Initial Gesture Drawings from Images

Following on from using gesture drawings in life drawing class last week, I googled “gesture drawing”, searching primarily for images of drawings and tips.  What I also found were a number of websites with image databases of different kinds.  These would appear to offer a range of drawing opportunities for students who are unable to find a life drawing class or who want more practice than a once-a-week class.

What these databases offer (not all of them offer everything but are worth checking out):

  • Gesture drawing (fast change of images but you can select a time length up to at least 90 seconds) – this forces you to work quickly and then move on.
  • Programmes of specific length (from 30 minutes to 6 hours in one that I found) that allow you to work up from gesture drawings to much longer poses of a couple of hours or more.
  • A choice of nude or clothed images, male and female.
  • Random image selection in which you decide when you wish to move on to the next image, and can also decide to skip images.
  • A wide range of poses offering the chance to work on specific skills, such as foreshortening.
  • An animal database offering the same opportunity to generate timed or random images of many different species.

    What I didn’t like – only one thing: some of the images of women, in particular, are bordering on the pornographic. One site specifies a minimum age for site users but obviously this cannot be enforced.  As a site user, you can obviously select the images that you are comfortable drawing and leave the others.  Some sites are better than others in this respect.

    Life drawing with a difference:
    Posemaniacs offer computer-generated anatomical images that give a sense of the underlying physiology – these images approach human physiology from unusual camera angles which you would probably not experience in a life-drawing class – challenging!  They also offer an overview of images –  thumbnails from which a specific pose may be chosen. You can also select e.g running or standing poses from a list.  There is also a negative space database and one just for hands.  Other features: tips and techniques,; an iPhone / iPod version; users can upload drawing videos.

    The site on is similar and offers the chance to relate musculature to the skeleton.  It includes a very useful tutorial and demonstrates how a gesture drawing may be built up  a line at a time.  No pose longer than two minutes here!
    Although drawing from photographs is not the same as drawing from life, theses sites offer a good opportunity to practice gesture drawing and help develop the skill, including overcoming the “frozen moment” that I certainly suffer from, when valuable seconds are wasted at the start of a quick, timed drawing.   Links to the sites that I have looked at are given at the end of the post.

    In Kimon Nicolaides’ book “The Natural Way to Draw“, the author advises artists to “put something down that indicates every part of the pose” in the first 5 seconds of drawing (p.18).  There is a lovely gesture drawing in the first section on contour and gesture which beautifully illustrates this.  He also advises limiting gesture drawings to between 5 and 10 seconds.  The focus should be “on the entire figure and you should keep the whole thing going at once” (p.16).  Nicolaides says that as we draw we should feel ourselves in the action of the model and draw this action – its energy and movement – on the page. The aim of gesture drawing is to represent an action, not a person.

    Here are my first attempts using the site. I have not yet got the hang of the “gesture” – so far, I tend to approach it using outlines rather than overall form / action, so some of these might be better classified as modified contour drawings (although the latter tend to be slower more deliberate drawings), and I definitely went over the 2 minute time limit on some of them!  I should aim to draw a single line to represent a limb or the trunk, rather than an outline.  It would be almost impossible to get an outline drawn in 5 seconds in any case!

    I discovered that overworking a gesture drawing in order to “improve” it only results in a tangle of lines – a mess, in other words – in which any sense of energy and movement is all but destroyed.  If a gesture drawing isn’t working, continuing work on it is unlikely to revive it!  Some of the images of drawings below have been photographed with a macro lens for detail and are larger than drawn to give a better sense of the lines and process. All were done with a black fineliner.

    Overall, I am happy with the outcomes of this initial exercise and will try to incorporate a regular gesture drawing practice into the daily round.



     The previous drawing is the top one shown on the A4 sketchbook page below, which gives a better sense of the scale of the drawings:


    An example of a heavily overworked image.  I forgot the gesture and began to to introduce tone through scribble…






    I would very much appreciate learning of more databases / websites of this kind, as well as of people’s experiences in using any of them.


    Links worth checking out:

    Two books that I currently use for guidance with figure drawing are:
    Gottfried Bammes ‘ Complete Guide to Life Drawing
    Sarah Simblet’s  Anatomy for the Artist. 

    Other books that I have enjoy looking through for their illustrations, exercises and ideas are:
    Valerie Wiffen’s Figure Sketching School  (secondhand copies available at time of writing on Amazon from 1p plus postage!)
    Barclay Sheak’s Drawing Figures and Faces (out of print – secondhand copies available on Amazon).
    The source mentioned in the text is Kimon Nicolaides’ The Natural Way to Draw, published by Houghton Mifflin (1941). 
    Stan Smith & Linda Wheeler’s Drawing and Painting the Figure, which I cannot track down on Amazon at the moment.  There are many other books by the late British artist, Stan Smith, which are worth a look and secondhand copies start at 1p plus postage.  It was Stan Smith’s work, amongst others, that originally awoke my interest in expressive, looser styles of drawing.
    A book that looks interesting and which I have just this moment purchased based on Amazon reviews is Bill Buchman’s Expressive Figure Drawing.  I have bought it to support the development of expressive skills through loosening up and experimenting with a wider range of media.
    A series of life drawing books by Maureen and Douglas Johnson also look worth exploration (I have only seen the advertisement on Amazon and have not seen the book or CD).  Note that the CD is a separate purchase!  The advantage here is that the CD offers images in 360 degree rotation so it makes it easier to select a specific angle for a drawing or to draw a single pose from several different viewpoints.  There is a demonstration of how this works on their website,  They also offer those who register on their site to download a low resolution ebook as a pdf in order to get a better idea of whether or not it would be a useful purchase, and you can download a couple of the 360 poses to try out as well (look under “Freebies” in the main menu).  This is a very generous offer and one I am likely to take up.
    Another book that looks useful (very well illustrated) but is not cheap (seems not to be in print at the time of writing) is Michael Hampton’s Figure Drawing (Design and Invention).  Still available – quite expensively – on Amazon.  It is available also on at a cheaper price (about 29 euros), which even with postage from Germany is cheaper than the 43 quid on the UK site and once you know how Amazon works, you can use it in any language.



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