Out artist Daniel Padilla turns his kinetic art and a craft for kids and adults
The first major job Daniel Padilla had after graduating from college was as an art teacher at a high school for at-risk students in Houston. It was an instant culture shock.
“I was brought up in a small town, and everybody pretty much graduated,” he says, a bit of surprise still lingering. “I was 23, and my students were up to 20 years old.”
Padilla didn’t keep the job for long — just a few years — but one of his takeaways from the experience was realizing how important it is for young people to be exposed to, and practice, art. Any kind.
That was a while back, and in the interim, Padilla has carved out a new career as a full-time professional artist; his colorful abstract paintings dot his Oak Cliff studio and gallery where he’s been in residence for six years — some paint and canvas, but some more like metallic sculptures. And that’s where the idea for Twuzzles came in.
A few years ago, Padilla’s sister, who teaches art at a public school in South Texas, was lamenting to her brother that her job might be cut. “And I immediately thought, ‘What will creative children do without an outlet to express themselves?’”
That’s how Twuzzles were born.
Padilla become obsessed with how to get young people — and creative-minded adults — into the practice of plying their artistic skills in concrete ways. It’s one thing to suggest they go to Michael’s and buy art supplies; it’s another to give them all the tools to get done in one fell swoop.
Padilla, working with his own suppliers and a few business partners, spent two years developing Twuzzles, a kit that unites painting, sculpture and creativity into a small box.
“They are based on my own art, because I do multi-panel paintings, which are very heavy and take lots of work — it takes four or five people to move one piece. But I loved the idea, and I was thinking how to do something commercial — I don’t wanna do throw pillows with my art on them.”
The process was far more intricate than he imagined: How do you manufacture pieces that have strength but are lightweight? That has a surface to which paint can adhere? That are mountable but modular and changeable? He experimented with wood and metal, but it turned out the simplest thing was the best: Foam board.
“We went through about six different prototypes. We wanted layers and a system that works whether you have a form there or not,” he explains. (“Twuzzle” is a portmanteau word combining “twist” and “puzzle.”)
The process is deceptively simple, but with endless creative possibilities: The kit includes a black foam core base with several pre-set holes, some unusually shaped white foam forms and plastic connecting rods. The user merely mounts the forms in whatever combination speaks to him or her, building a variety of levels and shapes. There is no right or wrong, just what looks right. Eventually, you’ll know you’re where you need to be, Padilla says.
Padilla says a lot of folks like the minimalism of the white forms on the black base, but each kit includes a collection of acrylic paints and a brush. The pieces can be un-mounted, painted a variety of colors and assembled. And you can even paint over them and reverse them if you want to start over. (“When something I’m painting’s not working for me, I paint over it. You can do the same thing with this,” he says.) Or leave it plain, hang it on the wall and say, “I did that.”
The product launched in November, and already Padilla has been surprised by the depth of interest in it.
“Over the holidays, people were buying four, five, six at a time to give their nieces and nephews, and then coming back to get them for themselves,” he says. “That’s a really good indication.”
And it’s not just at Padilla’s gallery and website where people are seeking them out — other galleries, and even museum gift shops have expressed an interest in Twuzzles.
“We’ve even met with the [Dallas Museum of Art] — they love the piece,” he says.
As an artist by nature, the branding and marketing is new to Padilla, but also exciting.
“The commercial side of art is new to me,” he admits. “It’s very competitive. But I know this product is amazing and so do a lot of people, so that tells me it’s gonna do well.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 21, 2014.