Gesture Drawing Tips, Techniques, And Lessons For Absolute Beginners
This Article May Contain Affiliate Links
…it was the most important lesson in my art career.
Sure, color theory, learning values, marketing yourself is important…
…but gesture drawing made me better.
In fact, if it wasn’t for gesture drawing I probably wouldn’t have this site.
Nor would I probably paint any more.
Instead, I would probably be looking for the next thing to try and find myself spinning my wheels and getting frustrated all over again.
Gesture drawing made me get art.
It made me better.
It made art fun.
So today I wanted to cover a few things:
What the heck is gesture drawing and if there are any real rules to it (after all how can you break the rules of art if you don’t know them in the first place J).
Secondly, I want to take a minute to go over some resources that greatly improved my skill when it comes to gesture art.
After that, we are going to go over ways to critique yourself, how you can practice gesture drawings more, and then wrap it up with a few classes you may want to consider if you are looking for a bit more guidance after reading this article.
So first, let’s define gesture drawing:
Table of Contents
What Is Gesture Drawing And Why Is It So Important
Anyone ages 3 and up can draw.
While it’s one thing to take pencil to paper, it’s a whole other thing to convey an emotion, feeling, or expression in artwork.
It’s through gesture drawing that you can do just that…
…add life to your drawing.
Everything has a gesture.
Whether it’s the phone in your hand, computer on your desk, the barista making coffee for the endless line of customers – everything has motion…
…and gesture drawing can capture that with ease.
Through the use of exaggerated lines, gesture drawing is the act of capturing the essence of a figure or object in only a few seconds to no more than a few minutes.
However, beyond the time restriction and relative line flow of gesture drawing there are really no other rules.
There is no right or wrong way of gesture drawing.
Everyone is different.
Therefore, you will see wildly different results when just simply doing a Google search of gesture drawing images:
As you can see above, some images are stick-like while others are more favored towards being outlines…
…there is no right or wrong way.
But, check this out:
In order to get a good gesture drawing, there are a few tips you will want to follow…
Tips For Gesture Drawing
Start By Drawing The Human Figure
Focusing on drawing the human figure is the best challenge to start with…
Gesture drawings aren’t stick figures.
Bodies have curves.
Furthermore, gesture drawing is amplifying those curves.
It exaggerates them.
Unless a body is standing as still as a solider (even then we would argue there are several curves going on), you need to draw in curves:
It helps to not only capture a sway of the hips, the subtle tilt of a head, or even the shift in weight throughout the body.
The goal of gesture is not to develop a drawing into a full figure drawing…
…it’s to quickly get an idea of the figure down on the paper…
…and this is where it helped me big time.
I found that through countless weeks of gesture drawing practice a magical thing happened…
I no longer drew the body as I thought I saw it, instead, I could draw the body as I would see it.
This was huge.
It was a monumental shift in my thinking as an artist.
And it was what made the drawing process really really fun.
I quickly found myself craving challenging poses, varying weights, and different scenarios.
Once this clicks for you – your figure drawing will quickly start to improve…
…its due to the importance in figure drawing is why we see so many books like Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth start their lesson based on gesture drawing…
…it’s just that important.
But here’s the deal:
You gotta draw nudes.
Nude figures (or those that wear form fitting clothing) are the absolute best for practice.
While some people may giggle at the thought, or be bashful about it, if you want to get better with figure drawing – then there is no better way than drawing nude models.
In order to get better at figure drawing, when looking at models who are nude, you are able to see the muscle structure much more clearly as they move their body.
This helps you to understand the figure at an anatomical level – allowing you to create gestures and figures that are much more representative of how they actually work rather than making the assumption when clothes are worn.
When clothes are worn, not only are they distracting, but it makes it much harder to see what truly is going on and how a body is able to bend in a certain manner.
Think of it like this:
Nudes give you an unfiltered look and will help you become much better as an artist.
Paper For Gesture Drawings
Don’t worry about paper.
Seriously, when practicing gesture drawing, you will be going through a ton of paper – so don’t worry about getting a really nice formal drawing paper.
The goal here is to practice rapidly and repeatedly.
I find that even something as simple and cheap as smooth newsprint paper will suffice…
…sure, it doesn’t have the best tooth in the world and will be susceptible to smudging, but you don’t have to go crazy.
But if you do want something a bit more organized, then a cheap pad of drawing paper from your local office supply store will also work.
Depending on how seriously you are taking gesture drawings may determine the type of pencil you might want to get.
I know that seems a bit strange, but get this:
If you are just starting out and want to practice drawing the human figure, then really any pencil will be fine.
The goal of the gesture drawing is to capture the essence of the figure – not to create an exact replication.
So, you don’t have to worry about the values in your piece as much as you do about the curved line itself.
Now one pencil that artists like Stan Proko likes to use is the Conte Pencil 1710-2B.
In this excellent video that Stan put together, he describes his process of sharpening the pencil manually:
When having a pencil formed in a way like Stan’s, you will have much more control over the weight of the lines you can put together in your gesture drawing.
This is great for not only defining thick lines for the dominate curves, but then you can slightly tilt the pencil upwards and use finer lines for detailed work of the limbs, face, breasts, and more…
…all of this without having to switch from one pencil to the next as you normally would when using a set of pencils of varying grades.
If you plan on using a larger barreled pencil like the Conte 1710-2B, then you will want to pick up some razor blades (just be sure they are single edge razor blades so you don’t hurt yourself) and medium grit sandpaper to dial in a smooth tip.
However, if you plan on just simply using a standard drawing pencil, then then a small manual pencil sharpener will be best.
Plus, a small compact manual sharpener will be great to take with you when practicing outside of your studio.
Subject (life is better)
When gesture drawing, it’s always better to try and practice in a real-world scenario as opposed to sitting in front of a computer screen.
While we will list out some great online resources in just a minute, real-world subjects are much different.
Not only can you see the figure in motion (which can help to support the gestures that you draw), but there is also no synthetic lighting or lens distortion that may get in the way.
If possible, try to get a spouse or significant other pose nude if they are open to the idea.
But if they aren’t receptive, don’t worry about it.
While clothes can be tricky to see the gesture of a figure, public settings are still a great way to practice.
Gesture drawing will only be for a few seconds to a few minutes at most.
This means sitting outside on a porch, at a diner, or even in a park are all great places to watch people and draw.
In this non-posed setting, you can practice gesture drawing to capture simple motions of the body.
For instance, one of the most effective ways for me to improve was watching kids play soccer.
The shift in weight or swing in the foot are great motions that fully encapsulate the thought process behind gesture.
Set A Timer
I am not going to lie…
…when I first started gesture drawing I hated it.
I felt rushed.
I felt frustrated.
I felt like I wasn’t good at all (which looking back on it – I wasn’t).
But the underlying goal of gesture drawing is to break you out of the habit of drawing what you think you see rather than what you truly see.
With 15 or even 5 second time limits – its incredibly hard to try and capture the essence of a figure.
But once you push through it – it’s all worth it.
You will find that when you set a timer for your work, you will start to realize that your brain will perceive things differently and more accurately.
Furthermore, and this was a big one for me…
…is that gesture drawing helped to build my confidence as an artist.
The quick paced nature doesn’t allow you to sit and criticize your own work, you have move on to the next challenge.
So with that, whether its drawing at a park or otherwise, be sure to set a timer in order to keep yourself honest while you are gesture drawing.
Resources To Improve Your Gesture Drawing Skills
When it comes to gesture drawing, there is surprisingly a great number of resources that you have at your disposal so you can practice just about any time or anywhere.
A great person to follow when it comes to drawing will be Stan Prokopenko.
His How To Draw Gesture video has nearly 2 million views – and is considered among the best when it comes to conveying and fully understanding gesture drawing:
Of course, if you are looking for more, Stan does put together an amazing online art class as well.
One of the biggest problems (myself included) that artists have with gesture drawing is building the confidence in themselves to be ok with the big expressive lines required.
There is no better video (that I could find anyways) that hammers this aspect home than how Love Life Drawing does in this Beginner Gesture Drawing series.
Here Kenzo walks us through the common pitfalls that many beginners have when first starting out, how to overcome them, and of course, sets up a great base to begin gesture drawing:
Now, you can spend all day reading and learning about gesture drawing, but the only thing that will make you better is by actually drawing!
So with that, we wanted to put together a few great tools that we like to gesture draw with regularly.
Not only will this loosen you up a bit, but the complexity and the number of different poses will make sure that it keeps you uncomfortable (in a good way).
Using these resources regularly will strengthen your expertise when it comes to figure drawing and the ability to draw someone in any position imaginable.
Three of the most popular resources will be the following:
These tools allow you to set up an array of options on what you want to draw:
And here’s a look at SketchDaily (which is an extension of the /r/sketchdaily subreddit):
If you are looking for some tips when just starting out, we would always recommend that you do full body poses without clothing – this way you can concentrate on the figure rather than being distracted by draping clothing which can impede the drawing.
For the artists looking for something a bit more authentic and several poses from one single model rather than an array of randomly generated images of different models, then we would recommend that you go through YouTube.
YouTube has a surprisingly vast library of gesture drawing models.
In particular, some of the quick poses by Croquis Cafe are top notch (note: the below videos do feature nudity):
As they will not only feature nude models, but the varying time will always keep you on your toes (plus they aren’t static pictures, but rather breathing models – which is great for seeing subtle muscle movement).
How To Honestly Critique Your Gesture Drawings
Self-critique is one of the hardest things to do as an artist.
As the expression goes, we are our own worst critic, it couldn’t ring more true than with artwork.
Now, I’ll be completely honest:
I am not perfect when it comes to this.
But here’s what works for me:
First, remember that these are quick paced gesture drawings.
They aren’t supposed to be a 1:1 representation of the figure being drawn.
Secondly, don’t look back on your drawing immediately after the time is finished.
Go on to the next gesture drawing.
Only look at your gesture drawings once you are done for the session.
Like when a pitcher takes the mound in the middle of a baseball game, gesture drawings are the artist’s equivalent of loosening up.
Therefore, in most instances, the drawings you put together at the beginning of your gesture drawing session might be a little bit more stiff and have straighter lines.
However, as time goes on, the curves begin to be much more expressive.
But in order to see if you are progressing, here’s my little secret:
Never compare your gesture drawings to the previous session.
Instead, compare today’s gesture drawings to ones that you drew maybe 3 or 4 sessions previously.
You will, in most cases, see a marked improvement in your line work, proportions, and expressions.
If not, don’t be discouraged!
Just keep pressing through and continue practicing.
Now, if you feel you are getting nowhere in your gesture drawings, then I would suggest two things:
Check out some of the other resources we linked above and study it a bit more closely and apply what you learned (whether its holding the pencil differently, using different models, etc.).
Ask a fellow artist for some honest critique – never a friend, spouse, or anyone who isn’t an artist (9 times out of 10 they are going to give incorrect advice as they are looking for a perfect representation of the figure – and not the dramatic expressions themselves).
Gesture Drawing Should Be A Fixture In Your Career
Whether you paint or draw, gesture drawing is an essential process that you should do regularly as an artist.
Even famed artists like Rembrandt employed gesture drawings as a part of their workflow.
The ability to capture expressions and movement in a piece is critical to conveying the right meaning in your artwork.
So don’t underestimate the importance of practicing regularly (even daily).
While it’s important to understand art rules, the quickest and most effective way to become a better artist will be persistent practice through gesture drawing.