Art for Work’s Sake

I ran an Art for Work’s Sake workshop earlier this week. There were ten of us round the table at Workhubs, and after breakfast, we talked a little about art, why it is so helpful as an aid to better work, and why most of us have come to believe that we are not artists. I’ve spoken and written about some of this as part of We Are Better Together and we looked again at the Breakpoint and Beyond research about how rapidly awful we get at divergent thinking, plus this great piece about sketching and how helpful it is.

Conversation summary

Brene Brown – 85% of the 13,000 people interviewed for her research on shame and vulnerability ‘can recall a time in school that was so shaming it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners. 50% of those recollections related to art and creativity.’

Breakpoint and Beyond. Up to 98% of very young children excel at divergent thinking, and we get progressively worse at it as we move through the education system and into work. By the time we are 25, only around 2% of people show the same ability to excel at this vital way of thinking.

When note taking and doodling, different colours are helpful for different ideas and themes – easy to pick stuff out afterwards.

Getting doodles and sketches down on paper frees up brain space and extends memory.

Sketching improves your ability to restructure ideas.

When you draw how you/your team are feeling – you will likely get different signals and results than if you just talk and write about it.

Sketching Exercise

We wanted to try our hand at sketching and with time at a premium, here’s what we did.


Choose some paper. I had brought four different types, photocopy paper, two grades of cartridge paper and water colour paper. Take a pencil, a rather lovely, brand new Staedtler B Grade in this instance (pencil nerd alert), and spend about a minute sketching something. Then review your sketch with your partner, spending a couple of minutes talking about each one. Remembering what we discussed earlier, we agreed to avoid asking judgmental questions, and instead – just explore our work together. After the conversation time, either redraw the sketch or refine it, for about a minute and a half. Discuss.

Here is a gallery of some of the work we produced.

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The coffee cup was drawn by Louise who previously told me, ‘I can’t draw’. After the session Louise tweeted, ‘It seems I can draw, despite 20+ years thinking I couldn’t’, before adding, ‘It only took 60 seconds to realise I can!’ Louise preferred cup 1 which took less time to draw than cup 2.

Phil drew the bottle, and after drawing bottle 1, he noticed the way the glass distorted shapes behind it, and modified his idea in bottle 2.

Paul drew Euston Station arch – from a photograph on the wall. Paul talked about how he could remember the station behind the arch but not the arch itself. He wanted a record of the arch so he could speak with other people about it later. Nick then told us that parts of the arch have been rediscovered, and later that day, Paul sent me this picture of what a rebuilt arch might took like. I’ve played with this exercise a few times and this is the first time I’ve seen someone do what Paul did. I really liked his creative interpretation of the exercise.

Bernie drew the salt cellar – and then added depth with shade.

Nick did something similar to Bernie with the patterned glass.

Ed captured the sphere shape in the basketball beautifully. What you see here is version 2 – version 1 got rubbed out because it wasn’t round enough. I really like the way I feel like I can reach out and grab the ball.


Louise’s post workshop tweets gave me a real lift, and then on Wednesday I received a lovely note from Paul about the workshop. Later on Wednesday evening I spotted Phil had tweeted this:

Phil's Tweet

Phil's Sketch

I like Phil’s idea – a sketch of what work looks like, and the groups and ideas you connect with. Sketching your way to better work, sketching your way to stronger connections. I’m grateful to everyone who came along to the session and participated so enthusiastically. And in the time we had together, I’m really pleased with what we covered and the different ways people embraced and interpreted the challenge, and have continued to do so. And if you missed out this time – keep a watchful eye out for further chances to take part.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

4 thoughts on “Art for Work’s Sake”

  1. Thank you again Doug for this wonderful reminder. Lately I’ve been feeling my mind completely cluttered with “to-do’s”, “should-do’s”, “have-to’s” and “don’t have time to’s”! After reading this I picked up paper and pen (actually a few colored pens and markers) and organized my thoughts on paper, doodled a bit and attempted to mind map; must say my mind feels a ton lighter already!

    1. How great to hear from you Shereen. So pleased that a trip over to the blog has proved helpful to you – lovely feedback 🙂

  2. Just went to the similar event in Milton Keynes. Fabulous. A really useful reminder of the value of art in a work context. And great fun too. Marvelously facilitated by Doug. Seemingly without effort he had us doing all kinds of crazy and creative things, and getting all kinds of value and learning out it. Unmissable.

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