Kate Forrester, illustrator behind the bold illustrations in Celtic Tales, talks inspiration, loving what you do and the beauty that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone.
Every now and then I get sent a commission that really allows me to push the boat out and create something really special. So often my jobs are very heavily art directed and don’t require as much imagination as you would think but this was no such project.
Before I had even got my hands on the manuscript, I knew this project was going to be right up my street! When i spoke to Emily, the designer from Chronicle, I knew we would be approaching this with the same vision. As well as illustrating the stories, she wanted me to design various patterns and bring the traditional Celtic knot work into my work and those are the kind of details i adore. I knew that it would work well to keep the illustration quite simple and the colours flat – my work is often likened to paper cuts or silhouette art – so this balanced nicely with the decorative borders and end papers she had in mind. Despite the traditional nature of the tales, I knew from the start that i didn’t want my illustrations to be too quaint or conventional so this was a challenge to overcome.
Once I read the manuscript, I was even more excited to be asked to illustrate such a rich collection of stories. There were sea monsters, princesses and even a 3 headed giant! Being very character driven, it was quite different to my usual commissions which tend to involve hand lettering as the main starting point. But it was refreshing to do something different and out of my comfort zone.
As luck would have it, right about the time I accepted this job,there was a big exhibition at The British Museum on the art and identity of The Celts. It was such a perfect start to my research. The exhibition was brilliant – dark and atmospheric and featuring lots of knot patterned metal and ceramic tools in pleasing shapes.
The way I work is to sketch out the rough layout of each story illustration using pencil and pen on paper and fill in heavy areas of dark shades to make sure they are more or less balanced designs. I do not keep my sketches and they are not beautiful!
But I was happy to know that my roughs were accepted pretty much as they were with very little amends before moving on to the final images.
The next stage for me was to develop the colour scheme as this was to tie all the tales together and was to be quite limited (I think there are only 8 or 9 shades in the whole book.) I also saw this as a chance to inject a more modern element to the book with some nice clashing shades of coral pink and mustard yellow. Colour is always important in my work but for this project it was vital to get it right!
I guess the most laborious (but satisfying!) part of the task was researching and re-imagining the Celtic knot borders. Luckily my research at the British Museum had left me with a wealth of books and visual reference to draw from. Once the 16 designs were complete, the cover was a breeze. I simply chose my 4 favourite characters from the stories and used them as a starting point to fit in the rough layout given to me by Emily.
We tried a few different colour ways but i was very pleased when my favourite coral and teal version was chosen for the final jacket.
It was a dream project and I was so excited when the final book landed on my desk this week. I just hope everyone else enjoys reading those crazy , wonderful tales as much as I did!
We think you did an incredible job Kate!
Find out more about Kate and Celtic Tales here.