The key to a successful gesture drawing is to capture the essence of the form you are trying to replicate on paper or your tablet/screen. Elaborate details matter little – the most important part is the movement and shape as it relates to the negative space around it. For the most part, gesture drawings are studies of a form in motion. The action of drawing in this manner will help you as an artist understand the principles of anatomy, ranges of movement, dynamics and how muscles and moving parts function.
The gesture drawing focuses more on the representation of the action of the form, not a literal transcription of what is taking place. Practicing quick gesture drawings will train you your eye-brain-hand co-ordination to pick up on dynamic lines in forms and understand basic structures, foundations and limitations.
There’s no proper way to do a gesture drawing. Its messy, fast and loose. Its free flowing and the closest feeling of a snapshot a drawing will ever achieve. Before you jump headlong into any extended period of drawing time, loosen up the muscles and tendons in your hand and arm by practicing a few gesture drawings – 10 minutes worth of 1 minute gesture drawings will help loosen you up and aid in making your drawings flow naturally. Since there’s no erasing in a gesture drawing, you’re essentially feeling your way around the form and building it up by your loose style.
The best way to examine movement is to find some reference material to get you started. Any stock photography site or editorial photo site should have some dynamic images of sport or action – use these shots as a guide. The more interesting the action, the more intense your gesture drawing will be.
Here’s an example.
When drawing gestures based on the human form, concentrate first on finding the dynamic movement lines before defining your shapes. The easiest way is to look at the curvature of the spine. Hatch out a line similar to the spinal curve and start there.
Look at the position of the shoulders and how the arms extend outwards. They also form dynamic action lines. Now, note the position of the hips, and how the legs extend from the pelvis. Again, more dynamic line work. At this stage you should be creating a stick man skeleton.
This is the foundation of your gesture drawing. Once that is complete, block in the head and neck, followed by the upper torso and pelvis. Do not make the upper body one piece, otherwise you will make your form look more like a barrel than a person. Take a quick second and think about your own anatomy. Your rib cage isn’t fused to your pelvis like a tin can – you have your spinal column to provide the anchor, and your pelvis acts as a pivot point. Therefore, they should be drawn separately.
Keep the drawing loose and simple – you can refine these details later. Your next step should be to create the forms of the legs and feet and all the joints in between – knees and ankles. Now, your drawing should look more like a wooden mannequin. Remember – NO ERASING. Just draw. There’s no style points in a gesture drawing. You’re training yourself to create forms quickly and build a better response between your eye, brain and hand.
If you still have time remaining, fill in more details such as clothing, hair, fingers and toes, and facial features. Remember to keep the consistency of the lines light and loose – you’re feeling out the form in the round – much like a sculptor who pulls his work out of a chunk of rock or clay.
After a practice run of 10-15 gestures, you should be loosened up and ready to tackle your drawing projects. Just like any good athlete needs to stretch their muscles and free their minds of distractions, good artists need to stretch their own muscles and clear their minds in order to focus on form and movement and how it interacts with the space around it. Try it yourself everytime you plan on drawing for an extended period of time – take 10 minutes and loosen up. You will build on your hand-eye co-ordination as well as your efficiency and perception skills.