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What Is Gesture Drawing (Full Guide and Tips Inside)

What is gesture drawing?

Gesture drawing is something that many artists do to warm up, to create a basic outline, or to even check their proportions.

When it comes to art, there are many different aspects to explore. Color theory, anatomy, shading, and all that jazz.

One particular aspect that I’d like to talk about in this article is gesture drawing. What is gesture drawing?

Gesture drawing is basically capturing the form or action of a figure through sketches, shapes, and lines. This type of art focuses more on poses and their relationship with a figure than it does on accurate and heavy details.

As its name suggests, the sole purpose of gesture drawing is to just sketch gestures and study them.

You take a subject, whether from reality or from cartoons, and break them down to its basic pose.

  • The goal isn’t to be completely accurate or to fully imitate the subject,
  • the goal is simply to copy its gesture.

You can do this by sketching, drawing shapes, making lines, or just taking the contours of the subject and putting them down on paper.

When done frequently, this practice can help artists draw more dynamic poses and even learn anatomy and perspective.

This exercise will train you to better understand the human body and its movements. So if you want the full guide and tips, keep reading!

Table of Contents

    What Does Gesture Drawing Mean?

    Unlike other types of art, gesture drawing isn’t all that concerned with the nitty-gritty of details or precisions. It’s more focused on capturing the expressions a body or figure is making in order to study and better understand it.

    Gesture drawing means breaking a subject down to its basic form or action and drawing its poses.  

    People make all sorts of poses and sometimes it can be difficult to put them on paper. Many artists struggle to do dynamic poses and hence default to drawing a standing figure.

    While this is great for character designs where all you are trying to do is lay down a character’s appearance, it can limit you as an artist. What does the character look like when it’s running? What about when it’s doing jumping jacks or making cartwheels?

    If all you’re used to is a figure standing stock still, you’re never gonna be able to answer these questions (Or you can but it’ll be inaccurate). This is why it’s important to study gesture drawing, even for just a short amount of time.

    What is the Purpose of Gesture Drawing?

    Gesture drawing can also help improve how you view shapes and proportions. After you do this for a while, you’ll be surprised by how fast you’ll be able to break figures down into shapes and how better you are at spotting mistakes and inconsistencies in proportions.

    The purpose of gesture drawing is to better understand the body and its relationship with action. It allows artists to grasp how the body moves, helping them achieve more accurate drawings.

    Basically, the purpose of gesture drawing is to help artists improve and draw more dynamic poses.

    If you don’t know anything about dynamic poses, have a look at this video:

    Dynamic Figures: Why Your Figures Are Stiff

    Why Are Gesture Drawings Beneficial?

    Here are the ways gesture drawing is beneficial to artists:

    • Helps them create dynamic poses
    • Helps them to understand body proportions
    • Allows for a better understanding of movements and actions
    • Improves confidence in drawing
    • Helps to loosen up before doing detailed drawings

    Gesture drawing can also help an artist to better understand the human anatomy. Since you’re drawing figures consistently, you’ll eventually be able to know how anatomy works. Soon, lengths and body sizes will come naturally to you as you continue to draw bodies and figures through their poses and actions.

    You’ll also start to see how each muscle moves along with the body, and the relationship they have with the joints and the limbs. Your figures will start to look more fluid and less stiff.

    With gesture drawing, your observational skills will also improve. Mistakes you once overlooked will be easier to spot because you’ve trained your brain to see things in a more critical way. You’ll see the world in shapes and lines and you’ll be able to easily translate this on paper.

    How to Do Gesture Drawing

    If you want to know how to do gesture drawing, it’s simple.

    1. First, find a subject with a pose that’s easy to copy (it’s important to start with simple poses and then work your way up to more complicated poses).
    2. Once, you got your reference, take your pencil and draw a line from your subject’s head down to their feet.
      • If your reference is on a phone or a screen, then imagine a line from the head down to their feet and try to imitate that on paper. The line will be our basis for the structure of the body
    3. After that, draw a horizontal line for your subject’s shoulders and hips, then add the arms and legs.
      • Once you got the skeleton of the figure down, the next step is to develop the form.
    4. Now, if you find it hard to develop the form just by mere lines alone, you can add shapes to help you out. An oval for the head and cylinders for the torso and limbs.
    5. When you have the shapes figured out, just add the outlines and then you’re done!

    That’s gesture drawing. You’re not copying a subject detail by detail, you’re only trying to copy their pose.  

    This doesn’t have to be perfect. The goal is just to capture the pose of the subject so don’t worry if the lines aren’t clean.

    As an additional tip, after you finished your first gesture drawing, repeat it again but this time without the help of lines. Just take the form and sketch.  

    Tips On Gesture Drawings

    Use Gesture Drawing as a Warm Up

    If you want to get better at drawing in general, I suggest using gesture drawing as a warm-up.

    This is good for two reasons:

    • Gesture drawings are quick and easy to do.
    • The lines and scribbles you make will get your brain into ‘drawing mode’.

    Having a warm-up before starting a drawing is not only a great way to get yourself ready but also a great way to keep practices fun!

    I read somewhere in Atomic Habits that in order to not lose interest in a good habit, pair something you need to do with something you want to do. In this case, if you want to get better at drawing figures then you need to practice gesture drawing.

    But obviously, you can’t keep doing gesture drawings forever. It gets boring. So pairing the practice with drawing for fun keeps the habit interesting.

    If you need a warm-up for doing gesture drawing. You can try these even quicker warm-ups:

    Warm Ups 
    Draw S-shapes and curvesDrawing S-shapes and curves are great warm-ups for gesture drawing. The human body has a lot of curves. Using this as a warm-up will get your hand used to curves and non-straight lines.
    Draw lines with different pencil pressureWhen doing gesture drawings it’s important to keep your lines light and loose. This warm-up can help you have more control over the pressure on your pencil when drawing.
    Scribble in circlesScribbling in circles is also a great way to get you to loosen up before drawing. The chaotic nature of scribbles can also help you take away this need For perfection which, when doing gesture drawings, isn’t really necessary.

    Focus on the Overall Contour and Action of the Body

    The contour of a drawing is its outline or the hard edges that make up the form. By target-locking on that and relating it to the overall action or pose that’s being done by the figure, it’ll be much easier for you to study the whole gesture.

    It’s easy to get caught up on all the details when drawing something, especially something as complicated as a body, which is why it’s important to keep your focus on the overall contour and action of the body.

    You can even take it a step further and repeatedly draw lines based on the contour of the figure. This allows you to have a closer look at the structure of the body and the basic foundation of its action.

    Start with the head and upper body and work your way down

    Always begin with the head and the upper body and then work your way down.

    I’ve always found that drawing a character is easier when I know exactly where the hands, the head, and the torso are gonna be. The arms, legs, and feet can come later after the position of my character has been set in place.

    The positions of our bodies are often defined by the upper half more than the lower half, so it makes sense to start at the top first than at the bottom.

    Use Simple, Sweeping, and Light Lines

    The thing about gesture drawing is that it isn’t something that requires absolute perfection.

    So when drawing, always use simple, sweeping, and light lines.

    Don’t make gesture drawing overcomplicated by worrying about the cleanliness of your lines or artwork. Just focus on the figure and don’t worry if your drawing looks like a mess because it’s supposed to.

    The objective is to learn and not to create the next Mona Lisa. Draw quick simple lines. Make scribbles. As long as you got the basic pose or gesture down, then you’re doing it right.    

    Make the lines light as well, especially when laying down the skeleton, so that it’ll be easier for you to erase if you make mistakes. Draw in quick and sweeping strokes and don’t hold back. This will allow your lines to be more fluid. The quicker you are, the more fluid it’ll be.

    If you pace yourself and do it slowly, chances are, your lines will be shaky and stiff. So don’t hold yourself back and go wild on your paper. If you feel like you’re going too fast…

    Don’t Worry about Working too Quickly or spending enough time on detail

    There’s no set time limit on gesture drawings. In fact, the faster you do them, the better you’ll be at it because this means your brain is finally recognizing it as a habit and is starting to do it automatically.   

    If you finish a drawing too fast, don’t worry about it. If you feel like you haven’t spent enough time on a piece, you have.

    Remember, gesture drawing is just to get you to learn figures and their actions. It’s supposed to get you comfortable enough to where your figures won’t look stiff. Time has nothing to do with whether you’re doing it right or not.

    It’s the drawing that matters. Not the minutes or hours you’ve spent on it.

    That said, you also shouldn’t spend your entire time fixating on a detail of one drawing. Things like “The arm is too long”, “The torso looks weird”, and being overly critical of your drawing won’t get you anywhere.

    If you’re unsatisfied with your drawing, in the words of our Lord and savior Taylor Swift, shake it off. Instead of repeatedly erasing and doing it over and over again, spend your energy on making your next drawing better.

     “By seeking and blundering, we learn”

    – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Is Gesture Drawing Important?

    Is gesture drawing really important? The answer is yes. I think it’s just as important as learning things like shading and drawing features.

    Gesture drawing is not only a loose form of drawing, allowing you to sketch without the worry of perfection, but it also helps you in other aspects of drawing like poses and anatomy.

    It gets you out of your comfort zone by making you look at difficult poses like running and tumbling and having you copy them, but it’s not as stressful as learning something like realism or portraits.

    All you have to do is make quick simple lines based on poses each time and it brings you a step closer to improvement. It’s also quite freeing because, as I’ve said earlier, you don’t have to worry about perfection.

    So yeah, in conclusion, gesture drawing is an important practice. It serves as an interesting learning tool for anatomy and it makes for a great warm-up. If you want to improve your art, especially in drawing figures, make gesture drawing a habit.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What Should You Use for Gesture drawing?

    The tools to use for gesture drawing are the same tools you use for normal drawing: a pencil and paper. Throw in a reference as well to help you out.

    If you want to make it harder for yourself, use a ballpoint pen and just sketch away. The pro of doing this is that it’ll get you to draw more confidently over time. If every time you draw leaves no room for mistakes, eventually you’ll get used to not making any mistakes.

    And even if you continue to make mistakes, at least in this way, you won’t fixate on them as you know they can’t be erased. So yeah, if you want to practice gesture drawing in a more hardcore way, draw with a ballpoint pen instead of a pencil.

    Of course, this can be intimidating, but so is the whole learning process of drawing.

    Should You Draw from a Reference Image or from Life?

    As a beginner, you should draw from a reference image instead of real life.

    Not only is this way more convenient, but it’s also a lot easier to draw based on a still image than it is to draw moving strangers. If you don’t know where to get good reference images, many art websites offer free body reference images to help you out.

    A personal fave of mine is Proko. They offer many resources for artists, including videos and step-by-step tutorials.  

    Another place to get reference images is TV shows and movies! I find these to be better than just photoshoots simply because, in these, the actors’ movements and actions aren’t designed to be a reference. They weren’t told to strike a pose and stay still like models. They’re in motion.

    So using them as a basis for your sketches makes your gesture drawings more realistic.

    How do you show movement in drawing?

    You show movement in your drawings by emphasizing the basic gesture that’s being done by the figure. This can be done by the use of lines.

    Gesture drawing is a great way to understand how movement works. By doing this practice, you’ll be able to convey action on a simple sketch alone.

    But you can actually take this a step further by adding lines to the gesture to represent movement. It’s impossible to make a picture move but you can create the illusion of movement by utilizing lines to portray motion.


    Movements are the expression of the body. Gesture drawings help artists capture that expression with shapes and lines. While it may seem difficult at first, with practice you can get better. Just make sure to use references and know when to quit a piece. It won’t always be perfect and it won’t always seem right, but the more you do it, the better you’ll become at it.

    Thanks for reading! I hope this article was helpful.  

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