustrations?

A: As luck would have it, right as I was commissioned for this job, there was a huge exhibition of Celtic art at The British Museum in London. I went along and was really inspired by the detail in the ornamental designs and metal work.

Metalwork from British Museum

From Kate’s trip to the British Museum

Q: Do you have a favorite illustration from Celtic Tales?

A: The most fun section to work on was The Sea. I adored the creatures in those stories—Assipattle, the Merrow, and the Selkies—and I love the sweep and flow of the shapes and the water I depicted.

Illustration from Celtic Tales Illustration from Celtic Tales

Illustrations for the stories Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm, and The Seal Catcher and The Selkies

Thanks Kate! We look forward to collaborating with you again.

You can find Celtic Tales here. To read more about all things design at Chronicle books, visit here.

Emily Dubin

Emily Dubin

Senior Designer at Chronicle Books, collector of magazines, watches, and vintage ephemera. See more of her work at dubindesign.com.
Emily Dubin

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