Friday, October 1, 2010

Art of the Gesture

I've had a few opportunities as of late to model for drawing sessions doing exclusively gesture poses. I discussed gesture poses briefly in a recent entry, but I'll go into more detail here. I'm writing this with sketching in mind, but much of what I say here can be generalized to photography, as well.

The intent behind gesture drawings is to capture the essence of the pose- the basic lines, form, and movement. To aid artists in doing this, I try to make my poses coherent, with everything from weight distribution to limb placement, working together to form a single, unified gesture. Oftentimes, I have a mood or emotion in mind for a given pose.

Because gesture poses tend to be more strenuous than longer poses one may hold, I try to rotate through which limb is being strained. I shift the bulk of my weight from one leg to the other. If I've had an arm stretched out in to space or supporting weight, I generally let it rest in a more relaxed position for the next pose. If I arch dramatically back for one pose, I'll leave my torso in a more neutral position, or else curled forward in the next pose. By the end of a run of gestures, I'm generally aching fairly evenly all over.

I take the time in one pose to scheme for the next one. I start with a general idea of what I'd like to do, then refine it. Are all of the various pieces working together? Am I going to be stressing a limb which is already burning? Is the pose adequately different from those that I've already struck? How will I rotate, to maximize both variety and favorable angle for the artist(s) who are working? By taking the time to consider all of these factors, I can quickly move from one well-executed pose to another.

If there's interest, I'll shoot a series of self-portraits of a few gesture poses, and go into further detail on each pose. Of course, feedback or additional suggestions are always welcome.


  1. I've done the "all gesture" sessions before. Fun because you can do things you'd never dream of doing for 30, 20 or even 10 minutes. Not so fun because it's a constant mental scramble thinking... okay, what should I do next? Post some self-pics if you choose, I'd love to see them if only to get some new ideas.


  2. I have put modeling on hold for sometime, and miss it dearly, but I would love to see more detail on gesture poses. I hope when I have established myself enough on my writing I can continue to sitting for artists and photographers again.

  3. Over the past two years or so, I've been modeling for the Salt Lake Art Institute and the instructor really pushes gesture poses, which I love. He starts each 4-hour class with a session consisting of 20 30-second gestures followed by 10 1-minute gestures, then the next session is 10 2-minute gestures. Each session goes with longer and longer poses, often ending with a 20 to 40 minute pose. I really love these classes and especially the short gestures.

  4. Kari,

    I just discovered your blog through your link on Model Mayhem. I wish I had seen it years ago because your advice and observations are priceless. I've been working as an art model for several years now and I had to figure out this stuff for myself. Thanks. ArtModel303

  5. I am 61and first modeled when I was 27. It's been 15 years since I last sat for a drawing group and tomorrow I return! For gestures I remember "making coffee" or doing a woodworking project, pausing at various steps in the process. I'd have the artists try to guess what my routine was. 'Dropping' something like my coffee filter and stooping (and pausing) to pick it up always threw them off!