Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Gesture Drawing, Gesture Writing

Gesture drawings on newsprint using my favorite Koh-i-Noor Magic Pencil

Way back in January 2020 when the world was a bit more normal I did two things that while temporarily gone now, managed to keep me from throwing in the creativity towel. The first was when I joined a local drawing group that met on Thursdays after lunch, and the second was attending life drawing sessions with the New Mexico Art League. The one element these two groups had in common was an emphasis on figure drawing, and in particular, gesture drawing.

At the time of joining these groups, I wasn't a stranger to gesture drawing, I just hadn't done very much of it. I'd certainly read about it in various art books, and even got to try it out several times during some basic art classes. But other than those rare instances, I'd never really taken the idea seriously, or made it a part of my daily drawing practice.

All that changed in January, especially in the Thursday group where gesture drawing practically took center stage. Every week it was the first thing we did as soon as we were seated around the art table with big pads of newsprint, soft pencils and pastels, sometimes paint, and of course our model--which was always each and every one of us. We took turns holding poses for up to a minute or so at a time with usually about five to six different contortions: some hilariously funny, some more difficult to maintain than others, and all of them, I now realize, incredibly valuable. Being comfortable with a loose and imperfect drawing style that centered on shapes rather than details grew my confidence as an artist, especially when I found myself side-by-side with a roomful of professionals at the NM Art League! 

Although I only got to attend a limited amount of sessions with these two very different art groups before Covid closed everything down, I miss them terribly. In retrospect I learned so much from those timed drawings: go for the energy; don't think, just draw; find the most important and dynamic lines. One of the main things that struck me was how similar gesture drawing was to freewriting: write, don't think; don't stop to edit; don't censor yourself; first thoughts are often the best thoughts.

When Albuquerque went into lockdown I was truly saddened by the harshness of our restrictions and how I was left without access to friends or creative groups of any kind. I wasn't sure how I would stay on track as far as self-discipline went for either writing or drawing. That's when I realized I had to continue with my gesture drawings, even if it was only me and my laptop. With a small amount of research I was able to find dozens of timed drawing sessions on YouTube complete with excellent models and relaxing soundtracks. Now I can't imagine a day going by without doing some sort of gesture drawing practice.

More than anything, whether we're in lockdown or not, gesture drawing feels good. I love the immediacy of throwing myself into a fast drawing accompanied by the sensation of using my whole body to draw--the exact same way I jump into my freewriting. Some tips that can help your drawing or freewriting sessions to feel equally alive are to:
  • Time your sessions, starting with small increments of 1, 2, or ten minutes and building up to a half- or full hour.
  • Keep turning the pages; don't be afraid of starting and stopping a line without perfecting or adding detail. Keep going for the new, the fresh, the strongest points of interest.
  • Seek out the story wherever you are or from whatever your eye catches. Gesture drawing isn't only about people; cats, dogs, trees, tropical fish, table lamps and laundry can provide you with insightful "poses" that you can use to draw or write about with genuine meaning.
  • Use a magazine for reference if you really don't have anything to inspire you on the spot. Open the cover and go through the pages from first to last, moving from one eye-catching photograph or headline to the next. Keep your pen moving.

Both gesture drawing and freewriting are often thought of as preliminary warm-up exercises before we get to the "real thing." But I think that's a little dismissive and contrary to the heart of creativity: sometimes the quickest sketches--written as well as drawn--can be the most compelling and beautiful. The value of our art shouldn't be measured by the time spent making it.

Lastly, when you're finished drawing or writing for the day, don't be too hasty to toss or tear up your work because you thought it was solely for exercise. Put your pages aside and wait a week or two before evaluating which pieces you like best and which you want to keep, or not. You can either use them as the foundations for a more finished body of work, or simply to save and enjoy for being themselves.

Tip of the Day: One of the best parts of gesture drawing is the chance to experiment with different mediums, something you can use to liven up your freewriting, too. For instance, try writing in an oversized sketchbook with colored gel pens (including gold and silver of course!), soft artists' pencils, or dip pens and bottled ink. It's amazing how breaking away from the familiar (e.g., a computer keyboard) can open entire worlds of possibility and unexplored creativity.

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