Blog » Beautiful Paper Cuts
When you first look at Karen O’Leary’s paper designs, you find yourself pulled into the complex, yet exquisite, beauty. These are detailed works of art that serve a purpose; they are hand-drawn and hand-cut maps of major cities. O’Leary earned her Bachelor in Architecture from Virginia Tech, and has found a new way to breathe life into what was once just a ordinary sheet of paper. The Charlotte artist uses her blade to cut out each district and street to create a two-dimensional work of art.
The time it takes O’Leary to create one of her maps varies depending on the size and density of the city and the difficulty of cuts within a piece. She tediously cuts each map by hand, and says she feels that the work she puts into a final piece is “worth it.”
O’Leary is dedicated to her craft. She spends most of her days in her Charlotte studio from seven in the morning until 10 at night. “I do all of the artwork, photography, packaging, communications, shipping, and marketing myself,” she says.
The one thing this talented artist says she cannot go without is her husband. “He keeps me smiling.” They both are smiling now awaiting the arrival of their first baby in July, which O’Leary describes as her “biggest project yet!” She also plans to become a licensed architect, a venture that excites her.
O’Leary's love for design began at age eight when she started her own card shop and made her father buy her cards. These days she doesn’t have to make anyone buy her work — it's in demand. This spring two of her pieces will go into an exhibit at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. Both the Nike retail stores in Scottsdale, Arizona and the Mall of America house large murals that she created. O’Leary also has four large map cuts on display in the new Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. Most of her other pieces belong to private collectors, which she says she “enjoys doing the most.”
Along with Karen’s large map designs, she creates small-scale personalized paper maps that highlight street corners and neighborhoods. These make perfect gifts for someone looking to have their address made into a work of art. Her one-of-a-kind maps range from $9 to $1,450.
Brandi Moody is an artist and designer living in Raleigh. By day she’s a graphic designer and illustrator for her own design studio. Read more about her life, work and inspiration on her blog, Ever So Lovely.