To the beginner coming face-to-face with Microsoft Excel for the first time, the experience can perhaps be compared to meeting that unfortunate character from literature, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, in that it serves a useful purpose, but is not very pleasing on the eye. Let's face it, a screen comprising nothing but data-filled cells is hardly a visual treat that is likely to set the pulse racing. And yet Excel is an amazingly powerful application that is used and relied upon by millions every day.

The electronic spreadsheet was an advancement from hand-written ledgers in which graphics were completely unnecessary as these ledgers served a functional purpose only. This functionality is also the prime feature of Excel and so graphics tend to take a back seat to day-to-day number crunching duties.

Word documents, on the other hand, often venture beyond the boundaries of plain text and into the world of graphics. From, say, basic bright red hearts from AutoShapes on a flyer to advertise a Valentine's Day disco, to a photograph on a poster giving details of a lost kitten, Word offers a quick and easy way to produce documents with that eye-catching feature. But the very same graphics can be used in Excel, where a worksheet can be transformed from dull to decorous with little effort.

The Drawing toolbar (View/Toolbars/Drawing) offers a range of tools that enable the user to create colourful drawing objects to be used in worksheets. On this toolbar there are five basic tools, Line, Arrow, Rectangle, Oval and AutoShapes, that, between them, can be used to create any drawn graphic that is required, and the only real technique that has to be mastered to create graphics is drag and drop.

Many of you will already be well versed in this technique, but as this is an article on Excel then some of you may not yet have had cause to use it. For any of you who are unfamiliar with drag and drop, it is basically using the mouse to change lines and shapes by dragging small white squares called handles, and dropping them into the desired position.

Create a simple line by clicking on the required button on the toolbar and then positioning the cursor at the point at which you want your line to start. Left click and hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor to the point at which you want the line to end and release the button. With the line highlighted you can then select the style of line you want (solid or dashes) and the weight (thickness) from the toolbar.

The length of the line can be altered by selecting one of the handles and dragging that point to lengthen or shorten. A line can be moved about the page by highlighting and selecting a point along its length, then holding down the left mouse button it can be dragged to the required point. Arrows can be created and manipulated in exactly the same way as they share the common feature of going between only two points.

Rectangles and ovals are just as easy to create, but they offer far more variation than lines and arrows. Once again click on the required button and drag out the required shape on the screen. With the shape highlighted, you can change the weight of the line and the dash style to suit your needs, and the Fill tool can bring colour to the shape. These shapes can be resized using the mouse to drag the handles into position. The whole shape can be moved by moving the cursor inside the shape and holding down the left button.

Incidentally, as you experiment with ovals and rectangles you may find it very difficult to create a perfect circle or square using the mouse alone. If you hold down the Shift key as you drag out the shape this should give you what you seek

AutoShapes is a library containing shapes and lines that are an extension to those we have already looked at above, and they are created and manipulated in exactly the same manner. Everything needed to create a graphic is here, from hexagons to half-moons, from scrolls to stars.

These basic drawings can be further manipulated by other options such as Fill Effects, Copy and Paste and Rotate or Flip, but we are dealing here with only the very basics of the Drawing toolbar.

Many of the features of the Drawing toolbar are fairly easy for the newcomer to get to grips with and so one of the best ways to learn how to use them is to experiment and explore. This simplicity of use means that the learner soon becomes proficient in grasping the basics of creating drawing objects in Excel, and this is a sound foundation on which to build and learn more complicated techniques. Creating drawing objects can also offer something of a release from the often mundane tasks that involve columns and rows and so it is definitely an area of Excel that is worth looking into in more detail.