If you want to really improve your art and your character poses, gesture drawing is the solution for you. This is why I’ve created this big article on drawing poses using gesture drawing.
For some years I struggled with how my art was going. I didn’t feel like I was getting better and felt stuck. I wanted to draw the human body but the way I was learning just didn’t click with me.
That’s when I discovered Gesture Drawing! I can say, without a doubt, that this technique saved my art and my confidence in it.
So, what is gesture drawing? Gesture drawing is capturing the motion of your reference image or character in as few strokes as possible. By using gesture drawing you improve your own artwork by focusing on the general figure, instead of the details.
With Gesture Drawing, I learned that first, there’s no wrong way to do art and to learn it. And second, that it doesn’t need to be perfect. You can’t spend an hour in that one line that you’re not happy with. No. Doing quick doodles of the things you’re seeing will help you learn more about it and capture the essential parts.
This exercise helped me move forward with my work and that’s why I’m doing this post for you. Hopefully, it will help you as much as it helped me!
This is how you draw better and more dynamic poses, one step at a time:
- Choose Reference Images/Tools
- Start With The Line Of Action
- Draw the Shapes
- Keep Your Lines Loose!
- Time Your Gestures
We’ll go through each of these steps and talk about them in detail, but first, let’s talk about what exactly is Gesture Drawing!
I also have everything in video format with assignments and a bunch more info on each body part in my online drawing course: Introduction to Figure Drawing: Create a Dynamic Character.
Table Of Contents
- 1 What is Gesture Drawing in Art?
- 2 Gesture Drawing Tips
- 2.1 1) Start with the Line of Action
- 2.2 2) Tell A Story Using Body Language
- 2.3 3) Draw What You See (forget what you think you know)
- 2.4 4) Exaggeration is Key! Don’t Copy The Reference
- 2.5 5) Keep your Lines Loose, not Stiff
- 2.6 6) The Longest Axis gives you the Balance
- 2.7 7) CSI (not the TV Show!)
- 2.8 8) Tension vs Relaxed Lines (Zig Zags and general Flow)
- 2.9 9) Time Your Gestures
- 3 The Best Gesture Drawing Tools
- 4 What Medium Should You Use In Gesture Drawing?
- 5 So How Exactly Do You Draw Gesture?
- 6 Gesture Drawing Exercises
- 7 Famous Gesture Drawing Artists
- 8 In Summary
What is Gesture Drawing in Art?
Gesture Drawing is capturing the form, movement (action), and pose of the subject.
So if you’re drawing from a reference photo, you want to capture the whole figure in as few strokes as possible, with basic shapes and simple lines.
Usually, when doing this you set a timer of a few minutes (or even seconds) and draw the entire figure and pose in that time limit!
Doing this will make it much easier for you to draw the figure, as long as you keep practicing it constantly.
Since you’re getting used to catching the overall feel of the image as quickly as possible, you won’t get stuck as much thinking exactly how a head or limb should be, but actually drawing the shape you’re seeing in the reference image you’re using.
This might sound weird if you haven’t done it before, but it really becomes second nature very quickly once you start getting into it.
It will also help you create more dynamic characters.
This isn’t an exercise where you just copy the reference image and make it exactly as it is. It can also help if you’re aiming for realistic drawings, but in my experience, it’s better for other more exaggerated art styles.
So if you really want to improve your art and create better and more expressive characters, this is the way to go.
Let’s now talk about some of the specifics of doing this, some tools later on, and then the exact step by step on how you can practice gesture drawing! As well as, some bonus specific exercises at the end of the article!
Gesture Drawing Tips
As I mentioned, there’s no wrong way to go about art, and that applies to gesture drawing.
But there are always some guidelines for you to follow and don’t feel too lost. Drawing can be very intuitive, but at times, it isn’t and that’s when you need these guidelines.
So yes, in theory, gesture drawing is making quick sketches of poses, catching the essential movement through very simple shapes.
So, let’s go over some tips for drawing gesture!
1) Start with the Line of Action
The line of action is the first line you want to draw.
Especially at the beginning, you can just focus on this line, to make it easier to see and understand the pose.
What is the line of action then?
It is an imaginary line! Imagine a line going down the character’s spine.
You look at your reference and you see that line that evokes the whole movement of the pose.
This line is usually curved. We try to avoid straight lines as much as possible.
Very simple: straight lines are very tense and not that interesting. Usually, you’d want your character to give a sense of movement and to project attitude. Even if it is standing still.
This is why we also try to exaggerate our lines in Gesture Drawing. It makes everything more interesting and more dynamic. But we’ll talk more about that later.
Before jumping into drawing the whole human figure, take some time and fill a bunch of pages with lines of action based on reference images (such as the ones from these free websites)!
I’ll give you some examples to look up later on, so keep an eye for that.
2) Tell A Story Using Body Language
We’re drawing actions.
So we’re telling stories with the poses we’re drawing. As you get more used to this exercise, you start picking up on certain details and exaggerating them, to give more emphasis on your character’s action.
Remember that in Gesture Drawing you’re not aiming to make finished, complete drawings. What you’re aiming here is to learn the rhythm of the poses, so you can apply to your drawings later on.
Don’t worry if your anatomy isn’t 100% correct. Focus on capturing the movement and to know how to best represent it on paper.
Tell your viewer a story through your character’s body language!
In the example above, you can see how I exaggerated the lines and the pose, to make my drawing more dynamic but also depicting, to my viewer, how my character is feeling.
Maybe if I’ve kept my lines more subtle you wouldn’t pay much attention as to how my character feels. But changing some details, through exaggeration and curves, will transmit more urgency to you and its body language will speak to you more easily!
3) Draw What You See (forget what you think you know)
You’re using reference images for this exercise.
So you have to look at it and draw what you see in it.
Remember that all we’re changing is how dynamic it is. The pose is always the same, asides from that, we’re just pushing the shapes to its limit and see where we can go until it looks weird.
You’re learning here.
You might not be learning each part of the human body in detail. But you’re learning its proportions so take the time for that as well.
Look at your images, trace the shapes or your line of action on top of it if it helps you.
Sometimes, when you’re drawing side by side or looking at the computer and drawing on a piece of paper, it can be hard to get the places or proportions right. When that happens, don’t be afraid to draw the shapes on top of the image.
It will help you understand better and from then on you can do it more easily!
This is something I do a lot on my Figure Drawing course.
At times, I’ll show you and draw the shapes on top of our reference images, so we can better visualize and understand certain parts of the body.
Reference images are tools that we use to learn. You need to see and study them, to learn how to draw something!
4) Exaggeration is Key! Don’t Copy The Reference
It seems like I’m contradicting myself here.
But what I mean here is mostly the exaggerating part. The pose will be exactly the same that you’re seeing. What you’re adding here is a twist!
Exaggerate some lines here and there.
Especially where you feel that will make your pose pop up more.
Push those lines, to make the story you’re trying to tell more exciting to the viewer!
Don’t be afraid to push your lines.
Push your limits and get out of your comfort zone. With this, you’re not only making your drawings more dynamic but you’re also developing your lines, making them more interesting and smooth and you’re also learning more about you and your own artistic style!
5) Keep your Lines Loose, not Stiff
Rule number 1 of drawing: Relax!!
You’re drawing because you like it and you want to have fun. Sometimes this will not happen.
You’re just too worried about the quality of your drawing and your lines, you just want it all to be perfect!
Believe me, I’ve been there, I still am at times. This is the curse of any artist.
But that is when Gesture Drawing comes to the rescue! You sit down, relax and make quick drawings, with quick lines.
If you suffer from stiff lines, this is the perfect exercise for you!
If you’re too tense, not only will your lines look tense as well, but you’re also tensing all your body. After an hour of drawing, you’ll feel that!
I recommend you do some wrist and hand exercises to prevent injuries.
Like I always say, there are two reasons why your lines are too tense: you don’t feel confident enough about them and you need to practice more.
And what better than 30 seconds or 1-minute sketches to help get rid of that tension?
You’re both practicing AND helping your lines getting loose. I suffered from stiff lines as well, until I discovered Gesture Drawing!
It was really the exercise I needed to stop worrying about each line and to make it perfect. With it, I learned to embrace imperfection and even a more messy style.
So, always remember: loosen up and don’t worry about your lines!
Your line quality will improve with this exercise, believe me.
Draw them smoothly and you’ll see that your drawings will become 100% better!
Don’t stress too much about how good your gesture drawings will be.
You’re not achieving perfection here. These are not finished works!
Sit down, grab your sketchbook and some image references or go outside and watch the people around you.
Relax, draw some quick poses or just a few lines of action and have fun.
6) The Longest Axis gives you the Balance
Look for the longest lines in the pose.
From head to toe and from one arm to the other. These are the lines that will give balance to your drawing.
Finding the longest axis will also let you find all the movement you need in your pose.
Now, you just need to draw the rest of the figure and exaggerate your lines! Of course, before going to the full figure, feel free to practice these lines only.
Find a bunch of images and study the main lines.
Just like we talked about in the Line of Action section. Fill up some pages with these until you’re a pro at it!
7) CSI (not the TV Show!)
Enhance, enhance and enhance, perfect! I can see the license plate now!
Alright, CSI here does not stand for crime scene investigation, but for something simpler than that: C curve, S curve or Straight (I).
What do I mean by this?
You want to avoid adding unnecessary information and, as a rule, we’ll try to avoid unnecessary lines.
Try to use a mix of these curves and try to use the least possible. This way, you can capture the essential movement of the pose
Simple, easy and fast!
8) Tension vs Relaxed Lines (Zig Zags and general Flow)
Depending on the tension of the curves, how your drawing feels will change as well.
Using more tensed curves, like zigzags, will depict a more tensed pose.
On the other hand, curved lines, give us a more fluid drawing.
Choosing these lines depends on what you want to convey.
The more you bend your curves, the more energy and tension you give to the drawing. Using zigzag lines, for example, means that you’ll have sudden changes in the movement.
Flexed arms are a good example of this tension!
Even though we tend to use a lot of curved lines in Gesture, pay attention to the flow of your pose and create the perfect balance between your lines!
9) Time Your Gestures
Time your gesture drawings to help you practice drawing the poses.
Either with a tool like the websites we mention in this article or by using a simple alarm clock or alarm app on your phone or Computer.
The idea of Gesture Drawing is for you to capture the essence of a pose in a small amount of time.
If you still tend to keep yourself too long on details, set up a timer, so you force yourself to move on to the next pose!
30 seconds, 1 minute and 2 minutes are the usual times we go for, but if you prefer, you can go up to 10 minutes at most!
I wouldn’t recommend doing more than that, because then it kinda stops being Gesture and now you’re actually working on a detailed piece.
You’re not merely trying to draw as fast as you can.
You’re trying to capture the essence of a pose in the shortest time possible.
The idea here is for you to not get attached to every detail.
The Best Gesture Drawing Tools
You don’t need to go through magazines and 134 websites to find poses for you to draw. And then save them in a folder and pick up your phone and set a timer.
Those are too many steps to draw gestures!
There are already some places you can go to, select some options, and bam, just start drawing!
Before starting, you can change some options, for example, if you want the full body or just specific parts like hands or just the face, among others.
As an aside, if you’re looking just to improve at drawing hands, here are some amazing hand reference photos!
Then you can choose if you want to draw male or female models and if you prefer nude or dressed figures.
Of course, you can have everything on and you’ll have tons of options during your practice!
Finally, you just need to set up the timer. You can choose from the default options or even add any time you’d prefer.
You’re now ready to start!
As you practice, you can always pause each image, if you feel you need to study it for longer.
Lastly, another favorite of mine is Senshistock. You might have seen her work in Deviantart already.
She’s really popular and at some point, all artists have crossed paths with this amazing model!
She has stock photos for every taste and recently you can access her website, which works like the two above.
Simple go here and it will start giving you poses right away! Again, you can pause at any time. The only difference here is that you don’t have as much customization.
If you end up using any reference from Senshistock for your drawings and post them, be sure to give her some credit, because she sure deserves the love!
What Medium Should You Use In Gesture Drawing?
When doing gesture drawing, it’s always best to use a dry medium or a medium that dries quickly.
The reason is that you want to draw quick lines, shapes, and forms without having to wait for the medium you’re using to dry.
For this reason, I recommend you to use mediums such as:
If you’re looking for pen suggestions, I really recommend checking out this article with the best pens for every budget!
About the paper to use for gesture drawing, any paper should work just fine.
But just remember that if you’re going to use markers, for example, you should get marker appropriate paper.
For more information, do check out my article with every sketchbook you’ll need for each medium!
With that said, you don’t have to worry too much about what exact medium you should be using for gesture drawing.
Simply pick up a pencil or pen and a piece of paper, and you’re good to go!
So How Exactly Do You Draw Gesture?
Alright, you’ve been reading me rambling on and on about Gesture Drawing and all its theory.
Let’s go for a more practical approach now and go over how you can draw gestures step by step:
- Choose Reference Images/Tools
- Start With The Line Of Action
- Draw the Shapes
Below let’s talk about each step more in-depth.
1) Choose Reference Images/Tools
Choosing reference images for gesture drawing is pretty easy! You can go with general photos that you can find online or in magazines, or just go through one of the tools we mention here!
There are several ways for you to choose your references:
- Magazines: grab some magazines you might still have at home and choose some that you find interesting. Fashion magazines or Catalogs from your favorite stores are usually perfect for this! Cut out the ones you like or mark the pages if you don’t want to ruin your magazine. Sit down on your sofa, desk or any place you feel more comfortable and scribble away!
- Go out: grab your sketchbook and pen or pencils and go out for a cup of coffee or for a walk in the park. Sit down and watch the people around you. This one is really good because you can’t force someone to stop so you can finish drawing their pose. If you want to practice how quick you are and perfect your gesture drawing abilities, this is the exercise for you.
- Pinterest and Stock Photos: the internet is full of material for you! You can go through Pinterest or Stock Photos, type in models or a specific action you want to draw and you’ll have tons of options to go through!
- Gesture Drawing Websites: like the ones we just mentioned above, go to one of them, set up the options you want and you’re ready to go. I recommend this article with the best free pose reference websites here.
2) Start With The Line Of Action
Start with the Line of Action by focusing on the Longest Axis of the character’s movement.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing the entire gesture drawing exercise, you can stop your Gesture exercise right here with the line of action.
Pick up your references and focus only on the Line of Action!
Fill up 10 pages if needed. Once you feel you got the hang of it, you can go to the next step.
It’s one of the most important steps in gesture drawing, in my opinion, so really try to nail it and practice a lot!
3) Draw the Base Shapes
Draw the overall shapes for each part of the body.
Keep them very simple for now. Just the general idea and shape.
I like to start with the Torso, then the head, followed by the arms and the rest of the body.
Sometimes I trade places, I start with the head and then the torso. It all depends on what I’m feeling like drawing or what I’m comfortable with at the moment.
It’s totally up to you what works best, try different ways to approach it!
You don’t need to fill the drawing anymore! (unless you really want to)
To practice gesture drawing you just need to focus on these 3 steps and you’re good to go.
You can worry about adding details later!
Gesture Drawing Exercises
Ok, so we went over Gesture Drawing, step by step, but let’s try to spice things up!
Here are some specific gesture drawing exercises, that you can use if you’re feeling like doing something different or even do some silly exercises to relax and have some fun.
Just go to one of the gesture drawing sites we talked about before or pick other reference images, and try some of these exercises:
1- Draw Each Photo In 30 Seconds
A great gesture drawing exercise is to quickly do a gesture in 30 seconds.
If you do more than 30 seconds, punish yourself somehow!
No dessert this evening!!
I’m jesting, but really try this one out.
Half a minute goes by very quickly and it’s quite a challenge to finish the whole pose and make it clear.
It will also be very interesting to see your own progress.
The first drawing you’ve made will surely be very different from the last one.
As you get used to the time you’re given, you’ll master your technique and make your poses better and better!
2- Draw The Whole Gesture Using A Single Line
This gesture drawing exercise can end up being very silly!
Just imagine, putting your pencil down and now you cannot lift it before you finish your pose. It is not only challenging but fun!
Once again, you’ll always see some interesting progress.
As you practice, you’ll understand better what are the best places to start, so you can draw your pose perfectly!
If you’re interested, this is also a fun exercise to do in a group.
Join some fellow artists and all of you need to draw the same pose in a single line.
The results will surely be hilarious and you’ll also be able to see the different paths each person can take while drawing!
3- Try Drawing With Your Other Hand
A similar exercise to the one above, but this time, instead of using a single line to draw our gesture, we’re going to use our other hand.
It can be even more challenging than our previous exercise!
We use our dominant hand way more, so picking up a pencil with the other one will be… interesting. But doable!
And who knows, with enough practice, maybe you can even master drawing with both hands.
4- Use A New Material or Tool
Using a new material or tool on your gesture drawing exercises can, and will, make a big difference!
For example, you might prefer pencils, but let’s try a pen this time.
Trying out different materials is always important, especially if you’re feeling bored with how your art is going or you’re just not feeling the fun at the moment.
Sometimes all you need is a change of tools.
It has happened to me.
I stopped liking my sketches and feel like everything is too stale, so I switch from a pencil to a colored pen or a brush! Most of the times I perceive my art in a whole different light and now I’ll be drawing with this specific pen for a few months until I get tired of it again.
5- Draw the Gesture of Your Favorite Artwork
This is part of a tip that I’ve mentioned in my drawing tips for beginner artists article. You are allowed (and encouraged) to do this gesture drawing exercise!
Surely you have artworks and artists that inspire you.
Learn with them! Choose one of your favorite artists and draw the gesture of one of his/her pieces.
It’s fun and you’ll be learning a lot about their process.
Just remember, as always, do not claim these pieces as your own. These kind of exercises are something that you do for practice, learning and nothing more!
Famous Gesture Drawing Artists
Gesture drawing practice has been around for a long time. And so, there are many examples of famous artists that have used this exact technique to improve their own artwork.
I’ve included a few gesture drawing artists here, but you can see a bigger list of gesture drawing examples in this article!
So let’s go on with some examples of famous gesture drawing artists!
Leonardo DaVinci Studies
As you can see in these famous gesture drawing studies and exercises, Leonardo DaVinci focuses on the main shapes of the person and the horse.
These are very well done lines that simplify the main shapes.
Of course, there are also two drawings there that you can see he took way more time to do, but you get the idea!
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
These gesture drawing studies by the famous artist Rembrandt capture the main shapes of the head and hat of the person.
Remember that even if you’re doing gesture drawing exercises, it doesn’t mean that you have to draw the whole figure! If you’re interested in practicing just the head, the arms, the legs or anything else that you’re having difficulties with, go ahead and do gesture drawings!
The important thing is to just practice your gesture drawings.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
You probably know Michelangelo’s work and have seen them several times before, but have you watched carefully the gesture drawings of this famous artist?
In these gesture drawing studies, he captures the form perfectly with just a few lines.
You can see the layout of each muscle in the body and understand it perfectly even from a distance. I’m sure he has done MANY of these gesture drawing studies over the course of his life.
That’s why he was so great at art: he studied a lot and did a bunch of practice!
Alex Woo is a famous story artist at Pixar that has done countless gesture drawing studies and believes that it’s a very important practice to improve your artwork.
From the example, you can see how he just focuses on the lines and the directions of the lines in the gesture drawing studies to capture the moment and movement.
Through simple shapes, he can capture the whole figure in a flash!
This is what you’re trying to master when studying gesture drawing.
Gesture Drawing is fun and very easy to do.
In fact, it’s one of the best ways to improve your artwork quickly.
Set a timer, sit down for 10 to 20 minutes or more if you wish to and relax. Keep your lines loose and focus on the line of action.
This is where Gesture begins.
If you’re interested in really applying this knowledge and draw better and more Dynamic Characters, check out my course on Figure Drawing!
Now you just need to have fun! Practice as much as you can and you’ll see yourself progressing in your artwork in no time.
Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!
Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!