Beginner Gesture Drawing 1 – Seeing and Respecting Movement

It’s easy to say ‘draw loosely and expressively’ or ‘just capture the feeling of the pose with a few lines’. It’s really hard to actually do that. In this video, we are going to start the gesture drawing learning process from the point of view of a beginner.

Gesture drawing when you’re a beginner

When you are starting out, there’s a combination of things that can cause problems. Here’s the things that have made me struggle before:

  • You aren’t confident with making big marks yet – so far you’ve mostly made marks like writing letters, so you stick with those controlled, cautious little movements.

“Lines are dangerous. Keep them small!”

  • You’re not confident, so there’s doubt in the whole process
Mrs Doubt

“I’m not sure about this…”

  • It’s hard work just to get the proportions about right. You need to map things out to get things in about the right place.

“Don’t get it wrong”

  • You are worried about the drawing looking weird. That causes you to straighten things out and make things conform to the preconceived idea of the figure rather than trusting your eyes

“Lets just try to make the drawing look semi-human”

  • The complexity and nuance going into your eyeball is overwhelming. You want to put in every tone and line, because it’s there so it must mean something.

“Put everything in! It must all be important!”

  • You don’t have any shorthands for body parts and features. Over time, you build up a repertoire of quick ways you can draw a finger or a nose. But when starting out, you have none of that.

So if any of that sounds familiar, you are not alone at all. And if you draw this way, it doesn’t mean that you are ‘bad at drawing’ or ‘don’t have talent’ or that you are somehow wrong. It just means that you have a confusing array of challenges to overcome.

We all start here

Setting Expectations

Today, we are not aiming to become great at gesture drawing. Instead, we are aiming to start to refocus away from these things to something different, and to loosen up a lot. Imagine you’re a tense rubber band. If we stretch it a little bit, it’s just going to bounce right back. But we will really stretch things out, it may stay a bit stretched.

So firstly, let’s set our expectations: we are not talking about proportions or accuracy. The lines might be wrong. Also we don’t care about details or nuances in the tones. So, we might draw some simple mutants today. In fact, we can make that one of our goals – draw some simple mutants.

Caution, preconceptions, detail, doubt – none are helpful in a gesture drawing. If you experience them, just note that feeling, accept it, and then let it go.

Now these annoying guys are going to try to get in, and keeping them out is a skill. Seriously, if you don’t have at least a couple of weird mutant aliens with no anatomical detail and no nuanced tones or shading, then you aren’t doing this right!

So what do we want? Mainly, we want something that is super important that for some reason we just don’t care about when we start out. We call it movement.

Movement – the visual sensation you get from the flowing elements in the pose – should be invited in, respected and encouraged.

Warming up and stretching

Lets warm up by drawing the Eiffel tower. Do you see that the eiffel tower has an upward flow? That’s the bit we do care about. We care a little tiny bit about getting it to feel like a solid mass and giving it a sense of stability. Mainly though we just care about this big flowing movement up to the sky. By the way, if you see something different, then go with that, that’s even cooler.

We all like to watch movies right? They tell us stories. But they don’t tell us just a series of facts. They vary the tempo. They also leave out 99% of whatever’s happening. We don’t see Darth Vader wiping his bottom. We mostly see the interesting stuff – the stuff that stirs an emotion and moves the plot forward.

Nice easy warm up with the Eiffel Tower, with its obvious movement

Now lets draw a tree with flowing branches to get even looser and let that movement go all over the place.

Now unlike a movie, we aren’t really telling a story, or even conveying an emotion. Sometimes we can, but that’s not necessary. Not all poses convey some obvious emotion like ‘sad’ or something. What is essential is the visual sensation. If you are interested in gesture drawing, which you are because you are watching this video, it’s because when you see gesture drawings, you get them – you feel that they look cool. That’s because they are filtering everything down to the same visual sensation you get when you see a figure. So yes, you do have that visual sense. The hard part is filtering all the attention seeking nonsense out, so that you can see it.

Drawing the branches of a tree in terms of movement is great for loosening up.

Simplifying the whole figure into movement

Lets draw some figures this way. Ok so obviously there’s this big sweeping curve.

Lets go deeper than just the whole pose. Even just this line of the shadow has a flow to it. As well as a big line for the whole pose, we can build up the whole drawing with these lines.

Remember not to try to get it ‘right’ – draw yours. I want to see your movement even more if it’s different to ours. It’s not a complicated or clever thing, it’s simple – so simple that the less you think about it, the better you see it.

So how do we know what to filter out? The eye is feeling that big visual sensation – these little undulations don’t matter to that!

If in doubt, leave it out. Put your line straight through all that. These guys will push you to put in too much, so push back!

Now movement isn’t the only thing we are aiming for in a gesture drawing. There are secondary aims too – we do want the big shapes in the form to be captured, and we want some sense of gravity and weight. To help give the sense of movement, we might want to change our line quality to bring attention to some places and move it away from others. But these are all things we don’t need to worry about at once. That would be too much. Right now, lets just start to recognise and respect that visual sensation of movement as much as or maybe more than we respect proportions and details, and lets start to loosen up.

But let’s be more clear about how to get started. Do you remember the stickman we did in the beginner course? The visible landmarks with the ribcage added? Well you don’t have to do all that, we aren’t too worried about getting things in the right place. But some of those points and masses are great things to look out for – they are likely to be important enough to not be filtered out. You don’t need to draw the ribcage shape, but you can think about its mass and get some indications of its angle, massively simplified and mostly left out. You don’t need to worry about the pelvic bone itself, but get that angle. Maybe even exaggerate the difference between the ribcage and pelvis angles a bit, just to annoy Mrs Accuracy and Mr Caution.

Motivation and mindset

Okay so finally, a note on your motivation and mindset. When you do these drawings, it might get ugly. At the start, it’s like you’re fighting off a hundred monsters at once. But one day, if you keep going, you slay one of those monsters. And suddenly, the fight is just a tiny bit easier. Then you slay another, and it’s easier again, so you get another one. And then things get better and better quicker and quicker until you have slain them all, and you are a confident artist. Then you’re presented with a set of ninjas to fight, but that’s for another day.


We hope you enjoyed this first part in our gesture drawing series. We would really love your feedback, so that we improve our future lessons. Please leave a comment below, or email me at kenzo [at] Don’t forget we have a great newsletter – you’ll receive more tips and drawings in your inbox every few weeks. You can sign up below.


A big thank you as always to Croquis Cafe for letting us use their photos. Their website:

Eiffel Tower photo: By Julie Anne Workman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Tree photo: by JarrahTree… [CC BY 2.5 au (], via Wikimedia Commons

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