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How one artist brought her vision to life using Excel spreadsheets

Landscape architect by day, Microsoft Excel artist by night. Australia native Emma Stevens isn’t your average artist. She uses spreadsheets to create skyline imagery out of text.

Inspired by the Melbourne skyline, Stevens began to create her artwork in a spreadsheet by building an image of the city with words through a spreadsheet app. She added an image of the Melbourne skyline to the background of a spreadsheet, typed the word “Melbourne” in the cell rows, and divided the columns to define each building. Using column breaks and letter shading, Stevens gave each building depth. From a distance, the image looks like the Melbourne skyline, but up close it becomes clear that the name of the city makes up the structure of the entire image.

Image of Emma Stevens creating a Spreadsheet Skyline in Excel.

The boundless potential of a completely blank canvas can sometimes overwhelm an artist. Stevens says the structure of the spreadsheet software helps her stay focused and dive into her work for hours each day. She appreciates the combination of creativity and repetition. “The Excel spreadsheet became a labor of love. I could redo elements that didn’t quite work, or change the tone or color of certain buildings to improve the composition and depth.”

Image of Emma Stevens holding up a Spreadsheet Skyline, made using Excel.

Technology has opened up new possibilities for artists like Stevens. “Using technology was another way to create precision in art. It also gave me the flexibility to ‘undo,’ which is a freedom I do not get with pen on paper.” Stevens doesn’t consider herself an Excel power user, either. With just the basics, she brought her vision to life. “All I needed to look into was how to create macro buttons. Now I can overlay an image of the skyline to work from that I turn off and on so it’s easier to use as a reference,” explains Stevens.

It doesn’t end with the skyline of Melbourne. As for future artwork, Stevens says, “I’ve thought of doing a few other works such as images of musician faces made with song lyrics, or images of people’s kids using their favorite storybook.” She also has plans for a few more Spreadsheet Skylines of other cities around the world such as New York, London, and Tokyo.

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