This month, meet the mind behind Carver Mountain Woodcraft, Orlando Cazarez.
With a unique take on eco-friendly artwork, Orlando’s reclaimed creations will add charm and local flair to any space. Here he is in his own words.
How did you get started creating your pieces?
I’ve always liked making art. In high school I learned how to airbrush and my first job ever was at Christown Mall (now Spectrum Mall) in Phoenix inside a T-Shirt shop creating custom designs on t-shirts for customers.
I’ve kept a side hustle doing graphic design work here and there, mostly simple logos and some print designs for friends.
I grew up a fan of the New Yankee Woodshop show on PBS and took carpentry classes in high school. It wasn't until a few years ago I bought a used table saw and some power tools on OfferUp and made the first bottle opener out of pallet wood and a cut up license plate. Friends saw it on my feed and started requesting it, soon I added more license plate pieces and my skill set slowly grew.
I did a few art craft fairs and eventually made it to Roosevelt Row First Fridays, from there I was able to land some shelf space at MADE, where so many cool makers get to display and sell their work.
What’s the favorite part of your work/what you make?
License plates are so unique, as far as a medium. The US fortunately has 50 states to choose from and over time the designs evolve and add on to that the variety of vanity plates such as sports teams, military, special interest and I basically end up with a never ending variety of material.
I primarily love the fact that the materials I use would have ended in the landfill if it wasn't for me finding them in a yard sale, swap meet or recycling yard.
Surprisingly I’ve found a community of license plate artists from all around the world and we enjoy showcasing our creations and even swapping plates.
How do you express your creativity through your work?
I make several pieces in bulk such as license plate trays, key chains, stars and bottle openers which end up on the shelves at MADE.
I really enjoy making some of the bigger pieces that are usually larger one-offs. I’ve had several commissions that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making. Each larger piece really allows me to experiment with the license plate material, the cuts, the angles, the colors etc.
I’ve taken on some larger wood projects as my confidence has grown, and I really like taking a pile of reclaimed wood and turning it into a bench, a desk or a chicken coop!
What brings you joy?
The piece that has brought me the most joy so far in my artist/maker career was when Thunderbird School of Global Management, where I attended for my graduate studies, asked me to make a 5 foot tall Thunderbird using their international license plate collection inside the Pub at their new headquarters in downtown Phoenix.
It’s on display with a plaque that recognizes me as an artist and an alumnus of the school. I felt a great sense of pride and recognition when I first saw it on display.
That said, every time I reveal a custom piece to a customer, it gives me a bit of anxiety but mostly joy after I see their reaction. When someone sees a unique piece that's made just for them for the first time, their reaction is priceless.
What challenge(s) have you overcome?
I keep a full time job, I’ve chosen to do art as my outlet from my day job and so far it’s a treat each time I get to spend 1 or 4 hours working on some Carver Mountain craft.
At times, keeping up with the demand has been a bit stressful but I remind myself to slow down and make sure I don’t take on more than I can handle so I don’t lose interest in the work.
I wish I could do art all the time but I know myself and if that was the case I would probably get bored and want to find another outlet so I don't want to ruin it.
For now, I continue to learn new tools and techniques so I can challenge how my work turns out. I love learning and seeing a different outcome even if it is a repeat piece, the license plate variety helps each piece end up looking just a bit different each time.
Anything exciting in the works/coming up for you?
I’m hoping to build a dedicated enclosed work space at home where I can organize my materials, tools and workbench so I can more easily walk over and pump out a handful of small pieces or set out a couple of larger pieces in progress.
Eventually I’d like to explore a shelf in Flagstaff or Tucson since they each have amazing maker communities of their own. For now, I’m perfectly happy with the appreciation that my friends, family and Phoenix community has shown me and @CarverMountainShop.
What do you wish for the world?
In my opinion, purpose keeps the world alive, engaged, and flourishing. Everyone should strive to find their purpose. As adults we should all share our gifts, mentor youth that are still exploring their interests and passions and continue to be lifelong learners. We never know what will bring us joy unless we keep our curiosity alive and that’s what has brought me to where I am today. If my pieces inspire someone to do their own version of upcycled/recycled art I see that as a win-win. Putting even a small dent on the path towards saving our planet through art is part of my mission in life and I plan to keep doing the work as long as I am physically and mentally able to.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you MADE for providing a platform for makers like myself. Arizonans and visitors to our great state will take something home from your store that they can be sure was made by hand and with joy.