Molly McGrath is a laser-cutting artist who marries her architecture training with her love for geometric shapes and bright hues. Molly’s statement art pieces are known for intricacy and precision, yet words like “lively” and ”fun” still come to mind when you see them. I visited Molly’s lovely studio in the heart of The Mission in San Francisco and it wasn’t a surprise that her open space mimicked her artwork’s aesthetic – flashing lots of playfulness with even more color. Her studio held lots of character, from her personable knick-knacks to her hand painted geometric doors, I simply couldn’t focus on just one thing. Natural light flooded in, her laser cut designs peeked out from drawers and vignettes, and her desktops were scattered with signs of production. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a real life Pinterest board titled “Interior Eye Candy.” It was clear that Molly built a home away from home – a space that was truly hers to the very core.
Creatives often try their best to limit distractions in order to stay focused on their craft. Yet it was procrastination for Molly that ignited the initial spark for her small business. As Molly told me, “I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day, while procrastinating, I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. That was the beginning!” Read about Molly’s friends Larry and Lola, what quote keeps her inspired, and her current obsession to perfect her craft!
Atlas 1 by Molly McGrath.
Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is definitely my laboratory. I have painted a wall with a sharpie, color blocked my doors, and constantly rearrange and review my collection of objects, textiles, furniture, and books for inspiration.
What are your most essential tools?
My laser cutters (Larry and Lola) are definitely my most essential tools. Everything that comes out of my studio has been cut by one of them! I’m also completely reliant on AutoCad and the Adobe Creative suite to generate my designs.
Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Since there are just two of us here, there isn’t a lot of downtime. We run a pretty efficient shop. Daily trips to the post office accompanied by a coffee break are probably the closest thing to down time we have at our studio!
What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
The most difficult part of my work has been figuring out how to grow and being strategic of the direction of the business.
How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day while procrastinating I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. At that time in 2006, there was not a lot of laser cut jewelry, and people really responded to it. That was the beginning!
What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
The same advice as I offer myself now – hire more people to help with production to allow for more time for product development.
How do you set goals for yourself?
My goals are simple – to continue to evolve as a designer, and to grow as a business.
How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Usually when I get a new design opportunity that I couldn’t have foreseen. For example, I am working on a collaboration with Chronicle Books, which I have celebrated quite a bit!
What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Jerry Garcia
This quote is from a song called “Scarlet Begonias” by the Grateful Dead. I listened to this song incessantly starting around age of 16, a time when everything is exciting and the possibilities of life are endless. I love the sentiment, and it also is a great approach to design.
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am always on the hunt for a new material to use with the laser cutters. My current obsession is ceramics, so I am trying to learn everything I can about that medium at the moment.
How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel, reading Vogue, hiking, and going to museums.
Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Often! My employee Qiana has been an amazing collaborative partner, as have many of my wholesale accounts. I also love doing custom work. It often results in a completely different approach!