In gesture drawing, the artist seeks to rapidly convey the unique essence of his or her subject through precision and authenticity of line, mood, symmetry, relational space, impulse, movement and/or stance. The result is a complete assessment of compositional elements, both subtle and overt—all accomplished in approximately one to two minutes. The energetic imprint of the figure is essentially captured in one simple series of sparse lines and curves. This acts as a map, guideline, or scale to which further detail can be added. One thinks of Japanese calligraphy, exquisitely executed with a fine brush and dark ink. For our purposes, large format charcoal works perfectly for recording these first essays, as the wider, broader marks most effectively initiate, underscore and secure the entire composition from the point of inception. Light strokes are easiest to modify later, but darker marks, made with confidence, can prove integral to the core structure of the drawing.
Gesture Drawing Practice by Pierre Rechatin
Upon completion of a gesture drawing, the figure comes spontaneously to light in an intuitive, almost magical transference, its heart and soul mirrored directly onto the paper. Many artists prefer to calculate specific lines by holding the charcoal (or a pencil) in front of them in order to approximate (and replicate) an accurate angle. For others, it may be best to proceed uninterrupted through the process, recording as many impressions as possible in the shortest amount of time. In this way, the artist can take down, in rapid-fire notation for future reference, the basic life force inherent to the subject’s physicality.
Street scenes seem to come to life by osmosis through gesture drawing. On a pretty summer day, try finding an outdoor seat at a café or on a quiet set of steps—any vantage point from which to comfortably watch the world go by. Gesture drawing provides the ideal set of parameters for sketching moving subjects to whom you may have no visual access after the first few moments. Even minimalistic dashes or scribbles, devoid of traditional definition or facial features, can transmit the authenticity of a figure in the most extraordinary way. Experiment with sketching each person or animal who passes by. At the end of your session, you’ll have a wealth of characters from which to work, and will have logged valuable practice time. Nothing adds to meaningful, cumulative experience faster than regular practice on a small scale, and for the developing artist, gesture drawing represents a gold mine of constantly available opportunity.