It’s impossible to talk about Cat Rabbit’s work without using adjectives like playful, colorful, and whimsical. But her work is so much more than that.
Her handmade felted creatures exude tons of personality - so much that you seem to know these critters wholly upon seeing them. Having been delighted by her work for years (and shrieking at nearly every one of her Instagram posts), we decided it was time to get to know her better.
Do you remember the first thing you ever made? What was it and what inspired you to make it?
It wasn’t the very first thing, but I vividly remember making a dollhouse for my little sister for her Christmas present one year. I was maybe six or seven. I had this vision - it was going to be a three-story mansion, a masterpiece. I used shoeboxes, cereal boxes, and collaged pictures from magazines as the wallpaper - I think there was a picture of the Queen in the bathroom. The inspiration was the crazy looking fancy Barbie houses that were on the telly.
The end result was much less glamorous than I had envisioned, more shanty town than high end mansion, but I think it was well-received.
You describe yourself as a textile artist and designer, creating entirely handmade items from sculptures to embroideries and more. What drew you to the handmade world?
It took a while for me to refer to myself as a textile artist and designer. I used to just say “I make and draw stuff.” And I suppose I have always been a part of the handmade world, consciously or not - I’ve always been making things! As well as drawing and crafting, I also love baking. It’s kind of a compulsion, to make things, and I started making gifts for friends, both for birthdays and just generally to cheer people up. I love the idea of something handmade providing comfort to someone, whether it be a plush felt toy or a batch of biscuits.
How did you learn to sew, sculpt, and embroider?
The sewing I have been practicing since I can remember - I had a curiosity for knitting and sewing from a young age and pestered my mother to teach me. I used to watch her knit when I was four or five and she gave me a pair of knitting needles and ball of wool and told me to go right ahead. I think I just ruined the ball of wool, tangled it into an impossible giant knot, but I really believed I was knitting and I felt so cool! The sculpting and embroidery is something I have taught myself over time, I am always learning to work with new fibres and fabrics and seeing how they fit in with my work.
What’s your typical day look like?
It starts with yogurt and coffee and emails and administrative work. Sometimes there is a trip to the gym. A small play with my cat and then I go into my home studio and work, which means sewing orders for my online store or new work for exhibitions. Every day is slightly different, depending on the job. I also share a studio in the city with a bunch of great artists, and I spend a couple of days a week working in there, which is great for my mental wellbeing (locking myself away in the fluff-filled cave of my home studio can make someone crazy!)
You create items for your online shop, as well as for gallery shows - how do you decide what work goes where? How does the approach differ in each of these worlds?
Exhibiting work is an amazing thing and I look at every opportunity to make work for exhibition as a chance to experiment with something new. A new technique, a new material - just something different. It’s a good impetus to learn and create something different with the added bonus of having a deadline. :)
When I create work for my online store, I have to think a bit more practically. I make felt accessories, so people can carry around the artwork on their clothing, and the plush I make is usually a smaller size and to a certain price point.
When did you know it was the right time to start selling your work? How did the process of opening up an online shop unfold for you?
I didn’t think of it so much as the ‘right’ time, it was more that I was encouraged to try it by friends who were kind and thought I should give it a go.
I was dreadful when I started my first store - grainy dark shadowy photos and strange angles! I don’t think I sold anything for the first year. Gradually, I started to get a little better at documenting my work, and after a growing presence on social media (which at the time was Fotolog, Flickr, and Facebook), I slowly gained momentum and started to sell things.
My business is one of those things that has grown so gradually, and I learn from mistakes more than anything else - every time I go in to the studio to take photos or make a new range of things I try to think about how I can make it better than the last time! Slowly and surely is how I operate.
How did Soft Stories, the children’s books you create with your collaborator Isobel Knowles, develop?
Isobel and I met each other through a mutual friend in 2011 and she came to my studio and saw what I was working on - a production line of owls - piles of wings, owl faces and fluffy bits all lined up in rows. From that came the idea of making a factory where the owls are made by rabbits. Isobel is a top notch animator and creator of all things amazing, it was such a privilege to get the opportunity to work with her! So, we got to work putting together a stop motion animation of the factory. We made it really quickly out of found materials - cardboard and my large stash of felt. We shot it over a weekend and it came out so well we included it in my first solo exhibition. We were approached by Thames & Hudson to turn the animation - Owl Know How - into a children’s book and it all grew from there! Since then we have made art installations, another children’s book, and hosted many workshops. It’s a fun collaboration!
Your work is so playful and whimsical, and almost always centered around animals. Are they a huge source of inspiration for you? What are some other inspirations?
Animals are my main inspiration, I love looking at their characteristics and thinking about how to characterise them in my style - experimenting with how to position their features and how to anthropomorphise them in funny ways, in different outfits and occupations. Lately I have been making characters out of food, too. Croissant girls, egg friends, and more. So maybe I am branching out from animals?
My longest standing inspiration would have to be Richard Scarry. From a young age I used to pore over the worlds he created and I loved the funny little ironies like pig butchers and elephant dentists.