A SUCCESSFUL Greenock artist who is passionate about her home town and its people says that an inspirational teacher changed her life forever.

Karen Orr, who founded social charity RIG Arts with her husband Jason 14 years ago, said a trip to Glasgow School of Art was the lightbulb moment that shaped her career.

Through RIG, the modest mum-of-two, who is an acclaimed artist in her own right, has supported many local artists as well as bringing creativity to ordinary people with outreach programmes.

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Karen, 53, is the youngest of seven siblings and she was brought up in Maukinhill and the Strone until she was 10, when the family moved to Braeside, and attended St Gabriel's and St Columba's High.

Her dad Pat Patton was a bus driver and mum Lizzie a housewife and Karen remembers a happy childhood.

Karen, who now lives in Inverkip, loved writing stories as a youngster and her family were also creative, with her mum and sisters always sewing, crafting and gardening.

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Karen said: "On my mum's side of the family, creativity ran through. We were a working class family, nobody went to uni. University was not on my radar."

Instead it was art that became her passion, inspired by talented team of teachers Norrie Edgar, Jimmy Watt and Margaret Brennan.

She said: "Norrie Edgar said I was really talented and I should think about art school.

"Next year I was in his class and he changed my life. He took me, Jim Strachan, Jennifer Cantwell and Katie Burns in his own car up to the art school. I still get goosebumps thinking about going into the Mackintosh building. It was phenomenal, I was just blown away."

Karen passed her school exams and got into the art school first time.

She said: "I'll never forget getting that letter. My mum and dad were standing holding it when I got back home, as they knew it meant so much to me. They were so proud."

But Karen admits life at the art school was initially something of a culture shock.

She said: "I had always felt confident in my world then for the first time, I heard people talking about things I didn't know, and was running to the library to look it up.

"But my talent shone through and I felt confident in my work and knew I was meant to be there."

Karen says she has never forgotten her roots and has a drive to make arts more accessible.

She was a contemporary of famous artist Jenny Saville and while studying at the art school she met her soulmate Jason. They have been together since they were 19, and finally got married in 1998.

Karen studied drawing and painting and after graduating in 1992 she went on to do a Polish Government postgraduate scholarship at the Academy of Fine Art in Poznan.

Sadly Karen's dad became ill and she returned home and her career went in a totally different direction.

She took a summer job in IBM, worked up through the ranks, stayed there for 12 years and during this time the firm put her through a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) which she passed with distinction from Glasgow Caledonian University in 2002.

Meanwhile she and Jason were expanding their family, welcoming daughters Kayla in 2001 and Neve in 2004.

Karen said: "My girls come first, even though they are older now they come before everything."

After IBM's work was taken over by Lenovo, Karen left to explore creative pursuits. She opened a small studio, and from there the seeds of RIG were sewn.

Karen and Jason founded RIG in 2010 and it is based at the old Tobacco Warehouse in Clarence Street in Greenock while doing outreach work in Broomhill and further afield in Paisley 

Karen said: "I really feel proud of it. It is all about accessing opportunities. I feel I have come full circle, as IBM were a great employer, good for a work ethic and training, social stuff and family and the business side of things through the MBA."

Karen has enjoyed lots of individual success, including a solo show at the McLean Museum and an exhibition in Kalisz in Poland in 2014, plus a residency and exhibitions in Berlin in 2018 and 2019, and a solo exhibition at the Beacon. Now she is looking to the future.

She said: "I am at the stage I am looking again at my own creative practice after we got our personal studio last year."

Karen says she will always be proud of the legacy created by RIG Arts. Last year more than 5,200 people took part in activities run by it, with more than 15,500 visiting events, including the popular Galoshans Festival at Halloween.

She said: "I feel through RIG we are making a difference."