Art from the Cube

Sketches from the Cube, Bird Nerd Edition

Remember Sketches from the Cube? The little game I play where I complete 100 sketches of something at the office during my lunch break?

My first was a series of 100 faces back in 2016. In 2017 I completed the Flora edition, where I finished 100 contour sketches of florals based on photos from a wildflower guide.

This time I chose birds. Why? Because:

  1. I had an old day calendar devoted to them with 365 images to choose from.
  2. I'm a self-confessed bird nerd.
  3. I'd never tried drawing birds before, I wanted to know if I could do it.
Birds on my cubicle wall in the late afternoon sun.

Birds on my cubicle wall in the late afternoon sun.

The tools

  • one mix media sketchbook with 7"x10" sheets of 98lb/160g paper
  • one black Sharpie (I used a black gel pen for a while when my Sharpie ran out)
  • one old bird lover's day calendar

The process

  • pull a blank sheet from my sketchbook and gently tear it in quarters, creating four 3 1/2"x5" pieces
  • flip through the pages of my day calendar and choose an image that speaks to me
  • sketch it quickly, no fuss
  • add a background or setting*
  • repeat the process once more to create two sketches per sitting

* Sketching birds took more time than the florals and faces did. The birds were quick enough - though some were more intricate than others, but figuring out what kind of setting or background I wanted to draw around them was a real head-scratcher sometimes. On some days inspiration hit as I flipped through my calendar and saw a specific bird, on other days my imagination came up short and left me frustrated.

My oh-so-fancy setup. Always put a notepad underneath kids, so you don't make marks on your desk.

My oh-so-fancy setup. Always put a notepad underneath kids, so you don't make marks on your desk.

The results

  • 100 bird drawings, sketched one sitting at a time
  • a pleasantly surprising revelation that I can draw birds
  • the discovery that I enjoy creating patterns as backgrounds and have a fondness for drawing birds wearing hats
  • increased confidence in my ability to draw and meet a set goal

The takeaways

The takeaways are consistent with those experienced during my Flora and Faces series:

  1. You don't need fancy tools to make art.
  2. You don't need a lot of time to make art (two sketches took me about 1/2 hour to complete).
  3. You don't have to be super precise in your markings to draw a bird that looks like a bird. Scribble with confidence!
  4. Regular practice leads to progress.
  5. That being said, there will be "off" days.
  6. Pinning art on your cubicle wall is a good conversation starter.
  7. Completing 100 instances of something builds confidence.
  8. Bringing an art practice to the office reminds you that you are more than your day job.

I wasn't sold on this series when I first started it. It was harder than the floral drawings and the images looked a lot "heavier" on my cubicle wall, I thought 100 might be too much. This series also took longer to finish than the other two, work was busy and I didn't always take the time to sketch. But I persisted.

I'm glad I did.

I'm already starting to toy with ideas for a fourth series, but will let it percolate for a while. Perhaps you'll join in when the time comes?

In the meantime I leave you with a few favourite sketches.

I drew these as we approached the Holiday season.

How To Survive The Cube When You'd Rather Be In The Studio

Note: This post, minus a few minor edits, was originally published on two years ago. Its relevance endures, it's worth posting again.


This tiny easel sits on my computer at the office. It makes me happy to see it every day.

This tiny easel sits on my computer at the office. It makes me happy to see it every day.

Do you spend most of your week in a cubicle when you’d rather be in the studio making stuff?

If the answer is yes, you’re not alone.

For various reasons many of us choose to work at a job that doesn’t involve using our right side of the brain all that much and has us spending many hours in less than inspiring grey-walled cubicles.

Even if we like our day job it can feel like a double life sometimes this office vs. studio scenario, left vs. right, grey vs. colour. Thankfully there are ways to lessen the gap.

Below are a few things I’ve tried to help make my days in the cube a little less drab and a little more pleasant. They may not always cure the “I-don’t-wanna-be-here’s”, but they do help. If you’re in a similar situation, you may find some of them useful too.

Build a creative practice around your work hours.

Commit to your craft by practicing it each day you go into work, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Do it in the morning, at lunch time or after the kids have gone to bed. Claiming and asserting your creative identity can do wonders for the left-brain doldrums.

A few years ago I adopted a work day studio practice and completed more paintings through two months of regular 30-minute spurts than I did while I was on a one-year sabbatical. I've since switched that practice for something else, but the satisfaction I felt is engrained in my memory. It was a game-changer.

Find a creative outlet that you can practice during breaks and lunch hour.

Can you do something with your smartphone or your tablet? A sketchbook and a pen? Knitting needles? It may not be in your usual medium, but it will allow you to flex your creative muscles.

Read books related to your craft, creativity or inspiring creatives during breaks and lunch hour.

Make creativity and inspiration a regular part of your day. If your office job involves number crunching, your left brain will enjoy the break.

Include reminders of your creative identity in your workspace.

Hang up magnets, quotes or postcards related to your craft. If adorning your workspace isn’t practical, carry something in your purse or wallet as a touchstone.

Talk to your colleagues about your art.

Some of them may be creative kindreds themselves and you never know, your cubicle mate may become one of your biggest customers!

Remember why you’re at your current job.

If the primary motivation for staying at your current job is money, remember what that money is paying for. It might be your dream home, your child’s education, or travel. Maybe it’s helping you build up your art supply stash or pay for creative workshops.

Acknowledge and appreciate what your job allows you to do and how it supports your current lifestyle.

Finally, remember that your paid work is only ONE part of your life.

You are not your job. There are many more facets to life than how you create revenue. Sometimes putting less than ideal situations in perspective helps make them more palatable. I write this as much for myself as I do for you.


I would love to hear from you.

If you’re sitting in a cubicle or working at a job that doesn’t feed your creative soul when you’d rather be doing something else, how do you cope? What do you do to make it work?

What could you do?