The University of Cape Town(UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences Continuing Education Unit offers a one-day, certificated 6 Point CPD short-course to medical professionals who wish to learn an effective method with which to improve their observation of the anatomy through touch (haptics) and drawing.

Professor Alp Numanoglu and colleagues participating in the course led by Leonard Shapiro. Prof Numanoglu is Head of Paediatric Surgery at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

This CPD (6 Points) short-course is suited to orthopaedic surgeons, radiation oncology planners, radiologists, physiotherapists, general practitioners, forensic pathologists and surgeons.

NOTE: You need absolutely NO drawing experience to participate in this course.

Student making anatomical drawing of skull at UCT

A course participant observes the base of the skull using touch (and sight) and makes gestural marks that correspond to the 3-D form of the skull.

This anatomy observation short-course is run by Leonard Shapiro, who applies scientific thinking and method to the field of observation in anatomy education. Shapiro, who has an honours degree in Fine Art from UCT as well as a BSocSci, has developed a multi-sensory observation method called Haptico-Visual Observation and Drawing (HVO&D), which employs the sense of touch (haptics) as well as sight, coupled with the simultaneous act of drawing.

“Decades of scientific research in the field of haptics attest that touch is fundamental to our observation and understanding of the physical world” (Klatzky and Lederman, 1992).


There are a number of important benefits to applying the HVO&D method in the medical environment:

  • the closer observation and understanding of the three-dimensional form and detail of the anatomical part under investigation.
  • the cognitive memorisation of an anatomical part as a ‘mental picture’.
  • improved spatial orientation within the volume of an anatomical part (for example, the space within the skull).
  • complementing the analysis of MRI, CT scans and X-rays by increasing the viewer’s 3-D spatial orientation within the volume of the anatomical part under examination.
  • improved observation of the anatomy when palpating any area of the human body during examination.
  • as a complement to anatomy studies for MBChB students and medical professionals.
  • an ability to draw.


Student laughing during UCT anatomical drawing class

A UCT medical student and her observational gesture-drawing of the head and neck of a humerus. Drawing and touch are used to better observe the anatomical part.

Many people think that they can’t draw and that only the ‘gifted’ or talented can draw. This is absolutely not the case. In the course that I offer, every single person has been able to draw, and draw well. Drawing is, after all, simply the making of marks on paper” – Leonard Shapiro

We predominantly observe an object with our sense of sight. As such, we do not detect aspects of the object that can only be observed via the sense of touch. If we observe an object using a combination of both sight and touch, we begin to gather a lot more data about the three-dimensional form and detail of the object and, as a consequence, begin to observe it more completely.

In addition to using the sense of touch with which to observe an object more completely, Shapiro’s method uses hand-gestures to ‘make marks on paper with a pencil’ in order to describe and record what is being observed.

“The HVO&D method is primarily about observation and memorization, with mark-making (i.e. drawing) reinforcing haptic object observation” (Reid et al, 2018).

Marks that describe the 3-D form of the humerus

Shapiro prefers to use words like ‘mark-making’ rather than ‘drawing’ as he believes the latter alienates people who believe they cannot draw. If you can make gestures with your upper-limb and hand, you can draw. And the better you observe an object with your senses, the better you can make marks on paper that represent that object.

Medical professionals and students who have studied an anatomical part using this method (such as a humerus, skull or heart) report being able to observe more of that part than they did before. In addition, they are able to remember the anatomical part as a mental image. Radiation oncologists are better able to extrapolate from a specific 2-D MRI slice and orient themselves within the volume of the anatomical part under investigation.

The nerves of our hands take up a very large area of the sensory and motor cortex of our brain and they gather a great deal of information about the nature of objects when we explore them through touch.

While we gather one type of information about an object with our sense of sight, we gather a different type of information about that object with our sense of touch. In order for us to observe an object more completely, we need to observe it using a combination of sight and touch.

The application of Shapiro’s HVO&D method results in a greatly increased level of observation of the form and detail of a three-dimensional object (such as an anatomical part), as well as the cognitive memorisation of the anatomical part as a mental picture.

“While we observe the form of a three-dimensional object through touch with our ‘feeling hand’, we simultaneously make gestural marks on paper with our ‘drawing hand’ to reflect what we are feeling”.

On completion of the course, one medical student commented, “I still remember all the objects perfectly in my head…I mean…you could close your eyes and draw a humerus. Now I can see it in my mind’s eye.”

Hand drawing image of humerus

Marks have a semiotic value in terms of what they describe individually and collectively. Note: We are not aiming to draw a ‘photographic’ image.

Course Information and Registration – this is a one-day short-course

For information about the next HVO&D anatomy observation short-course, please follow this link:

To register for the course as an individual or as a group: Please email Zeenat Ebrahim: (please note, for group registration: a minimum of 7 people and a maximum of 12).

The cost of the course is R1 900 per person. Catering is included. All drawing materials and osteological material will be provided.

Questions about the course Please write to Leonard Shapiro:  or call him on 082 553 0824.

The HVO&D course convener is Professor Graham Louw, head of the UCT Division of Clinical Anatomy and Biological Anthropology.

Published Paper on HVO&D

A paper on the HVO&D method written by Prof Steve Reid, Leonard Shapiro and Prof Graham Louw was published in the Anatomical Sciences Education (ASE) journal. Read the paper here: