Lesson #7: Scribble with Purpose!
Another wonderful approach to drawing is called Gesture Drawing. Gesture drawing is a way of capturing the energy or movement of your subject. People, animals, and nature are perfect subjects to capture with gesture drawings. But ANYTHING can be drawn gesturally! Even still-life, inanimate objects have an inherent energy, character, or impulse.
Gesture drawing is very different from contour drawing! In CONTOUR DRAWING the sensation is that of touching the edge of the form, the exterior and interior contours of your subject. With GESTURE DRAWING the sensation is that of feeling the impulse or energy within your subject. Here’s a wonderful quote by Kimon Nicolaides from The Natural Way to Draw:
“As the model takes the pose, or as the people you watch move, you are to draw, letting your pencil swing around the paper almost at will, being impelled by the sense of the action you feel. Draw rapidly and continuously in a ceaseless line, from top to bottom, around and around, without taking your pencil off the paper. Let the pencil roam, reporting the gesture. YOU SHOULD DRAW, NOT WHAT THE THING LOOKS LIKE, NOT EVEN WHAT IT IS, BUT WHAT IT IS DOING. Feel how the figure lifts or droops–pushes froward here–pulls back there–pushes out here–drops down easily there…” (pg. 15)
Gesture drawing looks a lot like scribbling! It may appear as if any kindergartener could do this! But there’s a lot more going on with gesture drawing.
With contour drawing our emphasis was on TOUCH and CONTOURS. Gesture drawing emphasizes MOVEMENT and INTERNAL ENERGY or IMPULSE. It would be beneficial for you to actually take the same stance as your model. Let’s say you’re drawing people dancing, as I did in the above drawings one night when my husband and I and our kids started dancing to music. Get your body in the same position, or action, or form and notice how it feels. Try to draw THAT!
Artists who have been trained classically, learn to draw gestures at the beginning of every figure drawing session to warm up. It gets the juices going,helps you to loosen up, allows you to put yourself in the shoes of what’s happening in front of you, and loosely render the action using lines on paper. I, personally, think gesture drawings make for TERRIFIC play in your sketchbook!! The benefits you gain from it will reward you tremendously. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you draw gestures:
*Imagine what it feels like to strike the pose of your subject. If you’re drawing an animal, imagine what the body would feel like in that animal’s position. If you’re drawing flowers or trees, try to imagine being one of them.
*If necessary, put your pen/pencil aside, stand up and strike the same pose so you can really get a feel for the movement and energy inherent in your subject. Go outside and strike the pose of a tree in your backyard. Then draw it! On a windy day, draw the gestures of trees in the wind.
*Think INTERIOR!! You’re not out to describe the edges or contours of things, though you may hit on one or two as you render the gesture. Keep your lines moving INSIDE the person, animal, object so as to describe the energy.
*With living models, as well as with inanimate objects, think of the inherent CHARACTER of the subject. How is the model placing most of his/her weight? Is it thrust forward? Leaning back? Where is the energy in this person holding their cup of coffee? Which way is the model’s head tilting? Is there a sense of solidity or ethereal vapor? Try to capture this with lines moving around on the page.
*At first, think of exaggerating whatever sense of movement or energy you think might be there. Often, we need to think of exaggerating our line movements in order for it to translate to the paper.
Here are some more great thoughts on gesture from Mr. Nicolaides:
“By gesture we do not mean simply movement or motion or action. A thing does not have to be in motion to have gesture. You seek for it when the model is relaxed just as much as in a very active pose. Gesture, as you will come to understand it, will apply to everything you draw. Even a pancake has gesture. There is gesture in the way in which a newspaper lies on the table or in the way a curtain hangs. Gesture describes the compound of all forces acting in and against, and utilized by, the model. The term action is not sufficient. We may think of gesture, rather, as the character of the action. Look at two vases–one tall and graceful, the other fat and squat. They are as different in character as two people might be…The key to the nature of a subject is its gesture. From it the other aspects of drawing proceed.” (pg. 29)
Lately, I’ve been making more gesture drawings. They take so little time! They’re like a little ‘burst’ on the page. When I attended figure drawing sessions, we always began with a series of gestures…one minute, two minutes, three. I don’t think we ever took more than three minutes for a gesture drawing. Think of all the gesture drawings you would have in your sketchbook, if you simply made a little purposeful scribble to capture gesture in the one or two minute pauses in your day. You gotta have your sketchbook nearby!! Perhaps you need to set them around in various places: one in your car, one in your kitchen, one in your purse/bag. Make a little gestural doodle and be on your way! You’ll be delighted at the end of your day to see that you actually DID draw some!! And whether you realize it not, drawing gesturally will teach you so many things that you’ll be able to apply to your other, more studied drawings.
“Through your ability to grasp something of this, you will begin to understand other things like proportion and perspective, for the truth is that those things are caused by movement and are a part of it. It is far more important that your studies contain this comprehension of movement, of gesture than that they contain any other single thing.” (pg. 31) Nicolaides, The Natural Way to Draw.
A Blessing: May you be able to feel the energy in all the people and things in your life. May you have the ability to “leggo your ego” so that you can scribble purposefully in your sketchbook. May the child-like action of doodling the gesture of things, bring joy and laughter this week.
Here’s a starter list of things to try capturing the gesture in a little purposeful scribble:
*People standing in line waiting, person texting, talking on the phone, sitting at a computer, reading a book, walking, jogging, gardening, playing a sport, cooking, doing dishes, etc.
*Animals, pets, fish in a tank, hermit crabs, birds, pet store animals, cows in a neighboring farm, horses along side of road.
*Trees, flowers, weeds, grasses, bushes, anything and everything NATURE.
*Lamps, chairs, furniture, drapes & curtains.
*Foods! Bananas, pears, berries. Pizza, spaghetti, breads. Ice cream, candies, cookies. Golly, ANYTHING!!!!!!!
***For further examples of, and inspiration for gestural drawing: check out Laura Frankstone’s gestural drawings of flowers, and Melanie Reim’s fabulous gestural drawings of people. Melanie is a new favorite artist of mine. Not new to the art world…just new to me! Definitely spend some time enjoying and drawing inspiration from her work.
***AND…of course…there is much to take from gestural drawing into our everyday lives:
-We are so much more than merely what’s on the outside.
-Putting ourselves into others “shoes”, as it were, helps us understand and have compassion.
-Experiencing ALL of life requires that we not merely dance around the outskirts of our lives, but that we actually GET OUT ON THE DANCE FLOOR!
-Our lives are never really stagnant…there’s always, even in resting, a sense of energy, character, and some kind of movement going on. Let this be an encouragement to you if you’re feeling stale, or stagnant, or in a rut. Look intently for the little bits of “life” in your life. It’s there. I promise.
***Access all Mini Lessons for Drawing Your Life at the top of the home page on my blog! (OR just click the highlighted words in blue!)