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Gesture Drawing: A Quick Way to Improve Drawing Skills

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I am Diane Brown (dbro), an artist and illustrator living in Texas. I enjoy all phases of the creative process. Enjoy and comment!

These drawings were executed in a very short time (10 seconds per drawing).

These drawings were executed in a very short time (10 seconds per drawing).

What Is Gesture Drawing?

Gesture drawing is a great drawing method for helping beginning art students and artists of all skill levels improve their observational ability and thereby increase their proficiency in drawing.

The goal of gesture drawing is to train the eye and hand to work more effectively together to ultimately produce more accurate drawings. The technique achieves this goal by introducing a "handicap" into the drawing process, which counterintuitively actually increases the artist's abilities.

The "handicap" introduced by gesture drawing is to impose is an extreme time limit for producing the drawing. This extremely short time for creating the drawing forces the artist to pare down the visual information he or she can produce to the barest minimum.

How It Works

As the name of this technique implies, the subject matter of these drawings are people and the poses or "gestures" they strike. Of course, drawing people is possibly the most intimidating subject for most artists and art students. However, the artist will overcome his/her fears when using this technique due to the absolute lack of time to worry about their product.

Step 1: Find a Model

Now, in order to create gesture drawings, some conditions need to be satisfied. First, it is necessary to use a model. This is not a difficult problem. Any willing person can be a model for this technique. A great idea is to find a drawing partner, and the two of you can take turns modeling for one another. In a class situation, one of the students can serve as the model. The poses are not difficult to hold, since the time allowed for the drawing is very short. The poses the model strikes should be "grand" in that the whole body (including arms and legs) is engaged. For this reason athletes and dancers make great models. A person with good body awareness can strike many and varied poses in rapid succession.

Step 2: Set a Time and Use a Timer

Second, a timer of some sort must be used. The essence of the gesture drawing technique is time. Therefore, it must be clear to the artists when the drawing time starts and when it ends. It is helpful to have someone act as leader of the activity, telling the artists when to begin and when to stop drawing. The point of this technique is to make the duration of the drawing time very short—some as short as five seconds. This will force the artist to make quick decisions about how to draw the figure. There is no time for fussing with details and "getting the nose just right." All there is time for is quick marks to indicate the position of the head, arms, legs, etc.

What Gesture Drawing Teaches Us

What makes gesture drawing so demanding is that it goes against our instinct to slowly and meticulously obsess over every mark we make, that most artists feel liberated from their biggest critic (themselves). With so little time, the artist seems better able to "go with the flow" and create surprisingly good, proportional figures.

As with any new skill, some practice is required before the artist will feel comfortable. At first it seems impossible to complete a drawing in so quick a time frame. As one becomes more used to the rapid nature of these drawings, the product created will improve. The drawings will never come to the point where there is great detail, but the general proportions and completeness of the drawings will get better.

These drawings had a longer duration (about 30 seconds each). You can see that there was time for more detail.

These drawings had a longer duration (about 30 seconds each). You can see that there was time for more detail.

Tips for Better Gesture Drawings

  • Go large: As with the blind contour technique, it is best to draw the figure as large as possible. The artist should try to fill the page with the drawing. In addition to discouraging "tightness," it will help ensure the artist is using his/her arm to execute the drawing rather than just the fingers. This encourages greater speed and fluidity of motion when drawing.
  • Use easy materials: Since the artist is drawing fast, it is best to make sure the drawing medium makes good, strong marks on the paper. Soft charcoal or wide-tipped markers are best for this technique.
  • Go cheap: This drawing technique is basically for instruction and warm-up; therefore it's best not to spend too much on supplies. As with blind contour, some artists find a real affinity for this method and will want to create more lasting works this way. If that is the case, the artist should use better, archival materials.
  • Accept the drawings as they stand: Do not be critical of the drawings you or your students produce under this method. Gesture drawing is meant as a learning exercise and a demanding one at that. It is important to not be judgmental about the works created this way. Look at these drawings with an eye toward positives. What are the drawing's strengths? Each drawing represents a learning experience and thus has value.
  • Do several drawings: The gesture technique is best done in sets. It's very effective to start with the first timed drawing being very short-—only five or 10 seconds. Then make each successive drawing have a slightly longer duration. The artist will have a little more time on these later drawings to better refine the figure and perhaps add some detail. With practice, the artist will become quite comfortable with this process and will be able to create some very admirable drawings.
  • Don't extend the time: Do not extend the time allowed for these drawings too long, however. Any more than 30 to 45 seconds will allow the artist too much time and will encourage "fussing."
In spite of the short time allowed (30 seconds), these drawings are interesting and proportional.

In spite of the short time allowed (30 seconds), these drawings are interesting and proportional.

Good Luck!

Gesture drawing is a great method to help artists of all experience levels gain greater proficiency and confidence. The severe time restriction imposed in this method forces the artist to make quick decisions about the how best to portray the figure. This experience translates to greater ability to render all subject matter. The short time frame allowed for creating the drawing sharpens the artist's perceptive ability and the effectiveness of their attempts to put those perceptions on paper. This is, at its core, what all artists strive to do.


Sakina Nasir from Kuwait on September 24, 2016:

Good luck in your journey!

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Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on September 24, 2016:

I'm glad you did too! We do so much to sabotage ourselves with a lack of self-confidence and undo anxiety about what other people might think. I'm glad you overcame that and decided to do what you love.

Sakina Nasir from Kuwait on September 18, 2016:

U r welcome... same feelings here I have been thinking of writing since I left school 2 years back...didn't gather confidence...right now I finally decided to give writing a shot...I am glad I did :)

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on September 18, 2016:

Thanks, Sakina! I'm really excited about this new phase my artistic career is beginning. I wish I'd have given credence to this possibility long ago. I was lacking in confidence and too pessimistic about the response my work would garner. I'm just glad I finally took the chance!

Sakina Nasir from Kuwait on September 18, 2016:

Wow of luck ☺

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on September 18, 2016:

I hope you will write a hub about drawing. We can always use more thoughtful articles about art in all forms. I truly love drawing too. It is my favorite part of my artistic process. I paint watercolors mostly, but recently I've begun illustrating children's books. That has been a dream of mine for years, and it's finally come true! This is an arena where drawing skills are very important, so I'm always looking to hone my drawing ability.

Sakina Nasir from Kuwait on September 18, 2016:

Yep I do draw ...I can do pencil shading. ..coloring and painting sometimes... I have also drawn sketches ☺ it's my hobby ...I am planning to write a hub about drawing ...

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on September 18, 2016:

Thank you, Sakina Nasir53! I'm glad you enjoyed this article. Do you draw? I'm always happy to meet fellow artistic people!

Sakina Nasir from Kuwait on September 18, 2016:

Great hub...God bless you ☺

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on December 16, 2012:

Thank you for your comments, phdast7 and Pavlo. I'm glad this article proved interesting to you. I do think the greatest inhibitor of learning anything is fear - usually the fear of failure. This drawing technique seems to help eliminate that fear - just because the challenge to draw something so quickly seems too impossible. Thus expectations are eliminated and the artist can relax about the product and focus on the process. Thanks again for your interest and comments!

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on December 16, 2012:

I always admire things that I am not apt to:) Great hub.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on December 16, 2012:

Dbro - This is absolutely fascinating and as a non-artist, it would never have occurred to me. Although, now that you have brought it to my attention, there are similar exercises in other disciplines to stimulate expressivity and minimize anxiety and too much detail. Very, very interesting. Sharing. Hope you are having a wonderful December. :)