British illustrator draws inspiration from her adoptive Abu Dhabi

The talents of Kate Forrester are in demand all over the world, but with her latest project, an alphabet of beautiful paper cuts, it's the capital's residents who get the first look.

Handout image: 'Letter' by Kate Forrester
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Before we meet for our interview, Kate Forrester sends me an email. "Please don't have any grand expectations about my studio," she writes. "It's really nothing special. It's also quite chaotic."

When I arrive, it's evident that neither of those statements are true. The studio - a bright, ground-floor room in the Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi apartment she shares with her husband - is a charming personal gallery of Forrester's life and work. It is also enviably neat. Above her desk is a large collage of photographs and personal mementoes of her pre-UAE life, dotted with posters, cards and prints that display the long sweeps and strokes of her beautiful calligraphy. On a shelf on the wall opposite is a display of several of her favourite commercial projects, each item - prints, posters, biscuit tins, chocolate wrappers, sweet boxes and a sizeable library of books - lavishly decorated with her exquisite illustrations. At the centre of the display are her most recent creations - a collection of classic novels for the American bookstore chain Barnes & Noble for which she has illustrated the covers.

In 2007, two years after she graduated with a degree in illustration from Brighton University, she landed her first major commissioned job, designing invitations for an event at the Harvey Nichols store in London. After that, her career as a full-time illustrator has gone from strength to strength. She has agents in London and New York and a highly impressive client list that includes Tiffany, Waitrose, Victoria's Secret, Marks & Spencer and Penguin Books.

Her husband's job demanded the couple move to the UAE from the UK two years ago but her workload has been unaffected. A noticeboard that lists the clients and jobs she's attending to - including an amazing paper-cut tray liner for McDonald's - demonstrates how much she's in demand. "Yes, I'm busier than ever," she smiles.

Forrester's love for what she does is evident, so it's not surprising that when she's not drawing for other people, she's working on a project for herself - a collection of 26 individual paper-cut letters of the alphabet. Over a year after she began, the finished set is now on sale in Bodytree Yoga studios in Abu Dhabi.

They'll undoubtedly sell well. Paper cut and laser-cut art has become an enormously popular and commercially fashionable medium in recent years. Laser-cut furniture and home accessories, particularly in materials such as Perspex and wood, have been seen in collections by the likes of Susan Bradley, Poltrona Frau and Robby and Francesca Cantarutti. The trend has even crept into fashion and jewellery in recent seasons. Yet for all its contemporary credentials, the origins of paper-cutting are surprisingly ancient, dating back to 6th century China.

It's also a medium that suits Forrester's whimsical, romantic style of illustration - its sweeps, swirls and long, winding curls. This first collection has been inspired by nature, and the English countryside in particular, with birds, trees, flowers and animals incorporated into the designs. Together with the silhouette form that the laser cutting produces, they have a charming, playful quality, like illustrations that you might see in a book of European folk tales. They're also quite enchanting. Look carefully within each letter and a figure, face or decorative detail will reveal itself. At first, you see a mermaid, for example, but look again and there's a butterfly, a bell, a curly tailed squirrel and a sprinkling of tiny stars.

Given the nature of her illustrations, Forrester was keen not to incorporate any "babyish" nursery-like motifs. She also purposefully used black paper on this first run to give them an extra sophistication - though versions on coloured paper will be available to order, as will bespoke, made-to-order ones in which she will cut the letters of someone's name into the letter. Prices start at Dh350 for the regular black paper letters, rising to Dh400 for a made-to-order coloured version. For the customised version, it's Dh500. All the letters are sold in frames made by craftsmen in Mussaffah.

The process for making the letters begins with a simple, rough illustration, drawn freehand in pencil. Forrester then scans the image into her computer, editing, erasing and retouching, before printing it out full size and adding further details until she gets the results she wants. The final laser-cutting is done on a machine at Dubai's Tashkeel art studios. "It's a fantastic place," she says. "Their laser-cutting machine is amazing. I don't know anywhere in England or here where you could do cutting like this. If I lived in Dubai I'd be there every day."

The cutting is the fastest part of the production process but the design and illustration have been a time-consuming business. However, Forrester says that the creative freedom she's had in doing this has meant she's loved every minute.

She also says that the two years she has spent in the UAE, and her love for her new surroundings, is giving her fresh inspiration for her work. "You might not be able to see it but the things that I'm seeing around me here - things like the motifs and patterns used in art and architecture, the windows around Bastakiya, for example - are starting to seep into my work," she explains, "especially in the swirly intricacy of some of the illustrations I do."

It's a theme she's eager to expand on. "I really love Islamic typography and calligraphy and I'm really keen to work with Arabic type. This range feels very English, which is fine, but wouldn't it be lovely to be free with icons and imagery from this region? I'd really like to do another range inspired by here. I'd love to work with a local, Arabic-speaking artist on it. Without speaking the language myself, I think that would be essential for it to work. They could design the shape of the lettering, then I would take it away and put my spin on it. That would be a fabulous paper-cut. I'm on the hunt."

To place an order, contact Kate Forrester at To see the collection in full, visit the new Bodytree studios at 26th/11th, Abu Dhabi (02 443 4448)