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Fast-Pose Gesture Drawing

pencil on paper
detail about 12 x 14 inches
3 hour pose

A couple weeks ago I went to a life drawing session and was kind of horrified at how bad my short-pose gesture drawings were. I'm honestly categorically against teaching people to draw the human figure solely with fast gesture drawings, but at the same time I was mortified at how bad mine were - skritchy messes of lines that did not show at all what the model was doing.

We "warmed up" (how I loathe that word) with 1-10 minute poses, but most the session was a 3-hour pose. The drawing above is the 3-hour pose, and again I was amazed at how frantically I worked to capture the pose within the 3 hours, and felt the final drawing was not very successful.

Below was the best of the short poses from that day, a 10-minute pose. I'm not even going to post the 1-minute gestures.

10 minute gesture, pencil on paper

So after that experience I decided I needed to do some homework before the next class and so I looked at Bridgman (the god of comic book artists). I did some sketches from my Bridgman books and then moved into gesture sketches of master figure paintings.

Sketches after Bridgman
9 x 12 sketchbook page, pencil

I did this several days in a row, a couple hours a day. It was so fun I really didn't want to paint any more!

Sketches after Bridgman, Careggio, Reni
9 x 12 sketchbook page, pencil

For all of these I used a combination of Bridgman construction ideas, plus the straight-line block-in, plus the inner movement curve. Frankly the curve works best for these sketches.

Ok, I am not very fast yet - each of these individual figures on this page took 30 to 60 minutes to begin to capture the pose. But my goal is make highly accurate gesture drawings: simple, undecorated sketches that clearly show the feeling and intention of the movement.

When I went back to open life drawing session yesterday, I felt just these few hours of "homework" helped a lot! My gesture drawing improved greatly:

1 minute poses, pencil on paper

10 minute pose

3 hour pose, approx 12 x 14 inches, pencil on paper

I still struggled with capturing the poses quickly and efficiently, but I think all these drawings are better than the first day's drawings. And since I left a lot of the construction lines in you can see how I am using the "movement curve."

My original posts about Studio Escalier's inner movement curve concept are here and here.

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Reader Comments (9)

Quicksketch is difficult because it forces snap judgments, and the product of all that intense effort is often not very presentable (unless you are very experienced). That doesn’t mean it’s not doing it’s job. A couple hours of practice a day is impressive, and it really shows in your ‘before’ and ‘after’. The gesture of the second long sketch is much more fluid and balanced. Very nice. Students at my school avoid quicksketch like the plague, the irony is that it’s probably one of the best classes for developing a “good eye”.

February 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace X. Moore

Thanks Candace, glad you can see the difference :)

Honestly, based in my own particular experinece, I am not at all sure quicksketch does much at all to teach an artist how to draw the figure if it is not also combined with long pose study of proportion and form.

I have done years and years and YEARS of fast drawing, since my first life drawing class at age 15 (22 years ago). I took fast-pose life drawing every semester of 4 years of undergraduate art school, and many life drawing drop-in sessions since then.

It's only since I've studied long pose drawing (really long, as in 40-60 hours per pose) that I learned the discipline and focus and seeing ability to go back to fast-pose drawing and get anything at all out of it.

That said, I think construction-drawing like Vilppu and Bridgeman would have been great for me to be studying starting at age 15, even with only short poses to practice on.

February 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSadie J. Valeri

I agree Sadie. I think that quick sketch is a very important tool, but a quicksketch without knowlege of proportion, form, and anatomy can often just teach somebody to be sloppy. I wish I had more experience with very long poses.(actually more appropriatly "any experience") Sometimes it feels that the biggest downfall for me of quick gestural sessions is that it reinforces my bad habits. I make the same mistakes over and over again. Proportions are constantly wrong, heads are always small, legs always long, face always flat. I really think the best way to dig yourself out of these recurrent pitfalls is to really sit down and take your time with a pose to break it down and apply the due dilligence to obseving and measuring. That being said, I also think that gestural drawing is possibly the most important aspect of drawig the figure. I think you would agree that the flow and gesture gives the drawing its life. Most of the figure drawing classes that I have come from had an "animation centric" perspective, and in those classes, gesture was king. "Let the follow-up crew put the drawing on model and make it make sense" was the general philosophy; the "acting" was in the gesture. Bringing the drawing to a finish was not the final goal and those quick gestural drawings were what the studios were looking for in portfolios. I also have the same disdain for the term "warm-up" for quick poses. This implies a casualness to the short poses and is a greenlight for the artist to feel like the only reason he/she is doing them is to loosen up their arms. I think that the initial gesture drawing is a balancing act of looseness and accuracy. If you can nail the feeling of the pose in those first few minutes the rest of the drawing can be built from there....nothing casual about a gesture drawing at all. I also think that having facility with gestural drawings helps an artist to draw the figure without a model and to concept out poses from imagination. A skill that feeds back into the long pose as far as adjusting a pose to your needs and staying away from that slavish copying that we are all trying to avoid.

February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris D

Hi Chris!

I also make the same errors over and over again with quick sketching - we all have universal and personal errors of misperception that are hard to correct without careful (slow) training. Maybe athletes can learn to hit a ball by having it fly at them quickly over and over until they "get it"... but I don't think artists learn that way.

I agree that a drawing must have "flow" to feel alive. But it must
also have accurate proportion and describe precise structure if it is to look alive. A curl of smoke or a wave of water moves and looks interesting, but it does not look alive unless it has the organized, self-propelling structure to support life.

I think accuracy brings life. Certainly some long pose drawings can lack life, but I think that is due to small errors of accuracy, not due to the lack of fast markmaking. Which is why I think the movement curve is so powerful - it helps us see how every part interrelates, and a small error of mis-measurement from another method can be corrected if we cross-check with the movement curve.

Certainly the goals for animation and the goals for creating still art are different. But I think a combination of approaches would be helpful to artists of all disciplines.

So take my class - 2 sundays of long pose!! :)

February 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSadie J. Valeri

Sadie! These are fantastico and I'm enjoying just seeing you draw, draw, DRAW! =)

I think you've got 2 of the three needed elements of study and practice going. Now I just wanna see you drawing from your head/imagination.

There is nothing like drawing one's head to see how much you truly understand about form, anatomy, composition, relationships, line quality, energy, lighting, etc. All the greats could draw pretty much anything out of their heads.

I'm a big believer that in order to really be a great draftsman/artist, one needs to consistently go about:

1. Studying from Life: Long and Short Poses

2. Working from imagination

3. Playing with forms to create something new and meaningful rather than relying on a bag of tricks.

Keep up the momentum!

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gard

Good points, Adam. Every stage of my artistic development so far has come when I reach a point where I am curious enough about something that I can't help but dive into it. I'm sure at some point the desire to draw from imagination will develop in a similar way, too :)

Your #3 is tricky because it can so easily look contrived when an artist jumps into trying to create something "new" without a properly developed set of tools. But I think like everything else, the siren call at some point becomes irresistible, and then the time is right.

For me, the number one and only ingredient for artmaking is integrity, defined as self honesty, and not letting fear hold one back. The human mind can't help but be curious and want to express itself, so all one has to do is set the mind free to develop in the direction it is yearning to go anyway!

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSadie J. Valeri

We also had a good discussion of different drawing approaches in my post "Master Copy", those who posted here might be interested in that discussion too:

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSadie J. Valeri

Hi Sadie,

I have enjoyed these comments and entries about gesture drawing.

One thing I am confused about is what points on or in the figure the curve you use initially actually corresponds to.

We do "gestures" in my class, but the line you use seems to be more specific and purposeful than that.

Thank you!

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Hi Dave - Yes the Inner Movement Curve is much more specific than the "gesture drawing" method I was taught at RISD. I wrote up very detailed descriptions of it on my posts about studying at Studio Escalier. Links to those posts are at the bottom of this post, and also in the menu to the right. I think that will explain more than I can do here :)

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSadie
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