Characters looking stiff? Illustrations repeating the same old poses? Animation looking boring? Fret not, I have a cure! Dynamic gesture drawing is a great way to really loosen up and make your work interesting and more importantly fun!
Following along with this video over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel.
What You Will Need
- Reference images such as PhotoDune (original image no longer available—try this alternative).
- Films or TV shows with action.
- Your favourite drawing program or traditional media—I recommend inexpensive felt pens and copier paper.
- A stopwatch.
- Life Drawing Classes (check the local press or art colleges).
- A friend being silly.
What Is Gesture Drawing and Why Is It Important?
According to Wikipedia:
"A gesture drawing is work of art defined by rapid execution. Typical situations involve an artist drawing a series of poses taken by a model in a short amount of time..."
It's an important skill to develop because you learn to capture motion very quickly, which is helpful for creating interesting and dynamic artwork. Gesture drawing can really help you capture a subtle motion, a look someone gives a loved one, or a fabulous action pose you see in a wrestling match that would work great in your superhero comic!
Gesture drawing does not always have to involve exciting, explosive poses like this image from PhotoDune.
Gesture drawing captures the rhythm, the motion and the flow of an action. Even stationary poses can look dynamic. Remember these are not stick figures, these are action poses.
The Line of Action
The line of action is very important and is not necessarily the spine of the person or creature. It's the shape the form takes. This is where my gesture drawings begin. Really look at your subject and redraw the line of action several times if need be. Here's an example of the line of motion in these five teenagers.
Moving on from these lines of action you can rough in limbs, torso and head. Keep the lines fluid. Even jagged lines such as the legs in the central character are fluid. Remember, though, that smooth lines can show calm and flexibility, whereas jagged lines show tension.
I start with a line of motion, and then plot out the legs. Working quickly helps me capture the motion. When working in a life drawing class I was trained to draw poses in 30 seconds to two minutes. As much info needs to be put down as possible.
You won't always get it right first time, but that's cool. These are not meant to be finished pieces.
Be scribbly, be quick! Remember to look at your work afterwards and see what you need to improve and what you're doing right.
If you do find a dynamic pose that works well, then try working it up with some basic anatomy. This can be a great confidence booster.
Another use for these quick gesture drawings is working out a complex, long pose in a life drawing class. Not sure where some anatomy should go? Do a few rough gesture poses first. Not happy with how the model looks from your spot? Try walking round the model and other students (quietly, of course!) and rough out poses to find the best one. I am a big believer in planning out my artwork before I start—it might seem like a waste of time, but it will save you time later on in the piece.
Start with a line of motion and use whatever shapes help. Sometimes I use bean shapes for the body, other times I use rectangles and triangles.
To show head direction, draw an oval with a horizontal contour line of where the eye line is and a vertical one for the nose.
How to Improve
It's nothing more than Practice, Practice, Practice!
An option is going to life drawing classes. This isn't always possible, but there is nothing like drawing from a model. At art college I loved life drawing classes—we had them every Friday. These ranged from long poses studying anatomy to 30‑second poses to study movement. In these the model would change pose, often with a prop such as a stick or perhaps a cloth. You never knew what you would get next! By the end of a morning session of a few hours I would have pages and pages of sketches. It helped my capturing of movement and gesture improve very quickly!
A fun way to practice is to watch films and pause scenes with some cool action and try to capture the pose. Try timing yourself.
Do you have a commute or some time on a lunch break with no access to life drawing classes? Try some observational drawing! Look out of the bus window and try to capture poses—this is good as you can't sit and analyse the pose, go back and redraw.
Find a medium that works for you. When not working digitally I like to use brush pens. They do not have to be expensive—just plain children's colouring pens are great. An advantage of having different colours is that you can have your line of motion in one colour and the pose in another.
Quick poses do not have to be humans either. Got a pet? Live near a farm? Apply the same principles to Tabby the cat or Daisy the cow.
Most importantly: keep it simple.
Remember these do not have to be anatomically perfect—it's just a case of finding motion and fluidity.
I hope you have a lot of fun creating these sketches. Do not be precious about these. Use the cheapest media you can, like copier paper or news print, felt pens or charcoal. Make this a regular exercise, and even use it to warm up before a long day of drawing!