Why keep a Gesture and/or blind contour drawings sketchbook?


Using your sketchbook #3.

Artist often use gesture drawings to loosen up before starting their work, and they are great for that, but can you learn from them?  What can you learn from blind contour sketches and why should you fill a sketchbook with them?

What can you learn from gesture drawings?  You can learn:

  • To draw quickly – most gesture drawings should be completed in 30 seconds or less.  If you want to do things like urban sketching or sketching people around you, learning to capture a person or activity quickly is key.  Gesture drawings teach your mind to observe and translate that to your hand quickly.
  • Capture proportions – in art classes gesture drawings are used to draw people, to do that you must begin to understand proportions.  However, I also use gesture drawings for buildings and interior scenes, I quickly capture the proportions of the first building and then build off that.
  • Capture movement – any sketch is made better with a sense of movement.  Because gesture drawings are done quickly they often covey lively, energetic movements.
  • Capture the “feel” of a sketch. As stated in the above bullet, capturing movement impacts how a sketch feels.  A quick gesture drawing of a car conveys the feeling that the car moving, while a very detailed sketch of the same car gives the feeling that the car was parked or moving slow enough that the sketcher had time to look at all the details.
  • To look at the whole subject and not get caught up in the details. Again, because gesture drawings are intended to be quick, the sketcher cannot get into too many details.  He or she must look at the whole object, get it down, and then move on.  Gesture

How does gesture improve you sketching?

I use gesture drawings for a few reasons, first I use it as a break from blind contours or detailed sketching work, it’s just fun to draw a bunch of lines and know it represents something. It relaxes my brain and eyes when I don’t have to concentrate too much on a subject. I love capturing the feeling of something and moving on.

I also quickly and lightly do a gesture under-drawing when doing urban sketching.  This helps me get the proportions of the different items in my scene, but to be able to quickly and easily change them if things didn’t fit together or on my page just right.

Finally, okay I have to admit this, I HATE drawing people.  I really have no interest in them except to put a few in my urban sketches to get a sense of the place I’m drawing, people always add interest.  They can show if the place I was sketching was a busy place or an off the beaten path. I understand why all drawing classes include people in the curriculum, but I have no interest in drawing people.

If you want to improve your understanding of proportions and foreshortening, drawing people is the best too I know of, so I bought a drawing mannequin (okay, being fully transparent here, I stole it from my husband), I named him Tim.  Tim sat on my drawing desk for years doing nothing but collecting dust.  Wanting to draw one day but not knowing what to draw I decided to do some gesture drawings of things on my desk, one of those items was Tim.  I was hooked.  I had so much fun drawing just ovals, squares and cylinders, and capturing his pose. After looking at the first few, I was surprised how off my proportions were, and for someone who’s pretty good with perspective, it sucked!  Nevertheless, the more I’ve done gesture drawings of him I’ve started to figure out how to correct those issues.

I draw him regularly now, both more detailed sketches and gestures, when I’m having issues figuring out a pose I always go back to doing a gesture of it and then build off that.


What can you learn from blind contours? You can learn:

  • Eye hand coordination
  • Moving your eye and hand at the same time
  • Really learn to see the lines of an object
  • To really observe an object.

How does blind contours improve your sketching?

Blind contour drawings are done by looking at an object 100% of the time.  They are also most often done as a continuous line, where you don’t pick your pen up from the paper at all. When doing a blind contour you must slow your brain down and trace along the object very slowly, you train your eye and hand to move together in the same direction.  Additionally, you must really concentrate on your subject, you must learn to see which the shape of an object and the lines contour lines and detail lines that make up the subject.  You learn to put your attention on one object, one line at a time.

It is often said that sketching or drawing is 50% observation; the other 50% is the actual drawing.  If you can train yourself to really observe an object, and to get your hand and eyes to work together the job of putting your observations down on paper is so much easier!


So why should you keep a sketchbook just for gesture and blind contour drawings?

I keep these in their own sketchbook mainly because I don’t want to fill my good sketchbook with them.  If I am out and about and want to quickly capture something to remember for later or to build off of, I do put them in, but I normally go over them when I have more time.  But, if I’m using them to learn from I grab an old sketchbook, they are both messy and aren’t really interesting to look at, there’s nothing to oh and ah over.  However, they have both taught me so much, they are tools I go to when having issues, and they should be uses as such, tools.  Other than looking for progress and improvement, I really don’t look at them.  It’s another sketchbook, that when filled goes on the shelf to never to be opened again.

A master of anything will tell you that most of their education came from learning to use their tools, these are no different.  It’s well worth the time to learn to use these tools and go back to them often.  Gesture drawing can be artwork in and of themselves, but for the beginner sketcher they are priceless for learning.  Give them a try, let your mind relax and go for it!

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