Karen Rao got into making felt art accidentally. She has always been creative, her mother and grandmother were always painting and drawing around her which encouraged that trait when she was younger. She recalls spending hours sketching insects through a viewfinder in the garden.
Following that she made daily entries into her sketchbook which led to her attending art college and her 25 year career as a graphic designer in London.
Since moving to Brighton from London, a lot of Karen’s artwork is inspired by the Brighton seascape. “The sea was mesmerising, it was forever changing – the colours, the moods, the energy. I studied the way the waves formed, arched then crashed with such a dramatic ferocity,” she describes what the artwork means to her saying that her artwork pushed her to take up surfing.
Her work is constantly evolving when she first began making felt art 7 years ago she would make dramatic wave inspired wall art.
The first piece she ever made was after she took her kids to a children’s art day at Brighton Museum. When her children tried out the craft of felt making she says she was ‘struck’ by the immediacy of it.
She describes how after this experience she was hooked; “The vibrancy of the coloured wools and the magical process of rubbing wool with soap and water to make a work of art!” So Karen bought all the materials and made a large scale wall hanging for her living room.
That began her journey. More recently she has been making horned animal headdresses. Currently she is working on horned hats made from Shetland fleeced that she was gifted by Sussex Prairies, the material is weathered and worn and is perfect for creating shaggy horned beasts.
“My transition to animal inspired head wear was initially inspired by my dog. He is a Saluki lurcher with adorable fluffy ears. I always feel I should dress up smartly to walk with him as he’s a very distinguished looking dog. I made a saluki inspired hat to match him. I then created lots of other dog breed hats, mimicking their texture and markings by combining different wools and colours. Now, I’m inspired by horns!”
One of her favourite pieces is a stag deer headdress with long antlers that she was commissioned to make for a New Year’s Eve Party. The show stopping piece has appeared in Shakespeare productions, paraded at festivals and been an important accessory at stag weekends she says.
Karen tells us that she is forever creating and designing the next big thing. She is very proud of the black cat hat which is worn by Hollywood Tattoo artist Kat Von D (see featured image).
“There is one common element to my work, I’m not very good at conforming. I like to create something new and exciting if possible. Felt making is an ancient art and I love to provide an element of surprise,” she says.
Karen believes that sometimes people may just be more comfortable with things they are used to rather than being exposed to something which is ‘alien’.
However she challenges this and is really passionate about teaching people about the wet felting process. When she sells at craft fairs under her gazebo she is able to provide drop in felt making workshops whilst selling her hats. She will help people create everything from baubles to felted animals.
She has plenty of fairs lined up for the rest of the year here in Brighton. You can find out more information about upcoming fairs on her website.