Kartwheel Craftsmanship: An Austin-Based Artist Shows How Furniture Should Be Done

David Clark’s passion for three-dimensional art convinced him to pack up his keyboard and get his hands dirty. He now stands as one of the country’s finest craftsmen to date.

Architecture & Home + Business by Design
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March 26, 2014
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Thousands of creatives around the world have found success through their art­ – so successful, in fact, that they’ve managed to build thriving businesses. Their stories are an inspiration to many, and so we at DesignGood have created this new segment on the blog that features designers and their businesses. Learn about their journey, what motivates them, and their best business advice.

 
Kicking off our new segment is an artist-entrepreneur from Austin, Texas who has taken the city by storm through beautiful, custom furniture. For craftsman David Clark, a piece of furniture is more than just an object that fills space. It’s an expression, a feeling that impacts both the environment and all who thrive in it.

This is the ideal that defines his business, Kartwheel Craftsmanship. It’s a custom wood shop that specializes in limited edition furniture, large-scale installations, and made-to-order commission work. David’s work has been featured in several design blogs and publications, all a testimony to his talent and keen eye for detail.

He describes his design approach as a “mashing of aesthetics” where he takes snippets of different sources – details, patterns, and materials – and reforms them to create a unique idea. “Usually, every single thing that I come up with is basically what my brain processes,” he explains. “It’s really how I think.”

To dig even deeper, we sat down with David to get to know the craftsman behind Austin’s finest woodwork.

A Designer By Heart and Spirit

Born into a family of designers, David knew that he was made for design right from the start.

“I knew that I’d really like to design from the get go. It’s something I’ve kind of been born into. My father’s a furniture designer; my mom’s an interior designer; my sister’s a graphic designer working in the fashion industry. It’s something by birth that I’m lucky to have.”

He literally speaks and breathes design. For him, “design is what life is in many ways. I feel stagnant when I’m not creating stuff, so I have to design to help me on and out. Coming from a design perspective, I would say design is the essence of life.” From one designer to another, we couldn’t stop nodding our heads to that.

Working Three-Dimensional

With such a strong and creative background, David’s path as a designer seemed set in stone. Yet, after acquiring a graphic design degree at SCAD and five years in the industry, an outdoor field project made him realize his passion for three-dimensional art where he can get out of his computer and work with his hands.

“I had the desire to take things three-dimensionally. For me, it’s less about presentation and more of creating a feeling. It’s more to me about working with my hands, something that’s more tangible and tactile. That spawned the inspiration.”

Moving to Austin solidified his decision to change careers. What welcomed him was a series of challenges that tested both his business sense and his affiliation for his art.

He first started at the bottom with general framing and construction work, moving up to remodeling houses. He eventually landed jobs at two companies that produced custom cabinets and furniture. Art took the backseat for the meantime as he learned the trade and gained experience.

“Obviously, doing graphic design, I leaned a lot towards the pen and paper, and scanning stuff in. So there was a lot of art that I like to make just for fun before I got into the venture of building. And when I went down the road of building stuff, I left all art behind because I just fully focused on learning the trade of making a good product, how to execute ideas—all the processes of learning a new medium.”

How David Found His Artistic Middle Ground

You would think that with the challenges of learning a new skill, his artistic spirit had run dry. Fortunately, he was able to find middle ground where art became an essential aspect of his work.

“With that task of learning a new trade, I didn’t have the capacity to think two-dimensionally as an art. And now, it’s like I’m getting my feet on the ground with building where I can really apply a lot of ideas that come through. And so that sort of art is starting to show back up tremendously. Being able to know my way around a saw or a chisel is another medium as a paintbrush. It’s just another way to execute ideas.”

Since then, Kartwheel has created pieces that stand out due to David’s uncanny ability to combine natural color, weather-worn materials, and modern ideas. He refers to one of his most notable projects – a 350-square foot photography studio behind the client’s very home, which caught the attention of well-known design blogs Design Sponge and Remodelista, to name a few.

His biggest event to date was a collaborative show entitled Wood Home, which is “about executing ideas that would be paired with furniture.” To David, “it’s not just about being able to make a piece of furniture that’s well-put together. It’s more along the lines of, I’d like to be able to offer an idea.” Wood Home was hosted by Common House, a local initiative where creatives from all walks of life are able to showcase their work to the community.

Collaboration and Courage

Overall, it’s this precise attention to detail and resourcefulness that gives each David Clark masterpiece both strength and beauty. “That’s the soul,” he enthusiastically explains. “The details are the fun part. That’s where a lot of stuff gets lost in production because nobody wants to pay for the details.”

To cap the interview off, we asked David for his biggest takeaways since launching his custom furniture business. Sure enough, stellar customer service tops his priority list. “Being a custom build shop, customer service is what made me keep moving forward.” He takes it a step further by emphasizing the collaborative effort that goes behind every project he’s worked on. “I work with interior designers, architects, and clients always have their vision of what they want to go into their house or space. It’s a collaboration in my business. How you communicate with your client and how you present.”

Finally, for those who aspire to start a business, David has this to say: “Do what you love. If you’re doing it for the reason of making money, you’re always going to feel a day late and a dollar short. Just do what you love, and when you’re done, you’ll still feel satisfied.” And if you’re worried that your art isn’t good enough or that your ideas might fail, he offers great insight on how to deal with the fear.

“It’s not being scared to fail. Usually when it’s scary, it’s probably the best place for you to go. Anyone can stay in a comfortable spot. When I’m done, I don’t want to feel like I just stuck around to live comfortable.”

Moving Forward

So, what’s next for Kartwheel Craftsmanship? “Two directions,” David replies. “I’d like to work on a product line. I want to open my possibilities to furthering outside of Texas even, with products on the web and showrooms, households and businesses around the world. Personally, large-scale installations.”

This is great news for our Austin-based readers, who’ll get first dibs seeing David’s larger creations come to life around the city. We can’t wait to see it all happen, and we wish David all the best throughout his journey of creative expression.

David admits not having a book in mind to recommend, so he suggests spending your weekend watching two documentaries: Buck, a film about acclaimed horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, and another featuring sculpture artist Andy Goldsworthy. Check them out and get inspired!

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