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A giant octopus sculpture by Seattle artist Kyler Martz hangs in the new PCC grocery store in Ballard. Assorted parts on the artwork were cut on a Glowforge device. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

From the small studio behind his home in Seattle, artist Kyler Martz dreams up fantastical versions of assorted critters and sea creatures for his illustrative work that adorns everything from restaurant walls to the tattoos on people’s bodies. As tech has reshaped his city, it’s also changing who Martz does work for and what kinds of devices help him get it done.

Martz is the creative force behind a giant octopus sculpture hanging in the entryway of a brand new PCC Community Markets store in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. The grocery chain is among an increasing line of bigger companies that have sought out Martz’s work.

But the octopus is unique, because from prototype model to finished product, it’s a lighted, eight-limbed work of art that was made easier with the use of a Glowforge laser cutter.

When first approached about getting one of the $4,000 machines — which, according to the Seattle startup will “make magical things at the push of a button” — Martz figured he needed a Glowforge like he needed “a hole in the head.”

But his view changed after using it during the months-long process of building the octopus, which in addition to a painstaking model he built first, required more than 100 pieces of 1/4-inch birch plywood cut by the Glowforge.

Kyler Martz’s model for the octopus, constructed entirely from Glowforge-cut plywood. (Kyler Martz Photo)

“As far as I can see it is the best consumer, home-use thing that you can get,” Martz said. “Especially somebody like me that is doing some production stuff with it. It’s super user friendly. I’m printing straight from Adobe Illustrator.”

Martz detailed much of the process in a post on his website, where he called the sculpture and mural behind it “the most time consuming and difficult project I’ve taken on to date.”

And like the shoppers looking up at the three-story installation as they enter PCC, Glowforge noticed, too.

“Corporate art is not normally something I get excited about,” Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro told GeekWire. “What kind of bland decor is going to come from a supermarket interior decorator? Well, now I know. A giant laser-cut ceiling octopus. It’s incredible!

Kyler Martz perched on the octopus during the production of the artwork. (Kyler Martz Photo)

“Kyler’s creation is the sort of thing that swirls in the minds of creative geniuses — but sometimes needs a little tech to bring to life,” Shapiro added. “Seeing an artist’s vision leap out of their imagination and onto the ceiling of a grocery store? That’s why I come to work every day at Glowforge. And now it’s why I’m going to do all my seafood shopping in Ballard.”

As a tattoo artist and muralist, Martz has become well known around Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for his work that relies heavily on nautical themes and vintage tattoo stylings. Artwork featuring whales and tugboats and more grace a number of establishments, including the lobby where GeekWire has offices.

Big companies looking to make their workplaces stand out have come calling. Facebook had Martz do a 30-foot whaleboat installation for the company’s South Lake Union offices. Amazon caught wind and Martz went to work designing the wraps for the company’s Treasure Trucks in cities across the U.S. and now the U.K.

Amazon Treasure Truck artwork by Kyler Martz. (Amazon Photo)
Kyler Martz’s whaleboat installation at Facebook in Seattle. (Kyler Martz Photo)

“As long as they want to keep throwing me those jobs, that’s like my bread and butter,” he said of Amazon. “Google, get at me. You’re the last one that hasn’t hired me for something!”

He’s done a lot of work for Starbucks and he illustrated a catalog cover for Seattle-based outfitter Filson. He’s got something lined up for the cafe space at travel tech giant Expedia’s new Seattle campus. And then he beat out a few other artists with his proposal for the PCC job.

“If you want something nautical and not offensive, I’m probably your guy,” Martz joked, before laughing and adding, “Ugh. That’s a terrible soundbite that you’re probably going to use of course … oh well.”

Kyler Martz’s sketches for the PCC octopus. (Kyler Martz Photo)

Martz is well aware of the juxtaposition between his opposing identities: a tattoo artist and illustrator who would seemingly be pushed out of an expensive place like Seattle who now makes part of his living off some of the tech companies that have moved in.

“I totally wrestle with it,” he said. “Seattle’s changed so much in the time I’ve been here and it’s undeniable that these companies have had an impact on the city.”

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While it’s easy to criticize Amazon and others for changing the landscape, “it’s changed my life for the better,” Martz acknowledged. He’s able to afford a laser cutter, for instance, because of jobs he’s gotten from these companies. But he doesn’t jump at everything. He’s turned down jobs from those who in his view don’t care about the city.

“The projects that I’ve done, at least the people I’ve directly worked with, like creative directors, they really do want to have a positive impact,” Martz said.

Having local artists on their radar and giving them opportunities is obviously part of that impact.

“They give me a lot of freedom. They pay me on time,” Martz said. “I haven’t had a bad experience working with any of the bigger tech companies that I’ve worked with, which is really lucky.”

The eyes of the octopus, visible from the new PCC in Ballard. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
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