Scribbles… With Feeling – Gesture Drawings

The results speak for themselves. Gesture drawing helps the artist to understand the human body and create more naturalistic, expressive figures.

by Rae Wells

I used to dismiss gesture drawings as being just warm-up scribbles. A lot of the time, I didn’t even bring them home from class; I’d just pitch them in the recycle bin at the school. I don’t do that any more. Gesture drawings can teach you a lot about energy, and learning from them can really help bring figures to life on your pages.

A gesture drawing is about the tension and energy of the pose. It’s not about getting a likeness of the model, it’s about getting the attitude they’re showing. An artist’s gesture drawings can be like a writer’s notebook – quick records of ideas to explore later. A gesture drawing from a good model can be the starting point for a story or a pinup.

When I’m doing a gesture drawing, I start with a few seconds of observation, to get a feel for the pose, about what it would feel like to be in that pose, where the tension is, where the weight is, and where the energy is.  I do all this on a gut-level, not any kind of thinking or analysis… when the pose is only a minute or two long there’s not really any time for that. I’ll often find myself mimicking the pose a bit to get a better feel for its energy.

Once I am ready to draw, I spent a few seconds exploring the page and the pose, moving my arm over the paper although I might not start making marks right away. First I check how much room I have on the page, and where the edges of the page are compared to where the farthest out points of the pose are. I try to look at the model and not the page while I’m working, so it’s extra-important to have a feel for where the paper ends.

I start with a light mark that will be the frame for the drawing. For some of these drawings, I’ve highlighted the first mark I made on each page. Usually it’s a swish of a line, the “line of action” as they say. As you can tell, this doesn’t really correspond to the spine or to the centre of the figure. It’s closest to being a description of the angles of the dominant masses of the figure. If the drawing was an essay, this first line would be the premise. It defines what the pose is about.

Once the first line is down, I start putting in lines that support the premise, describing the major masses, starting with the biggest ones and moving out from there. Again, this is done by feel and gut reaction, and it takes a matter of seconds. Start big, then add in the important supporting lines, but keep it big and broad. I rarely draw faces on my gesture drawings, unless the model is making an especially expressive face, and even it’s a record of the attitude, not an attempt at making a portrait. Don’t worry too much about the end product, just record the information the way you feel it.

At least, that’s the way I approach it. I’m not saying that there’s a particularly right or wrong way to do it, just that this is how I do it, and it has worked out pretty well for me so far.

See it, Feel it, Draw it.

In that order – that’s the important bit.

(Originally posted Sept 17, 2010 on my blog, Can’t Stop Drawing.

The more natural a figure feels, the more real they are to your readers and the more engrossed we become in their adventures.


Posted on August 22, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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