Art hikes are hosted near-monthly along different trails in the Tucson area.

The sun is shining, the wildflowers are in bloom and Tucsonans are sitting outside with their paints, pencils and crochet needles.

For the last two years, local artist Stephanie Daniels has led free art hikes through Tucson's beloved trails. You might know her as Brushes & Boots, a name that very appropriately encompasses her two loves.

"When I started my art business, I really wanted to figure out how to combine the brushes and the boots together because those are my two passions," Daniels says. "The more I thought about it, I thought, 'I bet other people would be excited about getting outside and exploring while being creative.'"ย 

Stephanie Daniels, left, is the artist behind Brushes & Boots.

With the help of her friends at Kula Cloth, a brand that creates reusable antimicrobial pee cloths to promote good hygiene and eliminate the use of toilet paper in wilderness settings, Daniels has led nearly a dozen near-monthly art hikes in the Tucson area, from the treasured trails of Mount Lemmon to desert explorations in Sweetwater Preserve. The next art hike is scheduled for March 24 in Pima Canyon, followed by April 14 in Finger Rock Canyon.

Daniels lovingly jokes that the art hikes are more like art "saunters" because no one is rushing to get through the trails. The group, capped at 12 participants, stops to look at flowers or tries to find the bird that's chirping somewhere high up in a tree. The hikes typically happen on easy to moderate trails.

About a mile and a half through the hike, the group stops to enjoy creative time.

The hikes aren't art workshops. Instead, participants bring their own art suppliesย โ€” Daniels has seen people paint, draw, write poetry, take photos and even crochet during the hikesย โ€” and create whatever feels right to them in that moment.

Stephanie Daniels leads free art hikes around the Tucson area.

"We're not only hiking and exploring the scenery, but we're also exploring the creativity inside of us," she says. "It feels really good to know that I'm helping people harness that creativity."

For many who join the art hikes, creating art outdoors is a foreign activity.

"It makes me feel really excited to know that maybe this person wouldn't have done this on their own and by taking a chance and signing up for something like this, it brought out a different side of their creativity that they maybe hadn't accessed before," she says.

Stephanie Daniels has led art hikes through areas like Mount Lemmon and Sweetwater Preserve.

After hosting her first art hike nearly two years ago, Daniels knew the art hikes were something she had to do again.

"Hiking back, everyone was like, 'This is so cool. I would love to do this again.' That's when I was like, 'OK, there's something here. This could be something special a lot of people could be interested in,'" Daniels says. "I don't know if that's a woo-woo universe thing bringing the right kind of people together."

During her most recent art hike in February, everyone in the group painted something similar, but in their own styles.ย 

"It's nice that the landscape inspired us, but we all put our own spin on it," she says.ย 

In an October hike through a colorful Mount Lemmon trail, the group walked through crunchy orange leaves and miniature fairy houses that someone outside of the hike had made with bark, moss and other found items.ย 

Art hike participants have done everything from painting, drawing, writing poetry, photography, crocheting and constructing fairy houses.

"When it came time for our creative time, we all did something different," she says. "Someone was out birding, we had someone else who was writing in her journal or writing poetry, someone was filming videos and taking pictures, someone was making her own fairy house, I was painting. We all did something different, but inspired by the same scenery."

"I think it just goes to show that no matter what type of creativity or art you're drawn to, you can still be inspired by the landscape or by other people," she says.

Daniels hopes that the art hikes help participants foster a deeper appreciation for where they live. That's how she feels after coming away from the hikes, at least.

During the art hikes, participants bring their own art supplies and stop mid-hike to explore their creativity.ย 

"I'm just so glad we live here and so glad I get to call such a beautiful place home," she says. "And I hope they just feel inspired to keep creating. I think so often it's hard to go out and create, even I feel that. Sometimes it's just hard to put paint on paper. It's worth it to stop and create something, even if it's just at your kitchen table before you make dinner. I hope that inspiration stays with them.ย 

"I always feel an immense feeling of gratitude after an art hike. This random group of people came together. Sometimes we know each other, sometimes we don't, but we all find this commonality with each other. We all find some sense of connection even though we may all start off as strangers."ย 

Before the art hikes and before Brushes & Boots, Daniels, an Illinois native, pursued a career in interior design.

"Since I was little, I've loved being creative โ€” drawing, painting, writing poetry, writing songs. Pretty much any art class I could take, I took it," she says. "For college, I studied interior design because I thought that was a safer route than going to a fine arts school and getting a fine arts degree. But I've always had that creativity inside of me that I always wanted to share with people."

It was a group-coaching class with Kula Cloth founder Anastasia Allison that changed things.

"It was through working with her that I found myself realizing I've had this dream of being an artist since I was little, but I hadn't actually tried to do it," Daniels says. "I had this moment of, this is what I really want to do โ€”ย I want to share my art with the world. For the longest time, I've said it's impossible, it's an impossible dream. Working with her made me realize not only was it possible but I can find abundance through art."

"It's easy to quiet that voice and tell yourself you're not good enough. I listened to that for a really long time. Working with Anastasia, I told myself I still have this dream," she says.

Daniels moved to Tucson in 2017 to be closer to family. She didn't expect to stay long โ€” she once dreamed of living in the Pacific Northwest โ€”ย but she's been here ever since. ย 

"Every single trail I wanted to hike, every single area I wanted to explore," she says. "Through my hiking and getting to see more of Tucson and Arizona as a whole, I kind of realized how beautiful the desert is. I remember my first spring here, being so surprised by all the flowers I was seeing and taking pictures of everything.

"That really sparked my creativity and was really inspiring to me. It made me want to pick up my paintbrush again," she says.

Stephanie Daniels started Brushes & Boots in 2019 and led her first art hike in 2022.

Daniels started Brushes & Boots in 2019, painting landscapes of pictures she took during hikes. She launched her website and listed a few of her watercolor paintings โ€”ย andย walked away.

"I didn't really do much with it because I got scared again. I let it sit there for a while," she says.ย 

After in-person events made their grand return after the pandemic, she started to vend at markets and share more of her artwork on social media. Daniels now sells paintings of our beautiful desert alongside stickers, tote bags, coffee mugs and more items filled with designs that celebrate Tucson.

Stephanie Daniels hopes to eventually lead art-themed backpacking and camping trips.

She hopes to one day host full-blown painting workshops amid hikes, and maybe even backpacking and camping trips with built-in creative time.ย 

More than anything, she hopes to share her knowledge with peopleย โ€” answering questions about trails, paints, hiking gear and everything in between.ย 

"There's a lot of people who maybe want to get outdoors but it can be really intimidating if you don't have the right gear or don't know people," she says. "When I first moved here, I worked at Summit Hut and I learned so much. I learned early on not to be scared of asking questions."

"I want to share my adventures and really inspire people to hike and get out and explore Tucson or the Sonoran Desert or anywhere you want to get outside," she says. "I'm always happy to share what I've learned with other people and encourage people to get outside."

Daniels hosts art hikes near monthly. The hikes are free to attend, though registration is required through Eventbrite and donations are welcome. To find out about future art hikes, follow Brushes & Boots on Instagram.ย 

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Gloria was born and raised in Tucson and is a 2018 University of Arizona grad. From wildflowers to wildlife, she loves all things Tucson and hopes to share her love of the city with readers โœจ