Beginner Gesture Drawing 3 – Keeping Longer Poses Dynamic

We have started to push ourselves to loosen up in our quicker gesture drawings. Now let’s bring that focus on movement and those looser lines to our longer drawings.

Often the energy and dynamism of gesture drawings seems to be limited to quick 2 or 3 minute poses, and is often lost in the longer poses. But it doesn’t need to be – look at these examples of Mayko’s drawings.

You’ve probably experienced doing a drawing that feels lively at first, but by the end, it’s become overworked and over-analysed. The tones become overly rendered – trying to copy every nuanced contrast, and suddenly we have a sort of dull photocopy. She doesn’t have that problem:

Hopefully by now you have tried the blind movement drawing exercise from the last video. Your drawing may have gone all over the place. But did you notice a looser and more flowing line quality? Did you notice more interesting shapes and less stiffness? Longer poses mean we can add more accuracy and more detail, but we also want to keep some of that energy too.

A good way to approach this in the beginning is by building layers in the drawing.

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Movement – Structure – repeat

Before we even start drawing, let’s take a moment. Observe the pose – what is most interesting about it? We can imagine ourselves doing the pose like we talked about in the last video, to get a better sense of where the weight is, where there is tension, where there is relaxation. Next, squint at the pose, to simplify the light and dark into some big simple shapes.

Our first layer can be very loose movement lines, just like we learned about in our beginner figure drawing course. We are look for those few lines that capture the essence of the pose. Often, those big movement lines are going to follow the spine or the torso centre line. Secondary lines across the shoulders and pelvis will probably be very useful.

We will then start to add very light structural marks. They don’t need detail yet. Keep the lines simple – big curves without little bumps and undulations. If you aren’t sure what sort of marks to look for, check out our beginner figure drawing series, lessons 3, 4 and 5.

We’re interested in the big shapes first. Most importantly, the ribcage, the pelvis and the squash and stretch in the middle. We want to get things in roughly the right proportion if we can. Check a few alignments and relative sizes – check out lesson 7 if you’re not sure how to do this. We’ll very gently put in some contours and the lines of the big tonal shapes.

We don’t want to lose the movement though. We have a very light structural layer where things are roughly in the right place. We allowed ourselves that. Now we must respect the movement, and focus on that. And in fact, often the movement is going to help us get things right, just as much as measurements and alignments did.

When we’re doing our structural marks, we are a little more conservative. Things get straightened out, relationships between elements become less flowing or lose their tension or their angles less pronounced. So going back to a bolder, movement approach is going to bring that all back. Not only will that add to the energy of the drawing, but also will actually make proportions and everything else better.

We can take a step back, and look for what in the drawing needs to be fixed. Our eye will let us know if something is off, and then we can use measurements or alignments to investigate those things further. Sometimes, people use a mirror or take a picture with their phone, to see their drawing from a fresh perspective and see those wonky bits more clearly.

We are going to make some corrections if we need to. We are also going to start to firm up our contours and tonal shapes. We are still simplifying them a lot, but we are adding in a little bit of the nuance where needed.

And we will continue to go with bold and expressive movement and then rein things in with some structural considerations, then break through stiffness and rigidity with movement again and so on until we feel the drawing has come together, or our time is running out. Our final layer will be a structural one – just bringing the drawing down to earth and giving it some solidity.

A final example


This drawing is a tricky foreshortened angle. It required measuring and structure to get it right. Lots of corrections were made. It could so easily have become accurate but stiff and boring. Instead it looks like a loose, expressive drawing that came from the heart. The reason is that the looseness was built on a solid foundation. Notice also the final touches bring that wildness under control.


When going for the sweeping lines a soft material on a smooth surface is often an easier way to start. We also want to be able to build layers without making too much of a mess. So it’s good to have a material where the earlier layers can either be removed or covered up without it ruining the drawing.

Willow charcoal is good for that since it can be smudged and removed so easily. Soft pastel is also great for that, since it is so opaque and has such covering power that the final layers of bold hatching dominate the layers underneath. Even oil paint isn’t bad for this, since it has that opaque covering power.

Watercolours on the other hand will be trickier since they are transparent. The previous layers will show through and can make a mess. You may need a better sense of the paintings composition before applying paint, rather than just building as you go. Similarly, pen and ink are tricky.

Keep in mind that any new material will be struggle for the first few weeks of using it.

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  • periodismosalvaje March 8, 2018   Reply →

    Glad you enjoyed seeing the process Sasha! And happy to know you are working in pastels now 🙂 Interesting what you said about values because working in charcoal, all you have are values (i.e. no colour)! Perhaps where you are struggling is seeing where certain colours fit in the value range. Try squinting, really squinting. Also, try doing a couple of small pieces using one of your charcoal drawings as a template. Then squint at them when you are done. And try photographing them in black and white mode and just see how they match up to your charcoal drawing. If they don”t then either adjust or start a new piece, adjusting for what you have learnt. Understanding values and seeing values is ongoing. Just quick working and SQUINTING!!

  • Alix ONeil April 17, 2020   Reply →

    Loving the gesture drawing sessions

    • Kenzo October 8, 2020   Reply →

      Fantastic! Thanks Alix.

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