Gestures & Quick Drawings – Strategy & Thought Processes

What on earth should you focus on when you have seconds or just a few minutes to draw a figure? What should your mind be doing, what should your eyes be doing? We need a strategy, in this article you can read my mind as I draw. If you’d prefer to read this tutorial as an article, it is written out below the video.

I recorded a 30 second drawing, a 60 drawing and a 3 minute drawing. I’d love to say I just entered a zen state and the drawings flowed from my fingertips, but I had to keep making decisions, I had doubts and I made mistakes. Are these thought processes the correct ones? I don’t know, but this is what went through my mind.

30 second drawing


So before the 30 seconds start, I commit to my overall approach – to go with just instinct, feeling, just get down the overall gesture I feel in the pose because there is nothing more I can hope for in 30 seconds. And that’s why doing quick drawings is so useful. 


As soon as the time starts though, worries float up. This pose is tough, such strong foreshortening on her torso. The usual landmarks I’d look for aren’t going to help here, and I’ve got 30 seconds to make sense of it!

I have to accept and let go of that doubt, and draw with total confidence even though I’m totally not confident. 

My eyes are taking in so much information from the figure, so I need them to find just the few things that really matter. In this case, the butt creates an overall oval that’s a little tilted. The ribcage creates a simple abstract shape jutting out behind the butt. I can make a super simple shape with the hair. Aside from those basic observations, all I want from my eyes is to feel the movement, the flow, down the legs, up the arms. It takes discipline to not get sucked into some unnecessary detail.

I really recommend warming up with super quick gestures sometimes. So quick that it’s silly, like 20 or 30 seconds. It really forces you to let go and take big risks. Use cheap paper like newsprint so that you don’t feel bad doing loads of these super quick drawings.


60 second drawing

Now I have 60 seconds, which feels like a luxury after the 30 second drawing, but it’s also more time for everything to fall apart. I wanted to start with something I feel confident about, to get some momentum going, so I went with the rough shape of the hair.

Since I have more time, I can put down some really light initial lines for two or three things before the final lines – a simple ball for the volume of the head, an oval for the ribcage.


I want to find some curves that explain a lot of the big shapes in a simple and flowing way. The curves shouldn’t work against each other too much, but should complement each other and give each other momentum.


These symmetrical curves for example sort of rob each other of energy. If this were a river, it would really slow down here,

whereas here the water would flow fast. This pose has a big swooshing curve outwards to her butt and back around her thigh. 

For this arm, I got some movement and flow into the line, but it is too high to be the bottom outline and too low to be the top. I decide to leave it like that and pretend it was on purpose. In the gesture, you really just need that flow, not the outlines.


The lines within the figure are as important as the outlines, just like how without these lines on this cube, you’d have no idea it was a cube. 

The edge of this shadow shape is really useful and it’s important enough to include during the 60 seconds. Only the very essentials of it though. I want to show how this side is facing the light and this side isn’t, and how it comes up with the arch of the ribcage, there’s some roundness in the tummy, and that’s about it.


3 minute drawing

With 3 minutes, I wanted to keep the pace and decisiveness I had in the 1 minute pose, but maybe start a bit lighter at first because I have time to add more layers to it this time.


I looked for lines of the torso seeing right past the breasts, they are secondary to the ribcage, midsection and pelvis which are the heart of the gesture. The ribcage pushes out this way, the pelvis back the other way, and there’s a strong fold in the middle. I want that flowing zigzag, and not much more. I tried to draw the arm with curves that flow together not against each other like we talked about.

I regret this line – it’s the edge of the shadow shape, but I’m not sure why it’s so strong, why it angles off into her armpit. I also didn’t bring her tummy back strongly enough – it should come back to a point that lines up with the middle of her collarbones. But who cares – I am getting big bold curves down on the paper and that matters more.

The marks my arm makes need to cut through the detail and go with those flows too. So this line down the leg, it’s not ‘correct’, it should come out here at the knee, it should curve out here more. But this way flows nicely, and again that’s what really matters. It’s my drawing, not reality’s drawing, and we are each given an artistic license to do whatever we want.

The hand goes haywire here, then I make it worse. Should I rub it out? I’m getting into the wrong mindset again, so I cut my losses and move on.


Details, correcting, measuring – these are safety ropes that would give me a sense of control and security in a drawing. But security and control are exactly what I don’t need in a short pose. Did you see that scene in that Batman film where he has to make a dangerous leap and he keeps failing, and then he takes off his safety rope and he makes it. It was only when he was at real risk of doom that he truly went for it. We’ve got to lean into the risk of our drawing going completely wrong to stand a chance.


I have time for a very simplified face. Another mistake, and I allow myself a quick correction. With 3 minutes, a few selective corrections are ok.

I wish I hadn’t added random shading which makes the lighting confused, I wish I hadn’t made all these other mistakes. But I still felt great. I went for it with the simplification and the movement and that’s all that ever really mattered.


Croquis Cafe message

Croquis Cafe, whose references we used for this post, who thousands of us use everyday for life drawing practice, had to take down their YouTube videos because they show nude models and it seems YouTube doesn’t like that, even though it is only for art education. 

We keep our channel safe by censoring the references. If you practise with Croquis Cafe, the good news is you still can, they have a vimeo channel and their own website, and they aren’t giving up at all.

Every time I speak to Larry, I can feel his genuine passion for supporting artists. Somehow they’ve kept it all free, which is amazing. They didn’t ask me to say this, but if you can, consider a monthly donation through their website 

If you can’t afford it, then of course that’s no problem. But if you can, think of it this way, not only are you ensuring Croquis Cafe can continue for your own practice, which is great for you, but you are also funding art resources for thousands of other artists all over the world.


Let me know in the comments what goes on in your head when doing quick drawings. Is it panic stations, or zen meditation? 

Avoid the big mistake that led to all my other mistakes

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