Curious how to make wallets, jewelry and other stuff with a laser cutter? An artist shows you how.
Sacramento artist Jake Castro isn’t one to shy away from time-intensive, detailed work.
Take, for example, when Castro spent weeks hand-crafting about 120 hip, white oak menu boards for Midtown eatery Beast and Bounty. Or, when he partnered with Boom Case and Hendricks Gin to create about 50 classy boombox-briefcases that open to reveal compartments for gin and teaware.
In his line of work, Castro relies on technique that goes into creating even the smallest physical things. As a muralist, designer and expert in laser-cut fabrication, he should know. No matter the project, the end result – after the weeks and weeks it can take to complete a project – is extremely fulfilling.
Though Castro is known for his sweeping, meticulous geometric murals with splashes of color (he’s the artist behind the striking exterior of The Art Hotel), his consumer products have quickly garnered popularity. He offers exquisitely designed leather purses, wallets, and dopp kits, as well as wooden jewelry. His creations possess a timeless, geometric style, though more traditional and rooted in nature, with references to Native American patterns.
The artist has discovered that he enjoys the skills required and the challenges behind each creative endeavor. When he’s painting, that can mean working a boom lift and using paint, string and tape for massive, abstract works of public art. In his studio, that can mean creating an intricate design on his computer, transferring it to a laser cutter and carefully manipulating the heat intensity and speed of the machine to craft jewelry, wallets and other goods. He knows his way around an industrial sewing machine, too.
“The thing I enjoy about woodworking and leather work is it does take up a lot of time to do. There’s a lot of steps involved … [and] you can just tell,” Castro said. “The quality of the wood or the leather, the way it’s done. It’s rewarding.”
Castro, who studied public art and printmaking at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, never intended to sell his own products, but has found he enjoys that aspect of his work, which also allows him to pursue art full-time. Before settling in Sacramento five years ago with his wife, Keavagh Clift, Castro was a bartender and part-time muralist in Chicago.
“When we decided to move, I took that as an opportunity to pursue my art full-time,” he said. “Sacramento’s been really supportive for that whole transition for me.”
Soon after arriving, he quickly joined shared workspaces at The Urban Hive and the Hacker Lab, small business startup incubators. He enrolled in laser-cut fabrication classes and learned different techniques, which helped him launch his leather goods business. Eventually, he set up his own studio space, and he now teaches introduction to laser cutting courses at the Hacker Lab.
Spending most of his time during the week in the studio either designing or fabricating, Castro often slips away on Saturdays to run a booth at the Midtown Farmers Market. He said he enjoys being engaged with people and feeling connected with Sacramento. He has noticed his following growing over the years.
“It’s nice to see people walking around the city with my goods on,” he said. “Every once in awhile I have somebody stop by my booth [and say] that they bought my wallet 3 1/2 years ago, and they pull it out and say, ‘This is the best wallet I’ve ever bought before.’ That’s a really nice feeling.”
Castro credits his products’ longevity to his use of natural, quality materials that are locally sourced: the cow hide he uses in his leather work comes from a wholesale provider out of Natomas, and the variety of wood he uses comes from Sacramento.
Castro said he is developing some new products, as well as working another project with Beast and Bounty – the details, for now, are hush-hush. But he doesn’t see that aspect of his work slowing down any time soon, since so many people enjoy it.
Don’t be surprised if some new Sacramento-area murals pop up as well. Castro is passionate about public artwork.
“I like the raw aspect of it. While you’re working, people are walking by, they can see the entire process. There is no secret behind how it’s being made,” he said. “Also, the thing about public art is you’re giving back to the community. You’re just beautifying this space. … And it’s free for everyone else [to see].”
Find Jake Castro
Shop: You can find Jake Castro’s products online at jakecastro1.com, as well as Old Gold in Midtown, DISPLAY in Oak Park, La Belle Vie in Roseville and every Saturday at the Midtown Farmers Market.
Learn more: Castro also teaches introduction to laser cutting classes at the Hacker Lab, typically every first and third Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. sacramento.hackerlab.org/en/events.