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Thread: Confused about gesture drawing

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    In my life drawing classes we'd done at least half a dozen slightly different types of gesture drawings, some with more some with less developed detail. There's also a book the teacher has showed up a number of times (not nicolades) that has easily 20 different types and styled of gestural drawings. being that we're still noobs we haven't used all the types yet.

    Something I'm remembering about gestures is that the emphasis is more on what the figure is doing, and the general big picture character, very general first impression, proportions (a base that one can use to start tightening things).

    And, yes what Elwell is taking about student vs. pro gestures, we get told by our teacher(s) too... the more you learn and more skills you acquire, the more correct and non messy stuff you are expected to capture fast.

    Hopefully I can dig out the book name where all the gestures he talks about are shown....
    This is one of them, but I'm not 100% sure if it's the same one. http://www.amazon.com/Life-Drawing-P.../dp/1581809794

    Last edited by Conniekat8; December 28th, 2011 at 05:42 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Conniekat8 View Post
    In my life drawing classes we'd done at least half a dozen slightly different types of gesture drawings, some with more some with less developed detail. There's also a book the teacher has showed up a number of times (not nicolades) that has easily 20 different types and styled of gestural drawings. being that we're still noobs we haven't used all the types yet.

    [...]

    Hopefully I can dig out the book name where all the gestures he talks about are shown....
    This is one of them, but I'm not 100% sure if it's the same one. http://www.amazon.com/Life-Drawing-P.../dp/1581809794
    I would appreciate if you could sort this out, the 100% thing. One of my teachers continuously mentions different types of gestures, but is unable to give any reference, which doesn't really help. We use running line gesture, aka Nicolaides-style gesture, volumetric gesture, gesture with anatomical reference, and contour gestures, but some of these seem to defeat the purpose of gesture, being overly concerned about structure and proportions.

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    Elwell - Well that's just messed up. Then we don't have any examples of exactly what Nicolaides, the guy that created the "gesture exercises", really is. The student examples in that book might not even be loose enough! He says, "not to draw what the thing looks like, not even what it is". For all we know it could mean completely abstract drawings?

    Jeff - I noticed that exact same drawing too. But there's no final painting for it. I keep trying to figure out a lot of Frazetta's method and it would take a lengthy explanation to cover what I believe he does. I think a lot of what he states in his interviews and "Painting with Fire" video is sometimes stuff he says for PR. I believe he does use more reference than he leads on, and that he finds reference and does his small gestures from... because his small roughs are obviously blown up on his projector and then traced. And there's nothing wrong with doing that. But you find the gestures that belong to the actual paintings and his gestures usually have more form to them. Most of those roughs look just like the final painting!

    Connie - That book sounds good. Like Elwell said, learn to draw in all sorts of ways.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eezacque@xs4all.nl View Post
    I would appreciate if you could sort this out, the 100% thing. One of my teachers continuously mentions different types of gestures, but is unable to give any reference, which doesn't really help. We use running line gesture, aka Nicolaides-style gesture, volumetric gesture, gesture with anatomical reference, and contour gestures, but some of these seem to defeat the purpose of gesture, being overly concerned about structure and proportions.
    You can see some of what we did in the class during the spring semester here in my sketchbook: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/sho...=220975&page=2
    We've been doing from continuous motions spaghetti gestures to five minute gestures. This is the very very beginning life drawing class.... each class there was a slightly different emphasis on what he had us concentrate on.... depending on class progression.

    This particular teacher has a huuge shelf-full of books that he is constantly pulling out and showing us references and sometimes reads a line or two from them... tells us what is handy and why, what not to get bogged down with etc... what he seems to be teaching is a compilation of many methods. The guy is super sharp, he can always explain the 'why's' and is always very willing to do it.

    I decided to take that class again, just do I force myself to keep doing it (and have access to live models and instruction as needed). It starts up again second week of January.

    I remember the book I linked to being one of the books we used, but not having it next to me, and seeing limited pages on Amazon, I recognize the pictures, but I don't remember it that's the book that has all of the gesture styles in it. I'll have to ask the teacher once I'm in the class again.

    Sounds like what you are doing with gestures is similar to what we are doing. Usually the longer the model sitting, the more we're expected to have the proportions correct. Proportions are always going to be one of those core things that have to be correct pretty early on in the drawing... Ideally one can capture proportions and the action in the quick gesture right away.

    Lot of proportion work, to start with in the figure drawing, the teacher has us memorize them, and is pushing for them to become second nature.

    We didn't get too involved in structure. We did some of it, and some contouring and cross contouring.... maybe I was just in the class where everyone picked up on that part quickly (or maybe I glazed over during it, because I've done some self study with anatomy). We did more work on volumes, light ans shadow. Maybe the structure will get emphasized more in figure drawing 2.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    Connie - That book sounds good. Like Elwell said, learn to draw in all sorts of ways.
    Eeeexactly! It;s like developing a toolbox of skills, then you can use whatever you see fit for a given task.

    What I really like about my teachers so far is that none of them insist on one way being the right way. Every class I've taken so far, they expose us to many different ways of doing things. I suspect later on we start narrowing down our scope of interest and get more in depth.

    Last edited by Conniekat8; December 28th, 2011 at 08:09 PM.
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    I think too much empahasis has been placed here on the first Nicolaides gesture exercise in defining what "Nicolaides-style" gesture drawing is. Gesture drawing develops in many directions in the Nicolaides program into exercises introducing more precise drawing (extended gesture), awareness of mass (mass drawing), anatomical construction (gesture with anatomy), drawing from memory and imagination (see my previous post), and composition.

    In beginning with the scribble, Nicolaides was following a time-tested way of beginning drawings from the imagination. When you put down a scribbled line you give your mind something it can project onto, and develop into something more elaborate. If anyone has doubts about what can be done with a scribble by a trained visual imagination, study the drawings of Honore Daumier. Daumier's mature work was done entirely from memory and imagination, and you can often follow how he developed visualized form and shading over a scribbled gesture. A search for "Daumier drawings" turns up quite a few, and there are also several books on archive.org.

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    Briggsy, is what you're describing "automatism"?

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    For me the ideal is spontaneous execution with the hand combined with eagle-eyed activity of the mind, which is different to automatism as I understand it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    Not to get off the subject, but that does seem to be the problem with using words when describing learning how to draw and describing methods. For example "copy" always comes across as a negative word. It's very vague what you mean when you use the word "copy". No matter how you use it in the forums, it just sounds wrong to people. Does it make sense to say, "indirectly copy"?
    My interpretation of gesture is: Everything you see is an interpretation of the light bouncing off of things and entering your eyes. When you look at something like a horse what takes place in your brain is the exact same thing that happens when you look at a cloud that reminds you of a horse. It's always an interpretation by the imagination, I think of the imagination as the process that forms the meaningful things in our life. Yet the imagination doesn't just make up anything it wants, it follows rules, it has to correctly interpret the signs of the world otherwise we will die.
    What we search for when we do gesture drawings are the signs that speak to the imagination. Therefore all drawing is gesture drawing. All drawings deal with action, action is drama, and drama is what it is like to be alive in some situation. I believe that action can only happen when there is a thinking being there to observe it, without a thinker action is only chaos. The most basic action we observe when making a drawing is "I'm looking at the thing". The scribble action is a response to the thing, that becomes the sign for "I'm looking at the thing".
    All that we see is just so many signs. I believe these signs are the "alphabet of nature" because when you find one and learn it's meaning it's like a word you can use in a drawing, and no matter what thing you are trying to represent, for example a horse, the sign will always cause the same effect. In other words, when you know the sign you can transfer it's effect to anything. To me drawing is just the language of our visual art, the words we use to compose pictures.
    Tomorrow I'll show an example of the "stretch" sign because it's one of the easiest to see and use, and I'll show you how to test it in the real world.

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    A copy of Figure Drawing Design and Invention will probably answer some questions in this thread.

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    Briggsy -
    I think it's safe to say that most people's aim on this site, for concept art and commercial type art, are striving to reach a more defined type of realism in their art than Daumer. I can definitely see Daumer's level of realism drawing (for lack of a better way of putting it) works for the type of paintings he makes. But that's not usually the goal for most people on this site.

    Looking at the sketchbook section, there is a lot of people trying to practice gesture drawings, but they don't strive for these different types of "gesture exercises" that are done from a model (like in Nicolaides book). It looks like they are trying to develop their own stock characters and be able to draw them quickly, calling it gesture drawing exercises. And that's fine if you want to do that. But that's not way Nicolaides, the guy that started all this "gesture exercises" intended.

    But at this point, it seems like there's no way to know for sure exactly what the guy intended! He died while making the book and others included the examples, so the examples are moot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    Briggsy -
    But that's not way Nicolaides, the guy that started all this "gesture exercises" intended.

    But at this point, it seems like there's no way to know for sure exactly what the guy intended! He died while making the book and others included the examples, so the examples are moot.
    ..ok....and...?

    I'm not sure why the hangup on who started this and why and the intent....people will still draw.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    ..ok....and...?

    I'm not sure why the hangup on who started this and why and the intent....people will still draw.
    Yes, people will still draw, but how you practice is important in reaching your goals.


    I'm not sure what you're getting at. The OP's question was about Nicolaides book, "The Natural Way to Draw".

    Last edited by Bowlin; December 30th, 2011 at 10:31 AM.
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    Thrust of action. The emotion of the pose. This is what gesture is all about to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    Yes, people will still draw, but how you practice is important in reaching your goals.


    I'm not sure what you're getting at. The OP's question was about Nicolaides book, "The Natural Way to Draw".
    Yes...and...?

    I'm also not sure what you're getting at. The OP may have asked about Nicolaides but also asked about other books. Does it matter to the OP so much that it HAS to be his way? I know maybe there's some philosophical discussion about what Nicolaides meant, but at a certain point. *does it really matter?*

    It's not like someone is practicing out of a Christopher Hart book. So the "how" (re this thread) is not so much important as much as doing it a lot. Knowing what gesture is as the person posted above is what is most important. How one comes to the conclusion is just going to be trial and error. So rather than fuss so much about the right method, you have to just...well do it, then realize why the method is wrong/right/working/not working for you.

    Other threads talked about gesture as the start of the drawing, getting your overall idea of what the person is doing and conveying.

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    Interesting thread. I have never read any books on gestures or done it much myself. But looking around over the years I view it as many things that vary from person to person. I see some that create full detail interesting little pieces with the quick scribbles they make. Then I see others that just make light scribbling to work on capturing the essence of models and figures for practice. I would say capturing that essence with as little line as possible but you see artists that use bare minimum of quick lines then others that go to town scribbling lines everywhere fleshing out something.

    Then a lot in digital because the easy use of layers, many use it just simply as the quick ground works of what your drawing. I've never done many gestures but if you consider that a gesture drawing that's the type that resonated the most for me. I never used to scribble out the overall essence and groundworks of something then build up from that. But been trying it a bit more recently and it does wonders. Now I guess that depends if you call that gestural drawing or not though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    So the "how" (re this thread) is not so much important as much as doing it a lot. Knowing what gesture is as the person posted above is what is most important. How one comes to the conclusion is just going to be trial and error. So rather than fuss so much about the right method, you have to just...well do it, then realize why the method is wrong/right/working/not working for you.

    This is the book a lot of art teachers basically go by for art classes. You can't do this particular exercise a lot if you don't know "how" to do this particular exercise. If you don't know "how" to do it right, then you can't tell if it's working/not working for you.

    This is what the OP is talking about in her questions, "how" to do the gesture exercises in the Nicolaides book.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    This is the book a lot of art teachers basically go by for art classes. You can't do this particular exercise a lot if you don't know "how" to do this particular exercise. If you don't know "how" to do it right, then you can't tell if it's working/not working for you.

    This is what the OP is talking about in her questions, "how" to do the gesture exercises in the Nicolaides book.
    Right...but the answer is: there is no "how"...only "do".

    There are some basic "methods" or results maybe, related to what media you are using - broad passage like conte or charcoal on the side, linear such as pencil, pen, charcoal/conte on point, brush with watercolor, ink, oils, etc. This is what people are talking about when they say learn to draw many ways.

    With linear tools there is a bit more freedom of individual "technique" like scribbled/spaghetti gesture, skeleton gesture (defining the spine and attitude of major limbs), contour (not well suited to gesture but some might do that), mannequin (as in Loomis)...it just all depends on the artist, the tool in use, the goal, the time, etc.

    The goal is always the same with gesture - capture the essence of the pose or action.

    My personal gesture approach changes with the medium, time, goals, etc. but usually follows what I call the "skeleton" gesture where I define:
    1 - basic line of action through spine and down weight bearing leg
    2 - tilt/atitude of head
    3 - tilt/attitude of shoulder girdle
    4 - tilt/attitude of pelvis
    5 - attitude/foreshortening of limbs
    6 - attitude/position of feet

    I try to get all that in 30-60 seconds. It doesn't matter if it is a five minute or five hour pose, I still try to capture that in 30-60 seconds. Then I start to refine, adjust and correct as necessary depending on observation. From there I tend to go to defining major muscle masses and contour. Then the division of values. Sometimes I exaggerate or emphasize what I find interesting. I have "tendencies" I'm constantly working against that drive me crazy, but that is pretty typical and just has to do with focus, working harder, etc.

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    Look at this drawing by Henry Yan:
    Name:  stretch.jpg
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    What I'm going to concentrate on here is the way that leg seems so stretched out with vigor. I believe the main thing causing that feeling in the leg is this:
    Name:  stretch_edited-1.jpg
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    Which is basically an implementation of this symbol.
    Name:  1stretch_edited-1.jpg
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    Which can be found in real life here, for one example:
    Name:  rubberband.jpg
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    The difficulty with drawing is that we are always trying to draw an idea but people and things in real life aren't ideas. The common fact about all average looking people is that they lack a definite physiognomy, all their parts don't really add up to a character. All characters are examples of animism, they are the embodiment of feelings. The best example of this animism is the sense of beauty(read santayana's book), here all I mean with beauty is it's usual meaning that something is pleasurable to look at, and we usually use it when refering to women. The rarity of a real beautiful woman shows us how rare any other definite physiognomy is in real life. Which means we wind up having to get our gestures from a lot of different sources.
    What Daumier does is no different than what any other artist does, performing so many operations on a surface that creates the impression of a picture.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Right...but the answer is: there is no "how"...only "do".
    Wait a second. Jeff... are you a hippie?

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    Quote Originally Posted by armando View Post
    I believe the main thing causing that feeling in the leg is this:
    Name:  stretch_edited-1.jpg
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    I would disagree that that's the main thing causing the feeling of stretch. If that was the case, then photoshopping that particular part out would make it cease to feel stretched out:

    Name:  stretch-1.jpg
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    I certainly think the symbol enhances the feeling of stretch, but I would say the overall silhouette and the general arrangement of the masses (the general pose) are what really establish the feeling of the stretch, which is then enhanced by the symbol you've mentioned along with others, for example the "locked" joint of the knee pushing back against the back plane of the leg:

    Name:  stretch-2.jpg
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    Symbols like these are important, but secondary to the larger read of the silhouette and overall action, which are most critical.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dose View Post
    I certainly think the symbol enhances the feeling of stretch, but I would say the overall silhouette and the general arrangement of the masses (the general pose) are what really establish the feeling of the stretch, which is then enhanced by the symbol you've mentioned along with others, for example the "locked" joint of the knee pushing back against the back plane of the leg:
    Given the pose, I don't see any stretch in that leg, which is also supported by your analysis, which suggests there is a good deal of mass resting on that leg.
    To put it differently, without that leg, the model would fall on his nose.

    Also, gestures is much more about the whole, the unity, instead of one single detail which sells a stretch...

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    Where's his other leg?


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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Where's his other leg?
    In his other pants.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dose View Post
    I would disagree that that's the main thing causing the feeling of stretch. If that was the case, then photoshopping that particular part out would make it cease to feel stretched out:
    The leg will look extended but it won't have the same tense look to it.
    Name:  weak leg.jpg
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    Quote Originally Posted by dose View Post
    I certainly think the symbol enhances the feeling of stretch, but I would say the overall silhouette and the general arrangement of the masses (the general pose) are what really establish the feeling of the stretch, which is then enhanced by the symbol you've mentioned along with others, for example the "locked" joint of the knee pushing back against the back plane of the leg:


    Symbols like these are important, but secondary to the larger read of the silhouette and overall action, which are most critical.

    It's all symbols, the silhouette and the overall action too. I don't think we're in disagreement(Edit: I am in disagreement with your analysis about the knee cap pushing into the back of the leg), I think it just might have come off that I was putting too much emphasis on that one symbol alone, but in my earlier post I did say that I picked it out because it's easy to see, use, and prove. Just speaking for myself here, I would have liked to have been taught stuff like this when I was first starting out, because it's something that can be looked for, tested, and repeated in "made up" drawings.

    Last edited by armando; December 31st, 2011 at 09:15 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    Looking at the sketchbook section, there is a lot of people trying to practice gesture drawings, but they don't strive for these different types of "gesture exercises" that are done from a model (like in Nicolaides book). It looks like they are trying to develop their own stock characters and be able to draw them quickly, calling it gesture drawing exercises. And that's fine if you want to do that. But that's not way Nicolaides, the guy that started all this "gesture exercises" intended in his first gesture drawing exercise.
    Fixed. I don't know how far you actually got through the program, but the concept of gesture drawing is greatly elaborated and enriched over the course of the year.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    Briggsy -
    I think it's safe to say that most people's aim on this site, for concept art and commercial type art, are striving to reach a more defined type of realism in their art than Daumer. I can definitely see Daumer's level of realism drawing (for lack of a better way of putting it) works for the type of paintings he makes. But that's not usually the goal for most people on this site.
    Maybe, but I was giving him as an example of an excellent (and very widespread) way of starting drawings, not saying anything about how far to finish them. You can keep refining your visualized pose as far as you want, using reference to boost your capacity for visualization wherever needed. That's using reference, not copying reference.

    Heinrich Kley drawings, c. 1909-1923:

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    Quote Originally Posted by briggsy@ashtons View Post
    Maybe, but I was giving him as an example of an excellent (and very widespread) way of starting drawings, not saying anything about how far to finish them.
    And this is the root of the matter: gesture exercises are about how to begin a drawing, and the most important thing about a figure (or any other object in your picture) is what it's doing.


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    Quote Originally Posted by armando View Post
    Look at this drawing by Henry Yan:
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    What I'm going to concentrate on here is the way that leg seems so stretched out with vigor. I believe the main thing causing that feeling in the leg is this:
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    Which is basically an implementation of this symbol.
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    Which can be found in real life here, for one example:
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    The difficulty with drawing is that we are always trying to draw an idea but people and things in real life aren't ideas. The common fact about all average looking people is that they lack a definite physiognomy, all their parts don't really add up to a character. All characters are examples of animism, they are the embodiment of feelings. The best example of this animism is the sense of beauty(read santayana's book), here all I mean with beauty is it's usual meaning that something is pleasurable to look at, and we usually use it when refering to women. The rarity of a real beautiful woman shows us how rare any other definite physiognomy is in real life. Which means we wind up having to get our gestures from a lot of different sources.
    What Daumier does is no different than what any other artist does, performing so many operations on a surface that creates the impression of a picture.
    My teacher would say... "Don't get lost in (or focus) on too much detail while doing gestures.

    What makes it look dynamic is the whole thing''' like when you squint.

    The detail(s) you are pointing out are 'supporting actors' so to speak. If they were incongruent with the overall look and feel, they would be a problem. When they support the overall look and feel, you get a coordinated piece. Something that is heading in the direction of organic unity. However, all that comes after you capture the gesture.

    One of the way to capture the gesture is to quint and step waaaaay back.... what do you see when standing back 30 feet or so and squinting? Overall movement, silhouette, perhaps hints of values. Almost no detail at all. But, when you look at someone squinting, 30 feet away, especially when you know the person their posture, their mannerisms, their posture, the way they move etc... you can still recognize it's them. That's what quick gestures are meant to capture...

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    Briggsy - Yeah, that IS what I meant, in his first gesture drawing exercise. And your absolutely right about the reference... and those examples show it precisely!

    What if I said it like this... you often see students trying to practice that first gesture exercise, but you hardly see them practicing the mass exercise over and over. This seems to be what the OP is perhaps doing, like a lot of students? Why is that?


    Elwell - Yeah, you can't argue with that. That makes sense.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    What if I said it like this... you often see students trying to practice that first gesture exercise, but you hardly see them practicing the modeling exercise over and over. This seems to be what the OP is perhaps doing, like a lot of students? Why is that?
    I believe the concept of gesture is so much more deeper than the modeling exercise. While the former is about impulse, verb, action, unity, the latter is so much more physical. I love to think of gesture as the things that cannot be drawn

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    Conniecat: Saying anything about anything requires specifics. If I were not aware of the drawing as a whole I would never have posted it, I would have erased everything except that tendon and called the rest superfluous. The use of the symbol is only limited to the ingenuity of the artist, it's not a detail it's an effect. Also my analysis was incomplete, because it's proper use requires joining two masses on either side of it, I assumed that would be obvious in the photo and the drawing. "Overall movement, silhouette, perhaps hints of values" can all be drawn in the form of that symbol. Plus I already wrote: "It's all symbols, the silhouette and the overall action too."
    The real start of the drawing is the theme/idea, that theme dictates the choices(conscious and spontaneous) that comprise the rest of the drawing. If this theme/idea is the purpose of the "gesture drawing", I would argue that a finished drawing, a drawing that completely communicates it's idea regardless of being highly detailed or loose as a cartoon, would be the true gesture drawing. A drawing that has been started, without the intent of being "finished", is usually called a sketch. What most people call gestures are sketches of bodies placed hither and thither in space, whereas if you look at the Kley drawings they are mini-compositions of actors in scenes, the choice of the elephant character is important as he is not drawing disembodied actions, and yes they are also moving through space. And of course randomly throwing symbols together will not result in any significant drawing, just meaningless crap.

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