a map is more than just a navigational tool, it also tells a story. what’s your story?

Karen O’Leary

Karen M. O’Leary is an artist and architect from Charlotte, NC. She has the gift  to recognize many cities by the grid of lines that represent their streets.

This artist began cutting paper maps as part of a project for her fifth-year thesis in architecture at Virgina Tech, and has been fascinated by creative cartography ever since. As an architect, she thinks very logically and minimally; her maps reflect this. Since 2009, O’Leary has been working under the name Studio KMO, and has expanded her work to include ink-line map drawings.

Karen O’Leary’s technique

Before cutting a new city she quickly research each map, looking for the downtown, the different neighborhoods, and any special elements or landmarks that are unique to that city. A map is a portrayal of place, and her modern maps combine the places of our daily lives and the memories we cherish into one.

Karen O'Leary technique

Karen O’Leary’s technique

She creates her works by drawing the city map on a thick sheet of paper. Then her pieces are all hand-cut once ordered, block by block. Cutting them by hand allows her the opportunity to design and customize each one.

Deftly cutting maps of different cities with razor precision, she leaves delicate webs of streets as land and water are cut away. Negative space demarcates land, while meandering grids of paper represents streets.

Karen O'Leary working on a map

Karen O’Leary working on a map

The work simplifies the map by erasing the unnecessary. But through this deletion she highlights the complexity of a city’s streets. Says O’Leary, “These maps reveal the density and delicacy of a modern city with a single element and infinite subtleties”. Her maps highlight the transient beauty of each city’s skylines through their delicate construction.

“Imagine all the sounds and smells and feelings of being in a large city, then try to transfer that to paper without using words, only by using a knife or a pen.”

Karen O'Leary, Boston hand-cut map

Studio KMO, Boston hand-cut map

Karen O'Leary, Washington mapcut

Studio KMO, Washington mapcut

Karen O'Leary, London hand-cut map

Studio KMO, London hand-cut map

Karen O'Leary, Menphis printed map

Studio KMO, Menphis printed map

Karen O'Leary, Amsterdam mini hand-cut map

Studio KMO, Amsterdam mini hand-cut map

Karen O'Leary, Washington D.C. printed notebook graphic

Studio KMO, Washington D.C. printed notebook graphic

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