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Map of Columbus serves as inspiration for Ohio State grad’s art

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Dan Linden holding a laser-cut map of Ohio. Linden is the owner and designer at Cut Maps. Credit: Courtesy of Erik Rettman

Dan Linden holds a laser-cut map of Ohio. Linden is the owner and designer at Cut Maps.
Credit: Courtesy of Erik Rettman

When an Ohio State mechanical engineering graduate was brainstorming ways to get his foot in the door of the Columbus art community, he didn’t anticipate a full-blown entrepreneurial endeavor with laser cut maps.

“I live down on the Short North area, so I always wanted to create something where I can maybe set up a table, and be part of the art scene in Columbus, and I created it for that,” said Dan Linden, designer of Cut Maps. “I thought it looked really cool, so I posted it on Columbus Underground to see whether anybody else thought it was cool, and everyone was saying, ‘It’s cool, where do I buy one?’ So, I had to get a bunch made and sell them.”

The creation of these maps, he explained, is simple. Linden creates a black and white image of the city streets in a computer file, which is readable in a laser cutting machine. After loading the file into the machine, he just pushes a button to create the finished product.

In October 2012, after garnering some attention from his post on the Columbus Underground message board, Linden posted a video showing how the laser cut street maps were made, which eventually went viral, and was featured on Gizmodo.com and the Discovery Channel in Canada, Linden said.

Displaying his work at the Short North Arts District Gallery Hop was his initial aim, but creating laser cut street maps and framing them as wall art was never what he intended.

Two years after Linden graduated from OSU in 2010, while still working full-time as an engineer at Coaster Dynamix, a Virginia-based toy company that manufactures roller coaster models, Linden had the idea to make drink coasters that featured the streets of Columbus neighborhoods.

“I downloaded a giant PDF map of Columbus, and in Adobe Illustrator, I started tracing Victorian Village, and I thought, people who come to the Gallery Hop will come from Italian Village, so I did that, and then I thought, German Village is downtown and it’s pretty big, so it’ll be cool to put them together,” Linden said. “I kept tracing different parts of the city, and 20 hours later, I have traced the entire city, and I did that all in three days … but I was just sitting there at 2 a.m. tracing Columbus, and it seemed like the dumbest thing at that time.”

He said the idea doesn’t seem so dumb anymore.

Today, Linden runs Cut Maps and designs the maps from his home in Victorian Village. Production of these maps are done in the warehouse with the help of his boss, who is also a co-owner of Cut Maps, in Coaster Dynamix in Elkton, VA, where there is a laser cutter machine.

With more than 70 designs of city streets, Linden accepts special requests from his customers. Linden said these maps have been popular among people who have been looking for unique wedding gifts, whether for themselves or others.

“Essentially, I do a city when someone asks of me, so once that’s designed, I put it up on the website as a city I offer,” Linden said. “One lady wanted Madrid, Spain with a heart where she and her husband got engaged in a hotel, and it’s cool to work with a customer on something really special, because there’s something about cities that’s really special to people. Like Columbus is really special to me.”

His older sister, Laura Linden, said the maps are a good reminder for couples who met at OSU and have moved together to a different city.

“You can look at where they met, where they are now, where their hometown is, so I love them as wedding gifts,” Laura Linden said.

April Smail, a fourth-year in social work, said having street maps as art pieces at home is an interesting idea, and she might purchase one as a gift if she felt the purpose was special.

“If someone was really obsessed with the city of Columbus, I would probably buy it as a wedding gift,” Smail said. “It would have to be a big deal for me to pay that price for it.”

Hanging Columbus framed maps start at $150, while smaller, framed versions are available for $30.

Since Cut Maps was established, Dan Linden still hasn’t had the chance to achieve his initial aim of showcasing his work during Gallery Hop because of his busy schedule with his business and Coaster Dynamix, but he hopes to be able to set up a stall next year when the weather starts getting warm.

To Dan Linden, engineering and art are very similar in many ways because the motivations behind actualizing a concept are often similar between the two fields. This mindset has allowed him to combine engineering and art together with his street maps.

Dan Linden’s laser cut street maps have been featured on the walls of Brothers Drake Meadery & Bar and The Candle Lab in the Short North. Linden’s Cut Maps can be purchased on Etsy as well as his website.

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