David Boyd entered the Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne at seventeen, but was conscripted to the army after one year. Upon his return, he studied art at the National Gallery School on an ex-serviceman's grant.
In 1946, he worked with his brother Guy at the Martin Boyd Pottery in Sydney. He also established a pottery studio in London in the early 1950s and continued working mainly in pottery through to the mid-1960s. By 1956, Boyd and his wife had become widely known as leading Australian potters.
David Boyd began painting in 1957 with a series of symbolic paintings on Australian explorers that aroused much controversy at the time, focusing as they did on the tragic history of the Aboriginal Tasmanians. In 1958 he exhibited a series of paintings based on the explorations of Burke and Wills and Bass and Flinders. He joined the Antipodeans Group in the 1950s.
Boyd and his family moved to Rome in 1961, and later to London, Spain and the south of France before returning permanently to Australia in 1975.
David Boyd was artist-in-residence at the School of Law, Macquarie University, Sydney from 1993-1996.