Art in a Digital World: A conversation with Nicholas Huggins

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Art in a Digital World: A conversation with Nicholas Huggins

By Daniel Young

Most Trinidadians would be aware of names like LeRoy Clarke and Boscoe Holder as some of the best artists the country has produced. In more recent times, names like Che Lovelace and Annelie Solis have made their mark on the local art scene. As time progresses, we are seeing different ways of expressing artistic views. Modern art is considered to be any art produced from the 1860s to the 1970s, a period where most of what is common in terms of avenues, techniques and media were developed. In the 21st century however, we are seeing new ways of producing art at which even Michelangelo would be amazed. In the modern world now, we are being introduced to digital art and its associated sub-cultures. One of those sub-cultures is the world of graphic design.

Recently, we had the opportunity to ask one of the leading graphic designers in the country a few questions on the subject of art, graphic design and culture. Nicholas Huggins is a local graphic designer who owns multiple businesses dedicated to his craft of graphic design. He is an award winner for his designs that, in more than a few cases, resemble artistic pieces rather than graphic designs. The St Mary’s College (CIC) alum says this about his background: “….art has always been a big part of my life. From as far back as I can remember I’ve been drawing and painting which evolved into what I do now. I did art all the way through St. Mary’s College, and when it was time to choose what to do my degree in I decided to go to SCAD [Savannah College of Art &Design] to study Graphic Design.”

“Art was definitely my favourite subject at CIC. Andre Reyes was my art teacher from Form 1 all the way to Upper 6 and he definitely played a big role in my development as an artist…”

SCAD is a leading Art and Design University originating in Savannah Georgia but boasts locations in Atlanta and even France. The university has programmes in Graphic Design, Animation, Art History and Design Management to name a few. Going to SCAD gave Nicholas an outlet, not only for his creative side but a way to make a living.

In Form 5 he began screen-printing t-shirts with his friend Anthony Alkins, which was his first taste of combining business with art. His experiences with first his t-shirt printing business and then SCAD would be significant when he returned to Trinidad. Huggins worked for an advertising agency on his return, as well as freelance work. This would evolve into his own company called Backyard Design Company.

This small company has established itself as a leading design company in Trinidad and won three Addy awards in 2019 and 2020 (The ADDY Awards represent the true spirit of creative excellence by recognizing all forms of advertising from media of all types, creative by all sizes and entrants of all levels from anywhere in the world). Recently Backyard Design Company has added a fourth Addy award to their shelf for work with Kes the Band.

If that was not enough, Huggins has also developed a t-shirt brand called Deftment. The brand boasts stylish clothes for men and women with simple yet creative designs

When asked whether these two companies were a natural progression, Nicholas responds, “Yes definitely. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit […]”

Artist and designer

Art has led Huggins to a unique place in life, being able to do what he loves as well as make a living from it. With multiple successful businesses it would seem he has just begun to make headway given the fact that these businesses have been very recently formalised. Art has given him more than an outlet it would seem but provided him with a sense of purpose and drive. When asked whether he considers himself an artist first and a designer second he said:

“[…] I am both. I usually would identify as a designer when people ask because that is what I do for a living. I create brand identities and packaging designs for clients on a daily basis as my 9 to 5. Art is what I do in my spare time. It is a more pure [sic] creative expression as there is no client defining the brief of what I do, so my art is entirely up to me.”

The majority of his time is spent as a designer and he would classify himself as a designer first but no-one can deny the quality of digital art pieces he produces. Quality digital art pieces that, in the modern world of art, can be bought and sold as high-value art pieces.



The Archbishop’s House, Port of Spain, featured as letter L in the Alphabet Series

These digital art pieces are called ‘NFTs’. NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) are unique items in society that cannot be replicated or replaced. They are essentially digital items that hold a digital certificate of authenticity. NFTs are a unique modern phenomenon that has come about in our digital world and often blur the line between the digital world and our real world. These NFTs can be bought with real-world money as well as cryptocurrency, which has been a large part of a digital societal shift in recent times.

Huggins first heard about NFTs earlier this year, and “it came onto my radar big time when it was picked up [in] the mainstream media after an artist named Beeple sold an NFT for 69 million USD at auction”.

This would mean that the person who purchased the art piece now owns the rights to that piece and if the piece were to be used elsewhere, the new owner becomes the sole beneficiary of any copyrights.

NFTs and local artists

Huggins sees this as a positive development for us locally though, “NFTs give local creatives an avenue to build a clientele internationally as well as to make earnings with cryptocurrency at a time when ForEx is such an issue in the country….I think we should be pushing to export our talents; designers like me and others can work for clients anywhere in the world and earn foreign exchange. Creative endeavours are net-positive ForEx, and NFTs are just another direction that we can export our talents.”

NFTs have not only been a new occurrence for the art world but music and sport as well. Musicians are selling albums as NFTs and sports clips of your favourite football goal or your favourite basketball plays are being made and sold as Non-Fungible Tokens.

When asked if he thinks this changes his idea of art he says, “Fundamentally it has not changed my idea of art. But it is interesting to see where art can be sold, and it is the start of something big. But the essence of art will always be creating something and regardless of what tools you use or how people view your work, it doesn’t matter….Tools will always change over time. It would be like comparing early cave paintings to renaissance paintings. Technology in all walks of life will always change, and I think it is a beautiful thing to see how creators adapt.”