Studio Visit with Molly M


Molly M is the sole founder and creator of the San Francisco-based brand Molly M Designs. The company focuses on using strong graphics, conceptual integrity, and a variety of materials to create unique goods for you and your home.

I stopped by Molly studio in the heart of the Mission district of San Francisco. Molly and I talked about her journey as an artist and a small business owner, motherhood and her big dreams for the future.   

Giselle Gyalzen: Tell us about your brand

Molly McGrath: Everything that we do is laser cut. I went to school for architecture and learned to use the laser cutter there. In the beginning, I was using a laser cutter to make jewelry and I did a few craft fairs and people really responded well to it so I just started doing more. I had a part-time architecture job and then once I started making enough money I left architecture. After jewelry, I expanded to homewares and prints. So it was very organic the way it happened.


GG: How long did it take from when you started making things to quitting your job as an architect?

MM: About a year and a half. It was pretty fast that I got to go full-time. A rep found me at a tiny craft fair. They were also repping Polli, which is a jewelry line from Australia. I knew nothing about the wholesale world but I knew that if she can get Polli into all those stores like the SFMOMA, then it's worth a try.

GG: How did that work out?

MM: It went really well, she had a booth at New York Now (editor’s note: Biggest Gift Trade Show in the country) and showed my stuff there. Do you know the store, Cameron Marks? It's in Santa Cruz, the owner of Cameron Marks were my reps.

GG: You're not with a rep anymore?

MM: I'm not with them anymore but I was with them for maybe five years. They were good reps but at a certain point they decided to stop repping. They had all the supplies for the tradeshow and I ended up inheriting all their supplies and their booth, so that worked out for me because they were in the Handmade section at New York Now.

GG: That sounds great. I heard that showing New York Now is really expensive.

MM: It's a lot to figure out if you're doing it from the ground up so this was great.

GG: I remember years and years ago you would show at Renegade and I would walk by and I would want to introduce myself but you were always swamped. You've been popular from the beginning.

MM: Renegade has been an awesome show and I've done that ever since I started and I'm still doing it. I love that show, I love the founders, and I love that it's not pretentious.

GG: I know you are a trained architect. How did you evolve into being a maker/designer and then into having a prolific line?

MM: I started using the laser cutter in grad school. I'll show you my first design (she leaves and comes back and shows it to me).

Molly's first design

That is birch plywood, it's the material that’s used to make models at school, so I started using that same material. I love how the machine is so precise and it can get so much detail. I always made jewelry when I was young, the ones I made then were not precise at all.

This held my attention and I just wanted to use all the materials possible with the machine. Four years into the business, I started etching in addition to cutting. Putting a pattern on things has been really fun and people like it. I don't think I've exhausted all the potentials of a laser cutter.

Etched leather wallets

GG: It seems like you just have a natural curiosity which is probably how you’ve evolved from this first model to what you doing now. How do you come up with the things that you make?

MM: The products I make are based on things that I use at home and things that I want to have. Also, I have baby booties because I have kids now. The prints are actually my favorite thing to make.

GG: They are my favorite things to sell!


Some of Molly's prints

MM: It's just fun to think about scale. It's a surprise every time you design them and then it's trial and error when you're playing with the colors and the fabrics. It's not straightforward so that makes it fun for me.  

GG: You have a very specific aesthetic. When I see your work in the wild, sometimes out of context, I can tell that it’s a Molly M piece. How did your line evolve into that and how do you keep that up?

MM: It starts out with what I was interested in. In the beginning, it was more about botanical and geometric influence. Those were the two major formal aesthetic things that I was interested, and then it evolved to travel. Some collections are based on places that I've traveled to. I went to Japan several times and I've collected kimono fabrics. Spain was a heavy influence, Morocco was also a heavy influence. None of those are related necessarily, but the process of laser cutting unifies them. I always just look for patterns and colors when I travel, that was the unifying thing in the beginning. I was really clueless as to what was really market driven, Instagram wasn't so popular then. Back then, it was just coming straight from me and now my designs are much more influenced.


A small sample of Molly's fabric collection

Inspiration board in Molly's studio


GG: How do you feel about that?

MM: I have to focus on my business now so I don't feel bad about it at all. I feel like it's a necessary evil and it's interesting trying to find the meeting point between your personal aesthetic and the aesthetic that you see.

GG: I feel like you do that so well. I was reading online about you and there was an interview where you were talking about how Morocco influenced you, and that made sense to me. I see that you bring those influences here and make it your own.

MM: That's always the challenge. When I see something on Instagram that I love, I start thinking about how I can do something without copying it, but still be inspired by it, and make something different.


GG: Tell us more about your studio space here in the Mission District. What do you like most about it? How long have you been here?

MM: We've been here for five years. I was in ActivSpace before. I used to just be in a cubicle that was 10 x 18. It was a much smaller space, and then I found this spot in the Wells Fargo building. The landlord is an older Irish gentleman who owns a bunch of properties in San Francisco. He is a great landlord and is good to all the tenants. I am the only creative in the building but all the other people are really awesome.

I love the light in this space, it’s really bright. I love the neighborhood, I love being right in the heart of it. I love that it's so close BART and it's easy for my employees to get here. It's a little small, we are definitely growing out of it.


GG: I love talking about your art and your process as an artist but I am a business owner so I’m equally curious about the business side of things. How many employees do you have? What are their roles?

MM: I have three employees, plus me. Camille is leaving us soon, she's moving to Washington. They don't really have titles they kind of do a little bit of everything. If I have to give them titles, then, Camille is our shipping and wholesale manager - she packs all the orders and she also does some production. She makes sure that everything is clean and organized and looks pretty. When I was on maternity leave she did everything, she basically ran the show so she's the manager. I'm really sad to see her go.  Liza does all the sewing and a lot of the production. Carly is the laser guru so she's in charge of the laser room and makes sure that production is going well, and all the jobs are running. And then I do Accounts Receivable and running the business and design.

They prototype for me now, so we got to a point where I design two collections a year. The three of us go over what I have in mind, I give them guidance and then they make the prototypes. It's awesome because they have a really cool aesthetic and they bring that into the process. Their aesthetic is different than mine and I think it's added a lot.

GG: Are you hiring?

MM: We’re going to try to keep it to two people. I'm only working three days a week, so it will increase my workload, so we'll see how that goes. I may be hiring part-time soon.


GG: What’s the most challenging thing about running a business?

MM: I'd say it’s business development. It’s been enough with the way we've been doing things -- by having New York Now as our main wholesale show twice a year plus the sprinkling of retail shows we do. In the past, I've always had 1 to 2 to employees when I was working full-time. When I went on maternity leave, we had three employees so some things shifted.  So if Camille were not to leave, that's the point where I wanted us to be, where I have three employees and then we're getting new business.

The challenge is reaching out to try to figure out if we need to do trade shows. Or try to figure out if I need to condense my line. Like the placemats and the tabletop stuff, I feel like I could do so much more with that. I feel like I have too many things going on and I am not giving each one their proper attention. It's fun to figure out if you have the time, but if you're spread out that's hard. So right now I think I will try to keep it just to two employees and me and try to balance having kids and a business and try not to push too hard, and I want to see how it goes over time.

GG: Would you consider going to a rep again?

MM: I might. A group reached out so I’m looking into it.

GG: I asked you what the most challenging thing is, so now I will ask you what’s the most rewarding thing about running your business?

MM: In the beginning, it was the ability to be creative and make your business off of being creative. Now it's more about having a great team and that great feeling.

GG: You have 1-year-old twin girls (who are soooo cute!!), how has motherhood changed (or not changed) your creative process?

MM: You just have to become more efficient. I don't have as much time to wax and wane about all of our designs which is ultimately a good thing, I think. I was working a lot of hours and not necessarily the best hours to be working so I’m at a good balance.

GG: Are you able to set limits for yourself?

MM: Yeah I have to. It is harder to design for sure because I had so much more mental space to think about it before. On the other hand, I would never have done a kid's line, and that has been really successful. So that has worked out so far

Baby booties


GG: I always tell my husband if we did not have kids I would just be working all the time.

MM: Yeah because it's your own business and you give everything you have into it.

GG: And you like what you're doing so you're just going to do it.          

GG: I put out a call on Instagram to see if anyone wants to ask you their own question. One of the artists we work with, Addye Nieves,  wants to know what helps sustain your creativity/output?

MM: Traveling in new environments. New architecture, new pattern. Right now it's been Instagram and online. Probably the same as every artist. That's a hard question, sustaining. I’m feeling that at the moment, getting ready for the New York Now show. I don't have a ton of ideas for the short term, mostly just working on existing products.  So yeah, just being exposed to new environments.

GG: Can you tell us about any projects that you have planned for the future?

MM: I would love to do furniture and lighting

GG: Oh my gosh! That’s awesome! I can already see it.

MM: Yeah that's my dream. So much would have to happen first. I need to figure out who to collaborate with to get there, where to sell. It's a whole different market and I would just love to do that. At the most basic level, I’d love to make a mosaic tabletop with resin on top, or I’d love to take this etched leather to make seat covers on birch stools.

GG: That sounds exciting! Thank you so much for talking with me. We’re looking forward to having you at Rare Device!

Molly M's Holiday Pop-Up Shop will be open at Rare Device Divisadero starting Friday, November 10th and will run through Tuesday, January 16th.

Molly is installing a large-scale mural in our gallery that you should not miss. This is the perfect opportunity to get inspired and get your holiday shopping done, all in one place.

Molly M Holiday Pop-Up Shop


Rare Device is pleased to host our latest holiday pop-up shop with local artist and designer Molly McGrath. Molly M is a designer based in San Francisco’s bustling Mission District. After being professionally trained as an architect, Molly began using her newfound training in laser cutting to create everything from jewelry to homewares. The show will feature a range of laser cut goods including jewelry, artwork, housewares, and Molly’s new kid’s line, MMD Mini.

Join Molly and the Rare Device staff on Friday evening, November 10th at Rare Device Flagship at 600 Divisadero from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. for the opening reception.

The pop-up shop will be open starting Friday, November 10th and will run through Tuesday, January 16th. Molly is installing a large-scale mural in our gallery that you should not miss. This is the perfect opportunity to get inspired and get your holiday shopping done, all in one place.

Interview with Mary Finlayson of Painted Mary


Carrying local and independent artists work is central to what Rare Device stands behind. We love to support and promote artists that we feel are making bold statements in the world of art. Enter Mary Finlayson, the owner and operator of Painted Mary. Mary is a San Francisco based artist who creates acrylic and gouache based paintings with a rich color palette. Her interest in painting interior spaces reflects the vulnerable narratives we display to the world through the choices we make in each object.

Mary Finlayson of Painted Mary

KC: Can you tell us a little about your brand? 
MF: Painted Mary is (plainly) a reflection of myself and my interests. I'm not sure it's a brand, but rather an expression of my art and experiences. My style is influenced by artists like David Hockney, Matisse, and Stuart Davis as well as the natural beauty and colors of California.

Tools of the trade

KC: How long have you been painting and have you had any formal training?
MF: I really can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t interested in painting. I grew up in a very busy family and was the youngest of four. My mom always kept a huge drawer in the kitchen full of art supplies so after school I would entertain myself at the table drawing and painting until it was time for dinner. Later I took a lot of after-school art classes and went to a high school where I was able to choose art as a concentration. I went on to get degrees in Fine Arts, Art Education, and Art Therapy.

KC: Did you find pursuing a degree in art to be helpful in finding your own artistic voice? Would you recommend studying art in school to other aspiring artists?
MF: My formal training really gave me the discipline and respect for this craft. However, my artistic voice formed years after I graduated through experimentation and real-world experiences. For me, the formal training was very important, mostly for the fact that it challenged me hugely and helped me to understand the level of discipline it would take to pursue art professionally.

Mary Painting in her studio

KC: Your paintings focus largely on material objects and scenes. Are these taken from real life, or are these scenes in your mind?
MF: I photograph homes and objects I visit then create flat compositions that skew and distort the compositions my paintings are based on. Usually, a lot changes between where I begin and where the painting ends up, this is most true for the color. I am more interested in capturing the feeling of a space than I am in depicting it strictly as it appears. So the spaces are partly real and partly imagined.

KC: What are you trying to communicate with your art?
MF: I am interested in the stories that interiors contain and how we use these spaces to tell stories. I like to consider rooms that feel personal - places with meaning full of important objects that create accidental compositions.

KC: Do you have a favorite thing you've created?
MF: I think my favorite painting would have to be “de Kooning with Plants.” This was the first painting I made after leaving my job as an art teacher/art therapist to be a full-time artist, so its the marker of a huge change in my life and stylistically it was an important shift in my work also.

Finding the perfect color 

KC: I think many artists struggle with consistently creating art that they feel is worthy of putting out into the world. Do you ever struggle with creative block or experience periods of creating things that aren't what you want them to be? How do you push past those times?
MF: Definitely, I struggle with this all the time! It’s very difficult to feel inspired all the time, and the pressure to produce can cause a lot of anxiety. I think the best way to overcome a creative block is to not let it take hold of you and to just keep working even when you don’t feel like it or don’t have a particular idea. The notion that we need an idea before starting something creative just produces creative inertia. Inspiration rarely comes from sitting idly. Once you are playing around with the material it will usually lead you somewhere new. So my advice is to begin anywhere. It’s okay if you don’t know where it will end up.

KC: Is there a medium you would like to try but have not yet pursued?
MF: I’d love to learn how to weave and create textiles.

Mary's sunny San Francisco studio

KC: Are you currently working on any pieces or have any fun projects planned for the future?
MF: For the last 6 months most of the pieces I’ve made have been relatively small, so right now I am working on several large canvas pieces because I miss the scale! I will be having a solo show in SF in early 2018 so am trying to get a lot of work ready for that. I recently partnered with a group of artisans to create a series of rugs and potential other textiles which will be available in the coming months.

You can find a selection of Mary's prints at both RD Divis and RD Noe Valley as well as online

All photographs by Nicola Parisi

Interview with Katie Gong



I recently sat down with artist Katie Gong in her Tenderloin studio, Get High on Mountains, to chat about her process and get a sneak peak of her new show, Woodknot, on display now at our gallery.

Giselle Gyalzen: How did you pick wood as your medium?

Katie Gong: I didn’t really pick wood as my medium. I kept coming back to it, it’s this thing that I always go to, the thing that I knew how to use or manipulate and then it became “everything wood”. It would recur and present itself and then I knew this is my thing. I know how to use this, I want to use this, it’s exciting to use this. I want to do something similar and at the same time push it further.


GG: How long have you been working with wood?

KG: I like to do a little bit of everything, but I’ve been using wood as my medium for at least the last 10 years. Both my father and grandfather were woodworkers and so even at a very young age, I used to make a mess in their garages or their shops. I would make forts and teepees with all their stuff. My grandfather used to carve bears and gnomes out of the big trees and my dad worked in construction, making cabinets, so I’ve always had wood around me.

GG: Did your grandfather sell the animals that he made?

KG: No, he just made it for himself and his house.

GG: I’d love to see this house!

KG: Oh yeah, my grandma’s house in Los Angeles is pretty amazing. She’s got a ton of land at the top of a big mountain and there are bears and gnomes everywhere. My grandfather was an engineer so he built his wood shop under the house. To get in, you press a button and the doors would open and then the stairs would pop down. So that’s the entrance to my grandma’s ceramics studio and then you get through that to my grandpa’s wood shop. They were quite the pair.

GG: Is the house still in your family?

KG: Yes, my grandma is still around but she’s 96 so she’s not making a whole lot of stuff

GG: What special considerations do you have to have when working with wood? Things like safety, space or tools? I know you had an accident and cut the tip of your thumb.

She shows me her thumb, which has a scar.

GG: I remember hearing from Rachel (Robertson, RD’s creative manager) that you cut your thumb. Did the doctor re-attach it?

KG: Yeah. It was hanging on by a bit.

GG: And I remember it was around the time of West Coast Craft?

KG: Oh my god, yeah. Brett (her fiancé) put up a picture right before both our phones died. It was this picture of me in the emergency room, with blood all over me and I had my bloody thumbs up and the caption said something like, “One thumb down, but we’ll be there to sell you cutting boards, don’t worry West Coast Craft!”.


A few of the tools in Katie's studio

KG: Safety is definitely important. It’s hard in the city because to be really safe, you have to have a lot of space including outdoor space and ventilation. So we try to make it work the best we can for the space that we have. The problem in San Francisco is trying to afford a space where you can put your roots down and then build out a proper shop. That’s what we try to do here at this space, to give people the opportunity to really grow and have affordable rent. We have this space for 10 years. We’re just trying to really give that to artists.

Katie's work table

GG: That’s great. You could have chosen to keep this to yourself. Does this feel like
enough space for your work?

KG: Sometimes, depending on what I am working on. The space we’re in now also doubles as a gallery hallway. This work table is out here, I primarily use it but other people can use it as well. There’s a leather maker here that uses the table to stretch her hides out. We have a funny little family. Yesterday, I went downstairs to close and 3 of the artists with studios here were collaborating, hanging out, making art. It was cool. It’s been really nice to see how people use the space and when given the opportunity, what they can produce.

Katie working her magic

GG: Where was your studio before this?

KG: My first studio in San Francisco is where SF Skate Club is now, on Divisadero Street, in 2012.

GG: Oh, that’s right across the street from us! I didn’t know that. That’s the same year we moved into Divis also.

KG: I had that for about 6-8 months. Then I moved to the East Bay in Richmond for a while. Then I came back and got a space at 1564 MRKT which is an artist’s collective in the condemned space on Market and Gough. I shared that space with Aleksandra Zee and that’s one of those spaces, that when it comes to safety, it was so unsafe. The ceiling felt like it was going to collapse, the floor would flood a lot and we’d get mold. It was terrible. I was there for 2 years. And then Ally and I moved our space to Oakland thinking that it would be more affordable, and it was for a year but the landlord raised our rent to double and a half after our first year.

At that time, Brett had his coffee shop across the street and our current landlord lives upstairs of this building. He was seeing the improvement on the block and he told Brett about this space and asked if we were interested in leasing it and fixing it up. So we worked with the city to negotiate a good lease, we wrote a business plan.

GG: Isn’t there a program specifically designed to revive the Tenderloin?

KG: Yeah, we went through a non-profit, Urban Solutions now called Working Solutions and they helped us. They listened to what we wanted, no matter how crazy and outlandish it was. And then they went to talk to the building owner and asked the same questions and then helped us meet in the middle. When we were negotiating the final details of the lease, we met with the building owner at the donut shop in the corner. At that time I was thinking, we were here, we’re in the neighborhood, how can we make this happen? It felt very much like the meeting of the families.

GG: Tell us more about this space, your studio, Get High On Mountains.

KG: This is an artist studio. This is my woodshop and we share the space with a lot of different artists. Each one has their own studio space. There is a floral designer, hat maker, leather maker, fiber artist, dancer, painter and more. It’s important to me to share the opportunity of having affordable studio space to other artists and makers.

GG: We all know that becoming a working artist in San Francisco is not easy. Can you briefly talk about your journey to get here?

KG: I’ve had so many different jobs and so many different freelance gigs. When I first started, I just used to say yes to everything, because any opportunity is a good opportunity in San Francisco and they don’t always come very easily. I just tried to do whatever I could to make stuff and I think that’s why, now, wood is my medium but I still want to experiment with these other different arenas. I just love experimenting and trying different things and trying to figure out how to make something work and how I want it to work.

I used to measure trees for a landscape architect, I did retouching for a clothing company. I did what I could and gave myself 2 or 3 days a week where I could make stuff. And then I just lined up 3 or 4 really good opportunities and just kept trying to have one in the hole - complete one and have another one scheduled.

GG: Do you have a degree in art?

KG: I went to UC Santa Barbara, I did installations and painting and some sculpture and paper. I did a little bit of everything. I like to be that lady spinning the plates, keep them all going no matter what they are.

GG: I love that you sell your pieces directly to people, have gallery shows, do
commissions and also work with bigger companies like Anchor Brewing Company. How have you chosen which projects to say yes to?

KG: I try to be selective about projects, and I keep my aesthetic in mind. I pick the projects where I can have my aesthetic at the forefront. So I try not to do anything where people have a very specific idea of what they want because I still want to drive it with what makes sense to me. I try to only do projects where I can be driving the aesthetic.

GG: You featured your staff on your Instagram recently. From my experience as a small business owner, having a staff is the most rewarding, scary and challenging part of owning my business. How has your experience been?

KG: I’ve gotten super lucky with the people I have. I’ve worked with Nick in the last 8 years, Carmen and I used to work with at Anthropologie way back. They are both reliable and pay attention to quality. I’d say the hardest part is trying to explain what’s going on in my brain in a constructive way to the people trying to help you. Especially with my art, I can’t always explain. For example, I showed up with the pieces of acrylic the other day and they’re like, “What the hell are you doing?” I said, “Don’t worry, it’s going to be fine, we’ll do this, we’ll stick it in my oven .. “ I just try to over communicate. I let them know that they are appreciated and that I couldn’t do any of this without them.


Carmen and Katie working in their studio

GG: Who inspires you and why?

KG: Aleksandra Zee has always been super inspirational and a really good best friend to bounce ideas off. (George) Nakashima is one of my old time favorite Japanese furniture maker. I love neon sculptors, I think that’s where I get a lot of my acrylic inspiration. Meryl Pataky is out of Oakland.

I draw inspiration from everything that’s going on. I like to have people around me that are always making amazing stuff. Brett makes amazing photographs, all the people with studios here inspire me. I just try to surround myself with people making interesting things, because it makes me step up my craft as well.

I also draw a lot of inspiration from mother nature and natural environments like these huge trees and natural sculptures that exist only in nature. For example, this crazy tree at Trouble (Coffee), it grew apart from each other and grew back again together.

GG: What future projects do you have lined up that you can tell us about?

KG: Anchor Brewing will be wrapping at the end of September. There’s going to be a lot of really cool pieces there. We made a huge anchor that’s 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide and suspended in the air. We also made the bar, it’s so beautiful you just want to touch it. We used the wood from their old water tower to make the tables and benches.
After that, I’ll be working on making furniture for The Assembly, an all-women co-working space, it also has a juice bar and yoga studio.

For the holiday West Coast Craft, I’ll be making a big installation hanging from the rafters. It’ll probably be a combination of the braids and chain that I’ll be showing at Rare Device. I also want to explore making coils and spirals.

I’m also working with SF Parks and Recreation at John McLaren Park, in the Philisopher’s Way; I want to do a sculpture walk. They are saving me some of the downed trees from the storms this past winter. So I think I’m going to get them propped up on a walkway and make chainsawed sculpture. Those are all my crazy ideas.

I’m really excited for the show at Rare Device, I thought about the different treatments for the windows (yes, she is also taking over our windows!).

The wood knots and braids are the culmination of different experiments. I saw this
handrail in a house in Mendocino and there was this staircase that had this banister that was crazy twisted. That one was pieced together but that sparked the bending wood idea. I tried a lot of different methods to bend the wood. Then I found the wood that bent the best. I honed in on the right time and the right temperature. I started making Phases, which are spirals that I would cut down, those had a lot of bends and stripes. And then I saw this gourd that was tied in a knot in a farmer’s market. After I saw that, I knew I had to tie some wood in a knot, I had to figure it out no matter what. I wrestled with it for a while. I now have the technique down, but it took time to figure it out.

Wooden braids, on view at Rare Device

Katie’s show, Woodknot, opens at our gallery at 600 Divisadero on Thursday, September 14, the show will be up in our gallery until November 6.

All photos are by Kayla Conyer.

'The Fine Art of Paper Flowers' Book Launch

The Fine Art of Paper Flowers by Tiffanie Turner
Rare Device was pleased to host author, artist, and architect Tiffanie Turner for the launch of her new book, The Fine Art of Paper Flowers. The book features step-by-step instructions for over 30 of Tiffanie’s lifelike flowers, including a tutorial for one of Tiffanie’s signature peonies.

A crowd begins to gather at RD Divis

Tiffanie's paper flowers on display

A unique display featuring all of Tiffanie’s flowers from the book was on view in the RD gallery, giving guests a glimpse of the signature flowers they can learn how to create themselves.

Tiffanie with RD owner Giselle Gyalzen and metalsmith Jessica Davies

Tiffanie poses in front of her display with guests

As the night wrapped up, Tiffanie had signed over 50+ books and taken countless photographs! 

Tiffanie poses next to her display of paper flowers

Tiffanie is currently prepping for her next solo exhibition of large-scale work at the Eleanor Harwood Gallery at Minnesota Street Project in January 2019. In the meantime, you can find her book, The Fine Art of Paper Flowers, at both Rare Device locations and online

Photography by Dave Medal