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This week’s episode is inspired by recent classes in the Visible Thinking Membership where we’ve been exploring the concept of using drawing and sketching for slow looking and observation. We’re also been talking a lot about how people feel about drawing, sketching, doodling and scribbling as well.
Now when you introduce any activity into a guided tour, museum programme or class that involves drawing you almost certainly get a few people in the audience who have objections – normally along the lines of ‘I can’t draw’. It quite often gets people quite apprehensive too, especially if they feel they have to show their drawing to anyone. But what I’m talking about today is about using drawing as an observational exercise, not a drawing exercise. It’s not a test of how good your drawing skills are, it’s a test of how to use your eyes. When people are learning how to draw, they actually learn how to observe first. And being a sketcher makes you a better observer – it’s as though you are seeing something for the first time when you’re trying to draw it. Using drawing as a tool for slowing down, for slow looking enriches and enhances what you see. So here are 3 thinking routines that you can use for slow looking extended observation and sketching or drawing. 2 of these thinking routines are specifically designed for drawing and sketching whilst the last routine is one that can be adapted for drawing. And at the end of this episode I’ll be sharing some ways to get over drawing apprehension – that feeling of nerves when someone asks you to draw. How can you help your group to feel comfortable and enjoy drawing with you? So do stick around to the end for those ideas too!


What is Slow Complexity Capture?

Slow Complexity Capture was developed by Project Zero as part of the PZ Connect project.
This routine helps participants to slow down by using drawing or photography. It encourages extended observation and close looking – by taking time to look at things slowly, it helps to unravel complexity.
There are 4 parts to Slow Complexity Capture: Find, Capture, Explain and Wonder: 
Find: Find an object or scene that captures your eye. In a word or phrase, say what it is.
Capture: Take some time to look carefully at your item. Capture it by slowly making a drawing of it or taking pictures of it from different angles or perspectives. Spend at least 5-10 minutes observing through drawing, looking, and/or photographing.
Explain: After you have visually captured your item, write a paragraph (or tell a friend) about how it is complex.
Wonder: What new ideas and questions do you have about your item?


To have a go at this thinking routine, you will first need to find an object or a scene.
It can be anything you have to hand (on your desk or in your immediate environment), in your classroom, in the museum or in your home.
You might decide to hunt for a particular kind of object by offering a theme or you can ask participants to look for an object in general – looking for something that they are intrigued by or curious about.
The thinking routine can be set up in many ways. Objects can be chosen by the individuals themselves or by the facilitator. If the facilitator is choosing, you can decide on one object for the group to look at as a whole or several objects for a number of small groups to look at.
As I said at the start, It is important to emphasise that this is an observation exercise rather than a technical drawing one. It’s about using the eye and observing carefully rather than producing a polished drawing!
The capturing or drawing part can also take place in pairs or small groups where each person creates a capture from a different angle or perspective.
You can choose whether to capture the object or scene from one detailed perspective or from a variety of different perspectives. If participants are happy to share their drawings with you, then it goes without saying that you should be emphasising the observational qualities of their sketch rather than their drawing abilities.


We explored this thinking routine last December in the Visible Thinking membership.
To start, I asked participants to get up from their seats and find an object that was related to the current season and month (ie something festive as it was December!). They could choose anything that was to hand, on their person or in their immediate environment. I gave participants a few moments to go and find something.
Once everyone had returned, I then asked an initial question ‘What do you think you know about your object?’ and asked them to share their thoughts in the chat. At this point, no-one knew what everyone else’s objects were.
Then we spent some time looking carefully at our objects – first without touching and then picking it up and looking at it from all angles and perspectives.
We then took a piece of paper and folded it into 4 squares. Participants were asked to capture their item 4 times by sketching from different angles. We spent around 7 minutes capturing our objects through observation and drawing. We then reflected on whether 7 minutes was enough time – participants found it relaxing, informative and an interesting way to zoom in.
For the explaining part, we first discussed ways in which things can be complex (using the ‘Ways Things Can Be Complex’ thinking routine – I’ll put a link to this in the shownotes) I asked the group to consider which types of complexity might apply to their object. They then were asked to write a short paragraph about the different ways their object was complex.
To bring the group together and create conversations, I then put the group into small breakout rooms to share their captures with each other, discuss their observations and share the ways in which their item is complex. After the breakout rooms, participants were invited to unmute and share their discussions and discoveries about their objects to the group as a whole.
For the final ‘wondering’ part, I asked participants to share any new ideas or questions they had about their object after spending so much time with it. We finished with a group photo with all of our objects (and some of our captures!).


There were lots of key takeaways from exploring SCC:
  1. There were lots of takeaways from exploring Slow Complexity Capture.
  2. Participants were surprised at how many new details they saw in familiar objects. Even with simple objects, it was really interesting to look and draw for an extended period of time.
  3. It made several participants wonder how many objects they have in their house that they haven’t really ‘seen’ yet.
  4. Everyone really enjoyed the complexity part, as it made them think in a different way about their objects and took the thinking routine to ‘another level’.
  5. Being able to observe first, then think about complexity after an extended period of time really helped ideas flow better.
  6. Participants thought it would be an interesting routine to use with all age groups – especially children and families.
  7. Useful routine to slow a group down and to get them interested in and curious about objects that might at first seem a bit dull or boring.
Slow Complexity Capture is a fantastic routine to try out – we had a lot of fun exploring and experimenting with it too. You can read my full blog on SCC here.


A routine for looking closely to explore complexity. This routine encourages participants to slow down, and observe closely and, like slow complexity capture, to appreciate the creativity and complexity in the world around us.
I found this routine on Simon Brook’s website Simon Brooks Education This routine can be used in any situation where participants are required to look closely and read for meaning. So you could use it at the start of any object or art discussion.
I like that Simon Brooks talks about this routine helping to avoid what David Perkins calls ‘audience impressionism’ (looking briefly, noting only whether or not you like the artefact)
You can use it to explore lots of different source materials such as a cartoon or photograph, or imagery from a picture book, looking closely at a complex diagram or, of course, an artwork.
Memory Draw has 4 steps-  Look – Reproduce – Compare – Reflect:
LOOK: Look closely at an image, painting, photograph or object. REPRODUCE: From memory, draw everything you can remember of it as best you can. Imagine your mind is a photocopier and try to reproduce it as accurately as possible. COMPARE: Compare your version to the original. Record similarities and differences. What seems to match up when you compare your version to the original? What seems very different? What’s not present at all in your version? REFLECT: What have you learned? What key insights have you had about the material that seem important and worth holding onto?


Choice of image is key – anything too simple might be frustrating if it doesn’t lead to any insights, too complex to draw and audience members may feel a little intimidated.
For our discussion I chose Roy Lichtenstein’s Still Life with Windmill from the Whitney Museum. This print shows a table top with a variety of objects in front of a striped wall, with an open window or door on the left hand side. Outside of the window or door we can see a windmill with 4 sails. The print is mainly monochrome with pops of blue, yellow, green and red.
We started by looking at the image for around 30 seconds before sharing our observations collectively. I restated the observations from the chat. I then removed the image from view.
We then moved on to the second part of the routine – reproducing the image. I gave everyone 8 minutes to reproduce as much of the image as they could from memory. I joined in the activity too – even though I was facilitating I was curious to see how much I would remember of the image.
We then compared our drawings to the original image – what was different? What was the same? What did we miss out entirely? Before going into breakout rooms and discussing the differences and similarities in small groups.
We then came back together to reflect on the process and share any insights we had gathered during the process. There were lots and lots – some in relation to observation skills (ie how practicing noticing details definitely improves skills) and personal insights – such as whether participants were good at remembering the big picture or the finer details? We discussed whether sharing our observations beforehand had helped with the drawing part and what the routine would be like with other types of images. We thought it would be interesting to do the routine twice – once without doing the observation and describing part and the second time with as an experiment to see how much we noticed.
All in all it led to BIG insights and gave us all pause for thought. Definitely one I’ll be trying again.


Parts, Purposes, Complexities – is an Agency by Design project thinking routine from Project Zero. It is a wonderful routine for guiding inquiry into all sorts of things: artworks, historical documents and, my personal favourite, with objects. This routine is for looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. It encourages participants to slow down, make detailed observations and to look beyond the obvious. You can use any sort of object for this activity – precious, non-precious, household, broken or brand new. There are 3 questions:
  • What are the various parts of the object?
  • What are the purposes of each of these parts?
  • Where do complexities* emerge among these parts and purposes?
This routine works beautifully with sketching and drawing. If working in-person, I also like to use objects that can be handled and touched so that participants can examine the moving parts. I like to split up into small groups and ask the group to look first at the object from their vantage point. They are not allowed to touch the object at this point. They then make a sketch of what they can see from where they are. If the groups are not all keen on drawing you can also assign or ask for volunteer sketchers who will draw the object on a large piece of paper for everyone to see. They are then allowed to pick up the object and examine it from all angles. By doing this it helps the group to label the parts – which they can do on their sketches. We then ask the group to think about possible purposes for each of these parts. The group discuss together their ideas before one person notes down their ideas on the paper. Finally, they note down any complexities they can see and any wonderings they have. They can then share their findings with the group as a whole – in my trainings I ask groups to present this as a one minute infomercial about their object. It’s a wonderful routine to use in general but when you incorporate sketching into it, it takes it to another level!


If participants are a little hesitant or apprehensive about drawing or slow to get going, here are some tips for encouraging your group:
  1. Try a contour drawing or continuous line drawing (draw without lifting your pencil from the paper),
  2. Or you could ask them to draw by only looking at the object (not at their paper),
  3. You could do a touch drawing – by presenting and object in a bag that they have to touch and then draw what they think it is.
  4. You could ask the group to do a back-to-back drawing – with one person describing the thing and the other person doing the drawing
  5. Or offer small post-its or small notebooks rather than large sheets of paper. There seems to be something about the large blank white page that puts people off but hand them a post-it and they are happy to do a quick sketch or drawing of what they see.
  6. Or divide into small groups and have one person volunteer to draw.
  7. Do state clearly that no-one has to share their drawing with anyone else if they don’t wish to
  8. But above all, repeat that it’s an exercise about slow, careful looking and it’s not about making a perfect or beautiful drawing. Repeat this as necessary!
So, there you have it – 3 thinking routines that you can use to incorporate slow looking and drawing into your programmes AND 8 tips on how to get over drawing apprehension. I’d love for you to give them a go. If you do, share with me how you get on.

The Ultimate Thinking Routine List

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