The Moving Figure

I have been sketching all manner of subjects for a while now and keep everything in various sketchbooks.  Therefore, for this exercise, I am logging sketches done over the past year and a half, including gesture drawings made in concerts, plays and outdoors in public spaces. 

I will include these in the chronological order in which they were made.  The first ones were made using a fineliner during a play.  They are the first gesture drawings that I recall attempting and they were made in the near darkness of an auditorium.  Both my inexperience and the lack of visibility are apparent – the images are incomplete and many overlap.  One or two show more detail than others, reflecting the length in which a pose was held.  I filled four pages of an A5 Hahnemühle sketchbook, which I often carry in my bag.  I realise that in a play, all moves are staged but for the purposes of “grabbing the chance” in order to practise making live gesture sketches of figures on the move, that doesn’t matter.

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A few weeks later, I was in a concert and annotated my programme as below as I attempted to capture the figure of the solo cellist (top right corner of programme) during a performance of Dvorak’s second Cello Concerto.  I am quite pleased with the action in this sketch: the musician is at one with his instrument. The second cellist was sitting in the orchestra and is depicted poised to play.  The conductor and orchestra can be seen on the left.  I also tried to work out a position with a little stick man…

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I do not find it difficult to draw while listening to music; the two activities seem to complement each other and create a synergy of focus.  My tutor recommended that I read the work of Milahy Csikszentmihalyi, which centres on the concept of flow and so  I recently read Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. I chose this title because I had already experienced flow during drawing but wanted to understand better how it could be extended to other areas of my life. Flow is experienced by anyone who is totally absorbed by what they are doing, as artists tend to be when they are actively engaged in creation. I have never believed in the idea of multi-tasking and have been pleased to see that there have been studies in the last few years that have discredited the concept; we can only switch attention between tasks very quickly and we seem to reduce our productivity in both or all of these as a consequence.  However, this seems to apply more when we are using the same part of the brain for more than one task simultaneously.  When we are using different areas of the brain, there seems to be more harmony, and attention can be given to more than one task: hence it appears to be possible to listen to and enjoy music (or spoken word) while in the flow of drawing…  

The drawings below were made while listening to a group of musicians supporting the Netherlands-based Chinese singer, Ping Fang. This musician sometimes used his fingers to pluck the strings of his double bass (below, left) and, at other times, used his bow.  The first drawing has a little more movement, the second is too static although he was playing very sedately.

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 While watching another play more recently, I drew the actors during one scene when they were relatively stationary and was able to capture a little more detail than in my first attempt but had to abandon some one or two sketches when an actor stood up suddenly!

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The last page of my sketchbook contains a number of quick sketches made during life drawing class this term.  I have sometimes made quick gesture drawings of other class members at their desks, or as they walk across the room, or made quick gesture drawings of the model as she tries out poses which she holds for a few seconds only. 

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In Venice last year, I sat on the steps of San Stefano and drew the scene in the adjacent piazza, Campo San Angelo. I tried to include a few of the hundreds who passed through the square that afternoon in order to get a sense of scale and human activity in the square.  However, I had no idea how to render the square and the crowds.  I will need to work on ways to give the impression of a crowd without getting caught up with detail. 


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While sitting in a cafe in a corner of the Marktplatz in Naumburg this summer, I sketched this flower seller.  I used a fineliner and then added a little watercolour.  The perspective of the table closest to the viewer isn’t correct with respect to the trestle on which it rests. It made a change to draw someone in a context rather than to “merely” capture an action or gesture. 




My portable watercolour set! It consists of stubs of Derwent Aquatone watercolour sticks inserted into a piece of polystyrene in an old cough sweet tin.  I use them with a Pentel water brush. The lid is lined with a piece of wax paper which serves well enough for mixing and can be wiped clean after use. The picture is about one and a half times life size. 




Capturing a fleeting moment is easiest if you accept that you can only capture a gesture and possibly not even that completely every time.  I tried not to get hung up on starting something that might not be finished – doing so wastes valuable sketching seconds.   

I have not yet used any of these images to develop into further drawings.  I would be more inspired to do this were I to deliberately go searching for a subject, whereas in the examples above, I have just sketched on the spur of the moment without planning or particular intention. The next steps are to sketch more in context, which could be developed at leisure after the gesture has been caught on paper. I also need to find ways to express the density and movement of a group or crowd.  

I am developing the skill of using minimal lines to indicate main lines of action in a figure and enjoy the challenge of this. Although I have not done this particularly successfully in the examples here, I am pleased with some of the gesture drawings that I have already posted with earlier life drawings, which are actually more recent than these  There seems to be a limit to the amount of time that anyone should spend on a gesture drawing.  Beyond this, there is a temptation to fiddle and the expressive qualities that might have existed could be lost. 



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