Karen O’Leary of Studio KMO shares her methodology for finding creativity and running a small business.
From the moment I first learned of artist Karen O’Leary’s work, I was in awe. She takes plain paper and cuts away tiny pieces to make maps and sells them through her business Studio KMO. From my days in high school and college art classes, I can appreciate all the tedious work that goes into each piece — each line is painstakingly cut with a blade to create massive, delicate and intricate works of art. I’m excited to interview Karen today and show you a bit behind her wildly popular, growing biz. // susannah
1. How would you describe Studio KMO?
I create handcrafted original paper maps with just an x-acto blade or ink pen. My artwork is modern and minimal and represents our favorite cities. Often my work is collected to remember our favorite moments in life… a home, a graduation, a wedding, and favorite travels are among the most popular places that customers request.
2. What were you doing before Studio KMO? What inspired you to change paths?
My first hand cut map was created during my 5th year architecture thesis as a site map. After college, I was working as a Project Architect in NYC and created a 6 foot x 8 foot piece for myself. It took me 9 months to complete. Once I finished it, I didn’t have the resources to frame it or a place to hang it. I held onto it for a few years and then I eventually put it up on Etsy in 2009, not even knowing what Etsy really was. It accidentally got circulated around the web and sold and requests for so many cities came in and Studio KMO was created. The timing was perfect where I could change my career from Architect to a Paper Cutting Artist and gratefully I’ve been running my small business full time since the beginning in 2009.
3. When ideas are scarce, where do you turn for creative inspiration?
I’m inspired by modern architecture, interior design and wanderlust travel.
Read more of the Q+A with Karen O’Leary of Studio KMO!
4. Describe your workspace.
I have a small home studio. It’s simple and organized. Everything has its place. I have a large drafting table with gorgeous morning light. On my favorite days, I spend the entire day cutting, with a good cup of coffee and music on high.
5. What have been your biggest successes and challenges for Studio KMO?
I am a small one person business and somehow I have had the best client list. Nike, Converse, Hyatt, X-acto, West Elm, just to name a few. I’m most grateful that these large companies have found me and that they chose a small handcrafted business. I do not advertise, my work just simply has a strong internet presence.The biggest challenges that I have is finding time to run a small business all on my own, especially when I have two little girls. My days are long but always rewarding.
6. What are your dreams for Studio KMO?
I’d love to open a brick and mortar shop. I’m continually looking for the perfect location and waiting for the timing to be right.
7. Who do you look up to?
I’m inspired by so many small artisans that continually create. I follow so many of them on Instagram, too many to name.
8. Where and how do you love to spend your time off?
When I’m not in the studio I’m most likely chasing my girls… or teaching them to watercolor, drawing anything and everything for them, or taking them to our favorite Charlotte spots. We can often be found trying new restaurants or the latest Charlotte brewery.
9. What resources do you recommend to someone whose dream job is your job?
Find your niche in the world and everything else will fall into place.
10. If you weren’t running Studio KMO, what would be your dream job?
I’d love to be a gallery curator or a world traveler.