pencil sketch for a Sonoran Desert Panorama, by Paul Mirocha

The Tumamoc Art & Science Course

Observational Drawing Skills for Field Notebooks

Whether you are a researcher or scientist with a desire to learn simple illustration techniques to enrich your lab notebooks or an artist seeking to learn field journaling techniques and increase your knowledge about the Sonoran Desert we live in, the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill is now offering an exciting and unique opportunity.


I had such fun drawing the saguaro for the flyer that I filled several sketchbook pages with them. There are thousands more of these ?ber-cacti standing around on the Hill, waiting to pose for us. In the Tumamoc Art & Science Course, we are going to jump right in and draw a saguaro on the first day of the course. This is the first exercise, right after a mini-lecture about saguaros cacti by a Desert Lab ecologist.

We will learn the secret to observational drawing that all artists have known, from early cave painters to Leonardo. It’s so simple that most people miss it entirely, believing that drawing is a talent some people are just born with. It’s not. Drawing is a skill that is easily taught, and anyone can learn. You get good by doing it.

You don’t have to be good to join this class. There is no prior knowledge required. You don’t even have to be good at drawing after taking the class! You will not be judged on drawing skill. If you are judged on anything at all, it will be on what you learned about the world and yourself by doing it. You will be keeping a personal field notebook/sketchbook, drawing just for yourself.

This is not an art or illustration class, yet you can use the skills developed to do either of those. You can use them in any kind of research. Drawing is a fundamental capability of the human mind that just has to be tapped. Drawing evolved because it was critical for survival. Visual thinking uses a different processing circuit in the brain–to simplify. Together with verbal reasoning, the two dimensions of the brain work together to create the insights and fundamental innovations that made us human. (And made us dangerous as well)

If you already can draw, you will be welcome to work on your own level. On the other hand, the stronger your insistence that you have no talent, the more you will be encouraged to join us. No straight lines required. Mistakes are encouraged as well, erasers are part of the simple materials list.

saguaro drawing by Paul Mirocha

The subtle objective this workshop is to get scientists and artists together to learn from each other’s point of view. Researchers of all kinds can use drawing as a tool to make better observations, record, remember, and communicate them to others. Artists will use drawing to learn more science, deepening their own art practice through increased knowledge of our Sonoran Desert surroundings. Everyone will be developing their own creative mind with visual thinking.

If this course is successful, you will leave with a partly filled sketchbook and the desire to fill it up with more sketches and field notes, then start a new one.

You will think, “I can draw. Drawing is useful to what I do.”

Find out how to register on the new University of Arizona Tumamoc Arts page.



Paul Mirocha's sketchbook: learning to draw a mesquite.
Paul Mirocha’s sketchbook: learning to draw a mesquite. It looks complex at first, until you break it down into simple shapes.

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