Drawing in class is good for you!

Note- This is a long post! Enjoy!

I draw in class a lot. I have piles of notes that I’ve saved because of both the sketches and ideas that would come up and the interesting information during lectures. These sketches are ideas, and I may use them for a future project. Sketches and doodles are where it all starts. My doodles are all over my notes, and 90% of the time they have little to do with the class subject. Or do they? Every little thing is connected in some way, and sometimes you might incorporate the design of something you’ve observed into something else.

Whether drawing from imagination or drawing what you see, I think drawing in class is just as important as taking notes (even if the lecture is boring!) and I think you’ll better retain information if you’re busy doodling while learning about a topic in class, as 1) you’ll channel information from class lectures into your sketches, 2) it’s great practice to sketch from slides and pictures and 3) you’ll stay awake! You don’t need to be physically running around to stay awake, nor do you need extra caffeine. Sketching and doodling keeps the mind active and helps you put new ideas together. But that’s enough explanation! Below I’m going to share some of my notes from different classes, including sketches and drawings done during lab classes. I’m going to show you that’s it’s good to draw in class!


These are some of my notes from a Mythology class I took last year. The lecture topic of the day was all about different religious beliefs of cultures around the world, starting with a short discussion on Carl Jung’s collective unconscious theory. I agree with this theory as we see so many similarities in myths from unrelated cultures, it’s absolutely mind-boggling. A basic example would be the prevalence of the circle in many myths. The Sun is a circle, the Earth is a circle. Both of these things give life, so it would be logical to depict the circle accompanying a deity. But that’s a whole discussion in of itself! During this lecture on myths we learned about various deities and mythical beasts. What would some of these bizarre beings look like? I tend to sketch the heads and faces of imaginary creatures as I like to focus on the eyes. Even if the creature is unable to create facial expressions, the eyes can still be full of emotion. In class we even talked a bit about how “all of life is a ritual”. Practicing drawing every day is a ritual in itself, it is part of your daily cycle, just like a circle.


These are all sketches of cells from various tissue samples preserved on slides. I took an anatomy and physiology class last semester and took copious notes during labs where we spent 3 hours looking at slides and specimens. I think a microscope is a great art tool, you can see things that you may never have imagined! It’s a bit intimidating when looking at thousands of cells under the scope, but picking a small section and sketching what you see is great practice for drawing from life. When drawing a subject observed from a microscope, you may not always be able to constantly look at the subject while drawing. Sometimes you have to go back and forth and memorize bits of visual information. Always make a generalized sketch before filling in details. That way, you can put down general proportions. It’s best to start with a pencil with a harder lead, so that you will have a lighter sketch upon which you can gradually build upon with darker lines. Always be inspired by nature first. Art classes are good to take, but I personally think life science classes are the best ‘art’ classes. In anatomy and physiology you get to see and learn about the structure of the human body, maybe even see those structures in person while looking at a cadaver. In zoology lab courses you will have access to a myriad specimens that you might not get to see anywhere else, from preserved Dogsharks to flamingo skulls. Drawing them will definitely help you understand them and remember them better. Make sketches and doodles of them to remember later on. Many times I’ve heard of illustrators getting their first jobs at the school they attended because a professor saw their artwork and hired them to do some illustrations for a lab manual or a book. This was the case for me when my Anthropology instructor hired me to do a few drawings of primate skulls for their new lab manual. This is where it all starts!


Both of these drawings started as sketches for Microbiology and Zoology, respectively. In every science lab I have been in, every student is required to create drawings of specimens they observe during class as part of a lab journal. This journal can be anything, from a three ring binder to a sketchbook from the student bookstore, as long as it was blank paper. The drawing on the left is the head of a Kissing bug (genus Rhodnius) along with sketches of the eye and leg. This was part of a lab assignment in Microbiology where we were to take notes on and draw different parasitic organisms. The head and mouthparts of the Kissing bug had an ‘alien’ look to them. On the right is the dissected head of a Dogshark preserved in formaldehyde. The drawing was done in silverpoint and was my first silverpoint drawing. This was one of several specimens set out in lab for a section on cartilagenous fishes. I wished I could still sit in on these classes just to have access to all the specimens for drawing reference. There is still much more to learn…


At the school I currently attend, Anatomy and Physiology classes are divided into two parts, with the first part focusing on memorizing bones, muscles and organs. The second part focuses more on physiology, beginning with the heart. The sketch on the left was from a model of the human heart focusing on the main vessels. The arrangement of these vessels reminds me of the engine of a vehicle; learning to sketch these vessels has helped me greatly when going to car shows and sketching engines and their parts. To me they are one in the same! The sketch on the right is an incomplete drawing of a sheep’s heart that was started during lecture from a slide image of a preserved sheep’s heart. Another image in class was shown of a preserved human heart; it is virtually impossible to differentiate the human heart from the sheep heart… I included a sketch of a sheep at the bottom as a reminder that all parts of an animal we look at in science labs once belonged to a living thing, and we should respect that.


Last year I took an Asian art history class, and we had to take plenty of notes on dates, artifacts and information on artworks. The sketch of the four dragon heads on the left was from a lecture on mandalas and how they are primarily divided into four sections. To me, the spherical orbs associated with some of these sketches represents the symbol of the circle or a third eye. Some of the sketches here were based on images of artifacts presented during lecture, and really helped me retain information as it was very easy to confuse different cultures and dates on artworks.


More sketches from Anatomy and Physiology class, we had to memorize parts of the brain and a few of their functions. The cross section was from a plastic model. In this class, drawing everything was important as you had to remember every name of every part for the exams, and it was up to you to remember this information. The sketch on the right is of a cross section of skin tissue showing the layers of cells and how they ‘migrate’ outwards, eventually sloughing off. The image is upside down as this is how the tissue sample appeared under the microscope. Underneath is a sketch of the Sun and how a single photon eventually makes its way from the center to the surface. This process reminded me of how our skin cells start from the stratum basale and migrate outwards to the stratum corneum, where they will then be sloughed off. It’s all a journey, for both the cell and the photon. Kind of makes you wonder about all that mythology has to say about everything being connected. When you look right down to the microscopic level, you really start to see these things, and it’s a little scary. I guess that’s why I think religion and science have such a strong connection, everyone wonders why things are as they appear, and no one wants to think it’s all without a purpose.

Making connections and observations all around you, that is what art is about. Keep on drawing!


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One Response to Drawing in class is good for you!

  1. Pingback: Afton Kern, and why I can always work harder. | Rory Spencer's UNIT X

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