Accident and control

Meet the Artist: Doug Fiely

By Eva Buttacavoli

Photo: Doug Fiely, Garden Tools


I’ll admit it. Printmaking is my media conundrum. Woodcut. Engraving. Etching. Mezzotint. Aquatint. Drypoint. Lithography. Screenprinting. Monotype. Too many ways to make a line.

But, gosh, I’m drawn to it. So many lines. So many different ways to make a line. So much obsessing over the blackness and fineness of lines. Everything reduced to lines. I just can’t get enough.

So when a friend gave me a postcard of a work by painter/printmaker Doug Fiely—those lines + mod-‘50s textile prints + more lines + Hockney-esque grids + more lines + this arts and craft color palette (oh my!) wrapped their stringy tentacles around me, and I invited myself over to meet him. We shared an afternoon talking about art. Then, I went back because I wanted to see more prints. And I went back again to see more paintings. You get the picture. And here we are.

Fiely was born along Grand Lake in Celina, Ohio, and attended Immaculate Conception Elementary and High School there. He says as a kid, he was visually stimulated by the natural surroundings of the lake along Northwood Park, an idyllic setting where he caught turtles and frogs and fished, swam and ran through the woods. Early on, he knew he was a keen observer, and he began to sketch and draw to try and capture everything he was seeing. He still draws most everything he sees.

Tell me about how you first were drawn to art-making.

Doug Fiely: My early interest in serious art was fueled by music and the expression of the many songwriters of the ’60s, whom I discovered had attended art school. I felt a connection between art and music—working hard to learn the guitar and also working hard at drawing with simple tools like pencil and charcoal. Upon high school graduation, I was faced with a decision: Should I work in the family newspaper business, the St. Marys Evening Leader, or should I pursue a life in the arts? My next stop was Bowling Green State University. As an art major, I was surrounded by people who had art experience in high school; I had none. Early in my sophomore year, I took a printmaking class from Professor David Cayton. My life changed. I was where I needed to be. I saw the relationship between accident and control in making a work of art.

Realizing that art is communication, I pursued both teaching and creating as they walked hand in hand to help me communicate. I incorporated my music performance with communicating with students of all ages. It was the next groundbreaking experience. Landing in Stryker, Ohio, public schools, I taught art for 30 years, retiring in 2001. I capped my teaching experience with 12 additional years as professor of art at Defiance College, teaching painting, drawing, figure drawing, printmaking, art history, global civilization, color and design, as well as the history of rock and roll. Living in Stryker allowed me the rural experience of teaching and creating art while also raising children, chickens, goats, ducks and turkeys. This lifestyle fueled my continual creation of artwork.

Tell me about your workspace. 

DF: Upon moving to Dayton, Ohio, a new set of doors opened for me. I immediately joined the Dayton Printmakers Cooperative, where I was able to access the equipment that fed my artistic passion as a college student. Immediately, I was creating intaglio prints, etchings and relief prints. The home studio involves an indoor and an outdoor space. During the summer, I like to work in the little barn in the backyard, which is nestled in wonderful vegetation, tall leafy trees, striking flowers and busy bird feeders. Come winter, you’ll find me in the sun-drenched studio in the house, still observing.

Tell me about your typical art-making day.

DF: I rise early and enjoy coffee with my breakfast. I generally begin my day by thinking and looking out a window. I get an idea, and my images emerge from daily experiences.

Tell me about your markets. Where are you showing? Is there somewhere you’d like to show but haven’t—where?

DF: I generally show at venues where I feel the people will respond to the images I am sharing. I paint for the common person—with subject ranging from buildings and nature to people and places. I love modern art and I love abstract art, but my calling is to communicate. Cindy and I do a lot of art festivals throughout the Midwest. These weekends give us a chance to reconnect with cherished art patrons and meet a myriad of new and curious folks who find they love art. I also show in many galleries, exhibitions and competitions throughout the U.S.

How do you choose what to make? 

DF: I look.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

DF: I prefer a medium that involves physical integration along with manipulation of media to create a powerful composition. In painting, I prefer to work with acrylics, building up a surface to work into as if it were a printmaking plate. I work in layers, from dark to light. In my hand-pulled prints, I work with “old school media.” I use burins, gravures and the techniques used since Guttenberg. These prints are hand-pulled in presses that have not changed much since the 17th century.

Prefer to work with music or in silence? 

DF: The only sounds I listen to while creating are the sounds of birds, trucks and cars, children playing, dogs barking and the sounds of nature. I don’t play music when I work, but in the evening, I prefer to listen to the songs of Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Ray Davies and Merle Haggard…They give me some kind of hope.

Favorite contemporary artist? 

DF: Basquiat, Motherwell, Dine, Close and Hockney. My favorite art is from post-World War I Europe. Modigliani, early Chagall, early Picasso, Soutine (one of my special favorites). Another huge influence is German Expressionism and the message, along with technique of the work of that era.

What do you collect? 

DF: Wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg and Rembrandt.

If you could only have one piece of (visual) art in your life, what would it be?

DF: A Soutine portrait.

How do you think social media is changing the art world?

DF: Destructive—everyone is a star. However, it’s great for advertising upcoming shows!


Eva Buttacavoli is the Executive Director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. You can reach her at

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Eva Buttacavoli

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