Gesture Drawing of the Figure

Five Minute Gesture Figure Drawings
Ballpoint Pen on Paper, 5.5×8.5″

I taught drawing for nearly 13 years at my local community college. I taught very a basic drawing to absolute beginners. Some of my students hadn’t done any kind of artwork since third grade. A few had never heard of the primary colors. I was immersed in drawing as a teacher but not as an artist. I rarely drew. Watercolor has been my primary sketch medium for over 20 years. I made a very concerted effort to be able to paint with watercolors without using any preliminary penciling. I felt if I was confident enough in my drawing skills, I could paint images directly and leave drawing out of it. Drawing is more linear while painting is more about shape. You can see the contours of these figures as lines. My watercolor figures suppress line for the contours of an entire shape. The places where the edges of different shapes come together are implied lines. These are edge relationships and the quality of those edge relationships can be varied. They can be sharp and crisp, or soft and gradual.

With drawings, the edges are defined by line and the variations of line weight which reveal differences in pressure. Greater pressure can indicate contours within shadow or places of greater distance. Light pressure or lines which disappear show a spot which is closer or an area in bright light as on the arm of the figure second from the left. The closer upper arm has no contour at all except for the one we read into the whole from context.

I started to make drawings with ball point pen to make a point with my beginners: You don’t need an eraser. Erasers, for beginners, inhibit the ability to build drawing skills. They are so worried about doing something ‘wrong’ or making a ‘bad’ drawing that they erase more often than they draw. Errors can be corrected in the course of the drawing process. I work the entire figure. Trying to draw from the top of the head down to feet is counter-productive. It’s better to quickly draw a generalized whole in need of correction than to try to draw the whole with no corrections from top to bottom. It’s not possible. If you can draw lightly at first, each time you come back to an area with your pen, a little more information can be added or a  correction can be made. A continuous refinement of the whole is the desired working method.

As one gets more skilled with practice, this can be achieved with speed. These four drawings were each drawn in 5 minutes or less. They are gesture drawings. The gesture refers to both the gesture of the model and the drawing gesture of the artist. A short time frame of 5 minutes or less demands generalization. You don’t care what the model looks like only what the model is doing. After a lot of practice, a great deal can be achieved in a very short time without stopping the flow of the drawing process with obsessive erasure for correction. Any extraneous marks can be subsumed by the mounting information that is part of the completion of the drawing.

This is a very hard lesson to learn. The compulsive need for detail at the start and the need to finish by creating a portrait are very difficult to leave behind. Leaving both behind is the way forward!


T F m
December 29, 2016

Watercolor Figure Painting Irony

Hidden By His Shades
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10.5×7.5″

We are so happy to we have models who are so reliable. They are hard to find. Most of these people work at other jobs and they come to us tired after working all day. It’s a little extra money for them and a sacrifice too. They give up an evening of relaxation and rest to give us a drawing experience. We are very grateful. This young man comes with retro glasses reminiscent of the glasses worn by elderly men smoking cigars during the 1960s. Think Milton Berle. If you don’t know who that is look him up. He was known as Mr. Television. He was a pioneer of early TV.

This evening our model came in with large sunglasses of the kind my son calls cataract glasses. I associate them with hiding; keeping some aspect of himself to himself. It’s a form of protection. The irony is that he is nude with nothing but his inner self to hide. So what are the sunglasses really for? He may also just been sensitive to the light that evening. As Sigmund Freud said,”Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” I have another watercolor of him from the same session so stay tuned dear reader.

T F m
December 20, 2016

Problem Solving Watercolors with an Xacto

On the Chair
Watercolor on Masa Paper
Approximate Size: 5.25 x 7.5″

This pose offered some technical challenges. Having the chair in front of the figure makes the painting more interesting spatially. The negative space elements of the chair with the figurative elements behind and further away make it more convincing. I have used that device in other forms with other subjects to great effect. I have landscape paintings with objects which help deepen the space by having the viewer negotiate the foreground objects. I could have placed fences or, as in this instance, chairs or tree trunks or grasses. I am fascinated by the idea of looking through places to see other information behind those places. It presents technical challenges but the metaphor of digging deeper to find what is underlying is a compelling one.

Painting without penciling makes the execution more problematic. How does one begin? Does one begin with the model, or does one begin with the chair, does one work both up together?  I chose working both up together. I had difficulties with the straightforward depiction of his head and shoulders and little time for corrections. I was very satisfied with this portion of the painting so, I decided to crop it and just leave out what had given so many problems. I might have been able to make some corrections but, I had to accept the limitations of time.

I rarely take the Xacto knife route to problem solving. I did more cropping in my younger days while still building skills but, now, I find that to be a lazy way out of difficulties. I also don’t like work that is vignetted. That is, fading the painting away into white space around the main subject. It’s another lazy way of ‘finishing’.  I find that beginners do this. They don’t know how to resolve the entire space so they finish by, essentially, not finishing. It is a bad habit that doesn’t let one grow as an artist. I think one should work to the edges of the field to make the entire space resolved.  I  always try to finish by working to the edges of the field. I’m not successful every time but in making the attempt I will be in subsequent work. It’s good practice for some excellence to come.



T F m
December 11, 2016

A Painted Record of Winter in Watercolor

Watercolor on Masa Paper, 14.5×10.5″

We had our first measurable snow fall of the year yesterday. It’s quite late in the season for a first snow. I’ll take it. I said in my last post that in spite of my being life-long resident of the upper mid-west, I have become a wuss in regards to winter. This painting is not a record of yesterday’s storm but was painted last winter and it is a record of a much more significant accumulation.

The bright white of Masa paper makes the depiction of snow particularly effective. I am very much drawn to the muted color of winter. There is still a full color range but it is very much grayer than a summer palette. As for the value range, it is shifted to the middle to light values especially when the sky is overcast. That’s pretty much the entire winter here. It’s only on rare occasions that the value range is complete from full sun. Full winter sun means very cold weather has descended upon us. When that happens my honey and I stay home and occupy ourselves with our individual interests. I, with creative pursuits and he, with technical, electronic pursuits (HAM radio). It’s good to be retired!

T F m
December 5, 2016