Drawing Gestures in Animals

Gesture drawing is a popular warm-up exercise used by many artists, when preparing for a figure drawing session.

It’s useful for loosening up the arm as well as the mind and helps the artist to get acquainted with motion, action and the general “essence” of a subject.

The first step when drawing gestures in animals is to find an animal to sketch. Pets can be great subjects (when they’re active, not when they’re snoozing in the sun), but if you don’t have any then the zoo is a great place to find creatures of all shapes, sizes and personalities. Grab a sketch book and a soft pencil (2B or 4B will do fine) or a felt tip pen and start exploring.

The sketches that you make should be very brief – between 10 seconds and a minute. The point of gesture drawing is not to draw a perfect likeness of your subject, but rather to capture the feeling of the animal in the given moment, so don’t become frustrated if you don’t have time to finish your drawing. It’s almost impossible to draw the entire animal in perfect detail and this forces you to search for the basic lines and shapes that create the poses in the animals that you study.

Start off by trying to find “the line” of the animal: the one line that defines its essence. (An example of this when doing a gesture drawing of a figure skater would be the line from the fingers where they reach high into the air, to the skate where it touches the ice.)

As quickly as you can, draw that line on your sketch pad, while looking at your subject. Technically, the first line that you draw could be said to be a gesture drawing in itself. However, it can be fun to take things further in order to see how much character you can convey in your sketch.

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Now, you can move onto the secondary contour lines that will give your sketch form. These lines can be used to represent the animal’s torso, limbs, head and tail (if it has one). If you want to show mass in a part of the animal, you could use squiggles, circles, hatching, cross-hatching and even shading if you’re sketching with charcoal.

Work fluidly, quickly and evenly: you only have a short amount of time to get the pose and feel of the animal across and nobody is going to see your work unless you want them to, so don’t worry about messiness or “standards”, just draw.

Drawing gestures in animals can be used for more than just warm-up exercises. Once you have a substantial amount of practice gesture drawings, you can use them as reference material in a painting. Not only will you have pictures to refer back to while creating your final artwork, but you’ll also feel more relaxed and prepared when tackling it.

If there isn’t a zoo nearby and if your friends don’t have animals for you to sketch, then don’t fret too much. You can gather energetic images on the internet and from magazines, which you can use instead of live subjects. Don’t forget to time yourself while sketching – just because you’re referring to a still photo doesn’t mean that you should try to replicate it.

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