Improve Your Figure—With Gesture Drawings

The practice of gesture drawing is an important part of understanding the figure and its ability to create interesting shapes from limitless motions. Jon deMartin, author of Drawing Atelier: The Figure, offers guidance on this in the following excerpt.

Gesture drawing poses | Jon deMartin,

Click here to get an exclusive Drawing the Figure collection, which includes Drawing Atelier, Drawing magazine’s 2015 Annual CD and a 10-color pack of Canson Mi-Teintes Assorted Muted Toned Paper. Above: Compilation of One-Minute Gesture Drawings (1989-1990, pastel on newsprint, 24×18) by Jon deMartin (Pin these gesture drawing poses!)

Gesture Drawing: Finding the Gesture and Orienting Forms by Jon deMartin

The figure’s line of action is a long inner axis that describes its gesture. This line has little to do with the figure’s outside shape. Rather, it is a conceptual line that serves as the core of the figure’s movement. If you don’t discover the line of action, the figure’s outer shape may wind up being static.

The figure’s surface centers are also profoundly helpful in orienting the body’s main masses in space. Surface centers are imaginary median lines that run vertically along the masses of the head, rib cage and pelvis. As you become familiar with the significant landmarks that run along these centerlines, your ability to see proportional relationships will increase dramatically.

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Gesture drawing poses | Jon deMartin,

Rhythmic Relationships and the Gestural Line

After looking for the gestural line, use your landmarks to draw the size and shape of the model’s head. This gives scale to the figure and subsequently serves as the basis for relating the most significant outlines of the model. After estimating the shape of the head, look for lines of contrast. These are imaginary lines running across the figure that indicate its position in space. Draw a line between the acromion processes, the two outer points of the shoulders. (In all poses the skeleton has a profound influence on the shapes we draw; so the more we learn about the figure’s skeletal landmarks, the more we can aim our lines and draw with purpose.) This line of action shows the angle of the shoulders in relation to the hips–a key piece of information for orienting the figure in three dimensions.

1. Acromion processes
2. Larger outer relationships
3. Larger interior relationships
4. Great trochanter
5. Line of action

Gesture drawing poses | Jon deMartin,

Twisting and Arching Cylinder with Surface Centers

Visualizing the head, rib cage and pelvis as simple geometric solids with their surface centers indicated–a twisting cylinder, or a series of cubes–enables you to better understand the orientation in space of these basic body volumes and their complex relationships to one another.

1. Surface Centers

Gesture drawing poses | Jon deMartin,

The Figure’s Surface Centers

Here we see the centerlines of the three main masses in blue. The head’s centerline begins with the hairline and ends at the chin. The rib cage’s centerline runs through the pit of the neck and the bottom of the sternum. The pelvis’s centerline (a back view, in this case) passes from the lumbar vertebrae down to the tip of the coccyx.

1. Xiphoid
2. Surface center
3. Suprasternal notch
4. Coccyx


Horizontal Landmarks

This is where knowledge of the skeleton is vital. You need to relate the essential boney landmarks of the head, rib cage and pelvis to the surface centers that were found in the previous stage. On the head, it can be any convenient landmark; in this view, it’s the brow ridge. For the rib cage, it’s the cartilage of the 7th ribs. Because the pose is twisting, you see the front of the face, the side of the rib cage and the back of the pelvis, so here you can identify the pelvis’s posterior superior iliac spines. Even though other landmarks may be hidden, try to find them so you can grasp the entire mass as an accurate and well-conceived volume, rather than use the landmarks as just surface details.

1. Brow ridge
2. Suprasternal notch
3. 7th ribs
4. Xiphoid
5. Anterior superior iliac spine
6. Posterior superior iliac spine
7. Coccyx

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