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!


December 29, 2016