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Fields of Gold: Meet Duggie Fields

Updated Friday, 31st March 2006

Artist Duggie Fields explains how the digital revolution has added new dimensions to his work.

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Duggie at his computer Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

How do you feel the art world has changed in the last thirty years with the introduction of computers and technology?
I don't think it's changed that much to be honest, but I'm not a brilliant goer into the art world in the sense of galleries and museums because I spend a lot of my time at home making art. I have seen a computer in the Tate, but I thought they could be more sophisticated on the level than they really are. So I would say not a lot yet, but I think it will change, inevitably.

Has making digital images effected the way you paint on canvas?
Yes. It's affected the way I paint in that I do studies for a canvas on computer first. Before I got a computer, I used to do studies on paper. Studies are very meticulous, and very exact, and I never start a canvas until I know exactly what I want to do, and I make hundreds of changes before I start the canvas. So now I do all that on the computer.

I draw with a mouse on the computer, which is different, and sitting still to draw is different to standing up to paint. So there's physical things that change because my physicality is different, and then technically the computer can do some things better than I can do with a paintbrush. But I can do some things better with a paint brush than I can with a computer.

So there's an interaction between the two types of drawing and the finished product. The more I work on the computer, my finished product is shifting in a way that I can't really define but I can see it. It's a sort of intangible thing. I got the computer thinking I was just going to archive my past and make collages, and in fact, once I started looking at my work from photographs on screen, they it didn't look good enough, and I ended up remaking them digitally, which was essentially retracing them.

Then I started making collages with them once they were on screen. This led to making my old works feel like new works, because I'd taken images from paintings that I'd done maybe in the late sixties/early seventies, mixed them with images from other periods, but it became a new piece that I was making now on the computer. So, some of them have popped out of the computer into being prints, and some of them have led to me drawing in a different way on the computer, which has now led to me drawing slightly differently on the paintings.

So, do you think it improved your work, having a computer and using a computer?
Let's say it added dimensions and changes that I couldn't make. I've just got new tools that allow me to do new things. But it's still me doing the things. If I get better, does one get better? I can't answer that.

Has using the Internet changed the way that you look at art?
Now I don't know about that, because I've looked at a lot of art on the Internet, but I haven't actually come across much that I thought was fabulous. The Internet's like a great reference library and it has stills and it has animations. As an art form in itself I'm not sure.

Do you consider that your Internet art gallery has been successful?
It's been very useful. Successful? I don't know. I didn't necessarily have a goal. All I thought was that it was a great way of archiving and documenting my work. Then the computer became a tool for making new work. So I put that all together on my website. It's an evolving thing. It gets people visiting it from all over the place, but how people know it's there depends on either their prior knowledge of my existence, or them being told about my website, or them finding it by random chance. I must say the Open University produced quite a few more visitors to my site than before.

So it's successful in that it's useful?
It's useful. I've had strangers get in touch with me. I've had old friends get in touch with me. I've had people who've bought my work and couldn't find anything out about me before suddenly find it, get in touch with me. I've had a few too many questionnaires sent to me, students saying they love my work, will I please tell them why this, this and this. It's all very nice, but actually time consuming.

So have you sold anything through the Web?
Yes, not a great deal, but yes. I hadn't when you made the programme, but I have now.

How do you go about making your digital art. Do you draw straight onto the screen, or do you use a scanner?
Combination. I sometimes take photographs, I sometimes just find a photograph, and I would trace it, and once I'd got the computer I carried on that process.

But sometimes; before the computer and after, I just start drawing from nothing, not even something in front of me. But I usually like to have a photographic reference and I have kept a pile of tracings. When I came to do a painting, I'd just go through the tracings until something hits my eye. Well, I sort of do a process like that but on the computer now.

What software do you use?
I mostly use Photoshop and Illustrator. I'm not really comfortable in Illustrator, I'm much more comfortable in Photoshop, but Illustrator does lines better, I think, than Photoshop, so I go between the two. But I use other software too, because I make music and animations on the computer. And the music, I've used Cubase, Rebirth, Logic Audio, Reason and Peak. For the animations I've used Premiere, and I've tried a little bit of Flash but got stuck. I mean, some software I cannot get my head round. Others are easier and I don't know why. Sometimes it's down to whoever's shown me in the first place, because I'm much better if someone shows me than if I read a book or follow their guides.

What do your friends and peers think about your move into digital art?
Most people are surprised. Most people enjoy what I'm doing digitally and they're quite impressed. I've had a few people who've gone the other way saying "no, no, no you should be painting, you shouldn't be doing this". Not many though.

Why do you think that people were surprised?
Oh because, it's usually people who can't turn on a computer and who are scared of trying, which I was seven years ago now. Before ninety six. I'd literally never turned one on before. So, I haven't even been using them for ten years, and I have learned a huge amount compared to what I could do when I first started. And I think people are just surprised, because usually it's something that people my age don't do.

You were a leading light in the sixties and seventies. Have computers changed the way you and your friends work?
It's changed the way I work. I have lots of friends who are sitting more and more at the computer these days and the more people sit, the less physically active they are. I've watched quite a few friends' bodies just change shape.

That's one of the pitfalls of sitting at the computer. It also makes me realise how physical painting is, because a lot of the time when I'm painting I'm on foot. I paint with the canvas both upright and on the floor. When it's on the floor I have to get down onto it. So there's a lot of bobbing up and down, basically, and walking around. And then suddenly you're static and just hunched. Well I've certainly felt whoops, whoops I'm not getting stuck in this hunched position, so I get up and exercise.

Do you feel that digital artwork has the same aesthetic value as fine art?
Depends. Now, looking at art on a screen, well it's no different to looking at art on television, and I quite like seeing paintings on television, but, they're small. I suppose when we get giant wall screens and we can all afford them, then you might be able to simulate a painting in scale. Digital prints made off the computer? I do digital prints, and some of them look fabulous, and they look as good as silk screen prints that I used to do before. But they're multiples, so they're not one-offs, and it's a great way of producing multiples. So I'm all for it really, as a plus, not a replacement just a plus.





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