Minturn artist ‘Excels’ at new art form |

Minturn artist ‘Excels’ at new art form

Sarah Mausolf
Minturn CO, Colorado
HL John Smith DT 12-18-08

MINTURN, Colorado ” John Wayne Smith parks his pick-up truck in his driveway, greets a pair of Arabian horses in the pasture outside his home, and makes his way through the blinding snow to his front door.

Inside this refurbished barn, Smith has invented a new art form. To explain what he means, Smith treads past a series of ramps he built for his cats and a drum set, and sits down at his desk.

Smith spends hours creating intricate designs on his computer with the Microsoft Excel program.

“It’s all about using the draw function,” he explains, slowly building a spider web of colorful shapes on the screen. “It’s just point and click. It’s like playing a video game. You kinda get hooked.”

For a year and a half, Smith, 48, has been honing his Excel drawing skills at a desk overlooking this isolated Minturn ranch. Now, he hopes to share his discovery with the world.

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Smith’s work will be on display this week at the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. He also plans to teach a class on Excel art in February at Colorado Mountain College.

“I mostly want to generate interest and also to continue my experiment in finding out if this really is as agreeable to people and as easily assimilated and learned as I think is,” Smith said.

The MacWorld Conference and Expo brings together computer experts from around the world. Smith’s work will be part of a gallery showcasing 25 digital artists.

Although computer art is nothing new, those familiar with Smith’s work say it is highly unique.

“It’s crazy unusual,” said Daryl Wise, a contractor who put together the Macworld gallery. “Even the people at Microsoft, my person who works with the art of Office, she has never seen anything like it. Very unusual. I don’t even know how he does it and I’ve asked him a couple times, ‘Is this really done all with Excel?'”

Smith believes he is alone in using Excel this way. An Internet search turned up one other person who does Excel art, a professor at Wayne State College in Detroit, but the pictures she made are less elaborate, Smith said.

“I’ve researched the Internet extensively,” he said. “There’s nobody doing Excel art the way I do it with the draw function. So it is very unusual. So much so that Microsoft is interested in looking at it.”

Microsoft Excel once belonged to the left brained portion of society. An empty spreadsheet conjures the image of an accountant crunching numbers. Excel revvs up people who wear business casual attire and calculate their mileage.

Or is there more to Excel?

Smith had been using the Microsoft Excel draw function for construction projects when he discovered its art potential. Mainly he had been using Excel to design the interior layouts of houses. Then something occurred to Smith. The Excel spreadsheets looked just like graph paper. And for years, Smith had entertained himself by penciling detailed, symmetrical designs onto graph paper.

By making the Excel cells the same width and height and creating an axis, Smith could use the spreadsheet as graph paper. Excel also has a little-known function that allows for pasting shapes like triangles onto the page and filling them in with colors.

Mostly Smith has been printing his designs on glossy paper and framing them, but he believes other applications exist for the artwork. He envisions people using Excel to make cards or art to sell as fundraisers. He even thinks the artwork could be used as a tool to diagnose learning disabilities like dyslexia.

“My curiosity drives me more than anything,” he said. “What I would really like to see is what other people would do with this and see how it catches on.”

Wise, author of the book “Secrets of Award Winning Digital Artists” said Smith’s work could change the way people think of Excel.

“Excel was written to keep track of money and items and things like that,” he said. “I don’t think it was ever thought of as a paint tool and to have someone use it and to think so far out of the box and do art with it, that’s what artists are all about, you know?”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

What: Class on Excel art

When: Feb. 12 from 1 to 5 p.m.

Where: Colorado Mountain College in Edwards

Cost: $35

More information: E-mail John Wayne Smith at

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