Creative practice

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.

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I drew these as we approached the Holiday season.
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Sketches from the Cube, Flora Edition

Last year I sketched 100 faces and pinned them to my grey cubicle wall.

Sketches from the Cube was born.

Recognizing the benefits of giving myself these creative breaks during a heavy left-brain workday, it didn't take me long to start another round of Sketches from the Cube, this time Flora edition.

My cubicle wall covered in flowers.

My cubicle wall covered in flowers.

I LOVED this one. It was fun and easy and extremely satisfying.

Because of vacation and leave, a new job and a few office moves it took me nine months to complete my 100 sketches, but I did it! And my cubicle, spirits and productivity were all the better for it.

The tools

  • one mix media sketchbook with 7"x10" sheets of 98lb/160g paper (I chose a higher quality paper for this edition to leave myself the option of playing with watercolours if I wanted to, but in the end I stuck to line drawings.)
  • one black Sharpie
  • one used wildflower book found in the freebie bin at a used bookstore: Plants of Waterton-Glacier National Parks and the Canadian Rockies

The process

  • pull a blank sheet from my sketchbook and gently tear it in half or quarters (I started by sketching on half sheets, but quickly realized that it would be hard to fit 100 sketches of that size on my cubicle wall so I mixed it up with smaller 3 1/2"x5" pieces.)
  • flip through my wildflower book and choose a photo that speaks to me
  • sketch it quickly, no fuss
  • repeat the process once more to create two sketches per sitting

The results

  • 100 floral line drawings, sketched one sitting at a time
  • a new-found love of floral line drawings
  • positive feedback from colleagues and a request for one of my drawings when I moved on to another job, to which I readily said YES
  • an increase in challenge later in the game, where instead of choosing just one image to sketch I combined two or three
  • increased confidence in my ability to draw and meet a set goal
Day 11

Day 11

Day 40 = Day 11 + Day 18

Day 40 = Day 11 + Day 18

Day 18

Day 18

The takeaways

This second edition reinforced the lessons learned in my previous experiment:

  1. You don't need fancy tools to make art (but too cheap isn't good either).
  2. You don't need a lot of time to make art.
  3. Pinning art on your cubicle wall is an amazing conversation starter.
  4. Regular practice leads to progress.
  5. That being said, there will be "off" days.
  6. Sharing incremental results is a good motivator.
  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.

What next?

Work has been busy and I am feeling a need to start a new round of sketches. I'm toying with a few subjects, possibly bringing in a bit of colour this time.

But I must set myself up for success: keep it simple, keep it portable and keep it FUN.

Fun is important!

In the meantime I leave you with a few favourite sketches and an invitation to consider an experiment of your own. What could YOU create from the cube?

Day 1

Day 1

Day 20

Day 20

Day 50

Day 50

Day 10

Day 10

Day 49

Day 49

Day 3

Day 3

Day 31

Day 31

Day 50

Day 50