7 Things I Learned By Bringing an Art Practice to the Cube

Earlier this year at the office, out of desperation after an especially difficult meeting, I grabbed a 3"x3" piece of paper from a notepad sitting on my desk and with my mechanical pencil, quickly sketched the first face I saw: D's face grinning back at me from a photo that was pinned to my cubicle wall.

After that I Googled images of Emily Carr and quickly sketched her face on another sheet from my notepad.

Then I sketched the face of Clara Rockmore because she happened to be the Google Doodle feature that day.

Just like that, out of desperation and without much thought, I'd sketched three faces.

I pinned them to my grey cubicle wall.

The first three: Emily Carr on the left, D. in the middle and Clara Rockmore on the right.

The next day I did the same thing. And the day after that.

Then I set a secret goal: each day in the office I would sketch three more faces until I had 100 of them pinned to my grey cubicle wall.

"Sketches from the Cube" was born.

I met my goal. It was met imperfectly - meaning that on some days I forgot to sketch or simply skipped it, but goshdarnit I met it.

Here they all are: 102 faces including one contributed by a colleague. Huzzah!

What did I learn from this experiment?

I learned a lot of things and I want to share some of them here because

a) I want to show you that making art doesn't have to be complicated, and

b) that it can be done even at your day job.

Alors voici, seven things I learned by bringing a regular art practice to the cube:

1. You don't need fancy tools to make art (but too cheap isn't good either).

I used a notepad I got for free at an industry conference and a mechanical pencil to do my sketches. When my freebie notepad ran out I bought a new one, but I kept it on the cheap.

Full disclosure: that second notepad ended up being frustrating to work with, it was too cheap and the paper was thin. Because I wanted to finish my experiment using inexpensive materials I used it anyway and made a note to find something better the next time. It could have easily become a deterrent.

2. You don't need a lot of time to make art.

Most of the sketches were made during my lunch break with the odd one completed in the afternoon if I needed to recharge. Three sketches rarely took more than 20-30 minutes, if that. The most time-consuming task was figuring out which photos I wanted to use as my models that day.

3. Pinning art on your cubicle wall is an amazing conversation starter.

It was fun to see my colleagues react when they turned the corner and saw my cubicle wall full of faces.

In almost every case the first thing they'd ask is if I was the one drawing them, which often led to talking about my art and my process. Many asked if I was drawing them, my colleagues, to which I responded "No, that would be awkward." One person mentioned he might set a similar goal with a skill he wanted to enhance, my cube neighbour contributed a sketch of James Dean on a yellow Post-It note, and another colleague - a fellow creative - hugged me when she saw the completed 100!

It was a fun conversation starter and you never know where those conversations may lead.

4. Regular practice leads to progress.

When I did my sketches every day, by the fourth or fifth day I grew more and more satisfied with my results. The flip side was true too: after having skipped a few days I struggled through the process and often noticed a decline in the end results. Consistency is key.

5. That being said, there will be "off" days.

Some days were just harder than others, period. My results were downright sucky and it took four or five starts for me to produce something I felt was wall-worthy, and even then I wasn't overly happy.

The trick when that happened was to pin those suckers up, move on and pat myself on the back for having persisted.

After all, I was now three faces closer to my goal.

6. Sharing incremental results is a good motivator.

Sharing my results and goal with my colleagues was a great way to stay motivated. The progress was made visible for all to see and because I have my pride, I wanted to make sure that wall saw the full 100 faces.

Sharing photos of my results on Facebook was a good accountability tool too and as a bonus, a great way to receive encouragement from friends and family.

7. Completing 100 instances of something builds confidence.

If you compare my first sketches with later ones, there's a noticeable difference in the lines, shading and even how I used the sheet. The early sketches are light, tentative and smaller in scale, while the later ones are much darker and assertive, and often go right off the edges of the paper. As I progressed I was less afraid of going strong with the pencil and broke many bits of lead - a good indication of confidence, I'd say.

Also I now know I can draw faces. I've done 100 of them - good, bad and everything in between. Whenever I feel flustered or intimidated at the prospect of capturing someone in a portrait I can tap into that experience and move forward with confidence.

BONUS: Bringing an art practice to the office reminds you that you are more than your day job.

We are artists and creators no matter how we spend our day in that cube. Having 100 faces or [insert whatever artwork you like to create] plastered across the walls is an excellent reminder.


Are you convinced? Think you'd like to give it a shot?

Let me know in the comments.

I'm contemplating a 2nd edition of Sketches from the Cube, this time with florals. It would be lovely to have you along!