Lines of Action

My first gesture drawings — done in May 2016 — were a lot of fun. They were also (in my opinion, at least) fairly good. I had absolutely no idea what I was “supposed” to do, so I just jumped in, made my marks as quickly as possible, and thoroughly enjoyed the process.

But then, as time went on, I learned more about gesture drawing. I learned too much, I think, because gesture drawing suddenly became difficult. The more I learned, the harder it was to do a simple gesture drawing. I reviewed a lot of online tutorials, read a lot of articles on gesture drawing, and I tried a lot of different methods. You’ll find a lot of links to various sites in a post I made last year: When Did Gesture Drawing Become So Hard?

Instead of being fun, gesture drawing became frustrating for me. I was trying too hard, and I can see that now. Little wonder I wasn’t enjoying it. The problem of trying too hard was becoming part of all my art, and when I realized what was happening, I knew it was time to make a few changes. I wanted to learn to draw better — that’s my goal in art now — but I had to find ways around the frustration.

So, instead of trying my best — which always meant trying too hard — I devised the strategy of not trying. Maybe that sounds crazy. Maybe it seems counter-productive for learning, but for me it’s been a good strategy. Throughout the summer, I’ve been happily making bad drawings and surprising myself at how easy — and fun — art can be. Even my worst drawings, I’ve learned, are still recognizable. It all leads me to believe that maybe there is hope for me. Maybe I can relax, let go, and create this thing we call art.

And maybe I can even have fun again with gesture drawing.

Doing gesture drawing was one of the assignments in the 10-week drawing course I’ve been following. I grabbed my “summer sketchbook” — the one that’s filled with bad drawings — and went online to Quickposes, a site that features timed poses. They offer a number of different types of poses:

  • Chiaroscuro
  • Female Silhouettes
  • Femme Fatales
  • Lying Distortion
  • Please Be Seated
  • Warriors

At Quickposes, you can also choose the timing — from 30 seconds per pose up to 300. You can also create a custom time interval between the poses.

To complete my drawing-course assignment, I chose “Lying Distortion” and set a short time interval. I believe it was 45 seconds per pose. Just long enough to jump in and quickly sketch the basic “flow”.  I’ll admit I did end up with a few models who were missing a body part here or there, but once I settled in to the exercise, I did fairly well. I relaxed and had fun because I was not trying too hard.

I won’t show all of my sketches, but here are a couple to give you an idea of what I was doing:



I did have fun with gesture drawing, and I’m excited to go back to the site and do more. Instead of working to do complete figures, though, I’m going to do a few easy exercises to help me more accurately see and draw the human form. These exercises involve quickly noting the lines of action in the body and capturing those first. In fact, for the first exercise, it’s only necessary to draw a single line. The key point is to do it quickly. See it. Draw it. Start by allowing yourself up to 30 seconds to identify and capture the most essential line of action in the pose, then practice until you can find and draw the line of action in no more than 5 seconds.

The next step is to add the three major body masses: head, ribcage, and hips. These can be quickly illustrated with oval shapes on the line of action. The figure shown here — and the exercise — is from the Line of Action website. They suggest allowing up to 60 seconds at first to get down the initial line of action and the body masses, and to then gradually decrease the time — to 45 seconds, 30 seconds, 15 seconds.

We can then capture the limbs with long lines for arms and legs. The website suggests allowing no more than 2 minutes to draw the first line of action, add the body masses, and then identify the limbs and joints.

This is a great way to approach gesture drawing, I think, and I plan to use it for a few practice sessions. It will help me with the drawing itself by giving me a starting point and a step-by-step process to follow, as well as helping me speed up” my gesture drawing. There have been times when I’ve just stared at a figure with my mouth falling open as I try to figure out where and how to even begin. This simple “line of action” approach says “Start here… and keep going.”

Sometimes, you know, just getting started really is the hardest part of any sort of drawing, and I think that can be especially true with gesture drawing. But there’s no time to waste when the clock is ticking, and 60 seconds can go by very quickly.

In addition to Quick Poses and Line of Action, there are other good sites for gesture drawing or for more detailed figure drawing instruction. You might want to check out the videos from Croquis Cafe and the images available through Sketch Daily.

And keep in mind these great tips — all from Quick Poses:

  • Draw the essence of the pose first and work on details later.
  • You will get better each session but it takes time and practice.
  • Learn from your mistakes. If you do this you will improve much faster.
  • Make these exercises a daily habit and you will surely improve a lot !
  • Find the best drawing from the previous session and aim to beat that during this session.
  • Challenge yourself and choose a shorter time limit every couple of weeks.
  • Try to complete your drawing on time.
  • If you can’t complete your drawing on time maybe you should change the time limit.
  • If your drawings are out of proportion try drawing the hips and backbone first.
  • Try different drawing materials from time to time.
  • Don’t forget to have fun.

The last one is definitely important, and to that I’ll add my tip: don’t try too hard. That’s how I’m approaching all of my drawing this summer, and it really is helping me enjoy art in new ways.



    1. Thanks. The little “line of action” exercises are a great way to get started with gesture drawing, or to use as a “refresher”. There are a lot of approaches, but starting with the simplest lines makes sense to me.

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