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The Coffee Cup Artist & the Unexpected Gifts of Creativity

Artist Gwyneth Leech created a new form of art through play

Gwyneth Leech
Source: Gwyneth Leech

I was in New York this past spring, visiting my sister Laila. She's a creative success story, as she turned her love for music - initially met with great resistance from our parents - into an award-winning international career, including recent stints working and performing with Sting.(See That weekend, I met her husband's cousin Gwyneth.

As we idly chit-chatted, Gwyneth casually mentioned the story of her coffee cup art. I immediately shouted "What!? You have to tell me about this!" and grabbed from my purse the little notebook I reserve for documenting such occasions.

A professional artist who historically focuses on oils and canvas, Gwyneth told me that in 2007 she started drawing on her used coffee cups while passing time in meetings, such as her regular attendance at her daughter's school's PTA.

"It was actually a way for me to focus and listen during the meeting," she said.

In her visually gorgeous blog at, she writes:

"Sitting still and listening at meetings, my hands needed to move constantly and without really being aware of it, my paper coffee cups were covered with drawings. These drawings intrigued me and I followed the thread. The cup form is the same each time, so I gave myself complete permission to draw anything I liked. This way, with pens at the ready, and an inexhaustible supply of something to draw on, I have managed to stay in a highly generative place."

"A stint of jury duty in the City some months later led to the elaboration of my technique with art pen and brush pens. I now save the cups from the drinks I buy and occasionally collect them from other artists with whom I meet for tea or coffee around town. I wash and dry them and record on the bottom the date, place and occasion, as well as the drink that was consumed, thus capturing the social moment just passed."

By the time I met Gwyneth, she and her cups already had representation from an art dealer (I almost fell over when she told me what a single cup went for), and she had had two exhibitions.
Since then she has had her most prominent exhibition of all, going on right now in New York's Flatiron Building, an iconic landmark on 23rd Street where 5th Avenue and Broadway cross. She draws on cups in the window Tuesdays - Saturdays 11 am - 2 pm. The exhibition runs until December 31st.

Gwyneth Leech
Source: Gwyneth Leech

I love this kind of story so much. You would think, being an artist that specialized in more traditional art, that that would be where her "big break" would come from. Yet I continually have found life to be so much more creative and surprising, as it obviously is in this story.

Top dollar paid for a beautiful work of oil on canvas? Pretty typical. Top dollar paid for whimsical drawings on a coffee cup? Magical. Some might have a hard time understanding it, and might even scoff about the value of this kind of art, but all I care about is that Gwyneth loves her "upcycling" art, and the people who buy her cups love having them. And they really are gorgeous.

Find and make time to engage your creative talents and impulses, no matter how late in life it seems or how potentially frivolous. Even if you never make a cent and all you have to show for your own art is the joy of doing, it was worth it. And if life surprises you with a living from it? Wonderful.

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