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How to Draw Gesture

June 17, 201338 Comments

Get the Premium version of this video – I go into more depth and talk about other gesture related concepts.


Hey there, I’m Stan Prokopenko, thanks for watching Proko. This is the first video of the figure drawing series. And it’s probably one of the most important. In this lesson I’ll be covering “gesture”

What the butt-munch is gesture anyway? Gesture, rhythm, motion, action, flow – these are all words that are used interchangeably and they basically mean the same thing.

They all refer to the movement between things. It’s not the contour, or the form, or the tone. It’s the movement that connects the contours, the forms and the tones. For example if you have 3 balls, the gesture here would be a c curve that describes the relationship of these balls. This would be the contour, but this is the gesture. It’s simple to understand, but difficult to put into practice when you’re actually drawing a human figure. We’re so tempted to draw the details of the anatomy and all the little bumps of the contour because we think that detail will make our drawing look better. But the reality is, the detail is nothing without the gesture. You might accidentally find some gesture while you’re copying the contours, but I don’t like to rely on accidents.

A better approach would be to practice finding the gesture of the figure so many times that it becomes second nature. Quicksketch is a common exercise in art school that involves drawing the model from life within a few minutes. A typical quicksketch session lasts 2-3 hours with poses ranging from 30 seconds to 10 minutes per pose. Gesture is the primary concern. Doing this exercise will train you to see the gesture immediately. You can feel it. Then you will be able to design the details to complement the gesture instead of copying details randomly.

Your journey of mastering quicksketch will be a long but exciting one. There’s a lot to learn and every time you learn something new your sketches will show improvement. During a normal session you’ll finish anywhere from 25 to 100 drawings. Think about that… You’re drawing the human figure up to 100 times within a few hours. If you do this on a regular basis, you’re going to get better. The best thing about it, is it’s actually fun, if you don’t stress over it. In this video I’ll go over all concepts you need to know for a successful quicketch drawing that focuses completely on gesture. In future videos I’ll build on to that and introduce additional concepts all of which come together. And in the end, with enough practice you can use all these concepts to produce a completed quicksketch drawing in 5-10 minutes.

So basically gesture is in everything around us. It’s an approach to drawing that you can use to draw anything.

Use gesture to tell a story by capturing the body language. We use our whole body, not just words to communicate ideas and emotions. This is what the gesture should capture. What is the person doing? What is he feeling? What did he just do? Or what is he going to do? This can be told through just a few lines, which the viewer will recognize as the body and can identify the emotions that person is feeling just like we can intuitively identify emotions of the people around us. It’s a good idea to exaggerate the pose to tell a better. As you become more skilled in exaggerating, you will also improve in capturing the subtleties.

You’re probably thinking, Stan, is this another April fools joke? Are you drawing another stick figure? No. Don’t think of it as a stick figure. Because that could make your drawing stiff. They’re not sticks. They’re not straight lines. They’re action lines. Observe the pose and analyze the movement. It’s more about how it feels, rather than how it looks.

Later, we will add more structure to these drawings to make the figures feel more solid and real. So, for those of you who don’t find this inspiring and are thinking “I don’t want my people to look like spaghetti” remember that this is not meant to be a finished drawing. It’s a exercise to practice a concept. You’re training your mind to see rhythm in everything you draw. You’re training your mind to consider more than just the contours when you’re drawing shapes. It’s an important concept that needs to be intuitive. In all these drawings that you’re seeing now the element of gesture was applied to the anatomy to make the figure dynamic.

Let’s go over some important concepts to remember while practicing your gesture drawings.

Longest axis

When you look at a form and try to find the gesture, look at its longest axis. Going down the length of the torso, down the length of the leg, down the length of the arm. It’s in the longest axis of each form where you’ll find the fluid motion from one form to the next.


To eliminate the unnecessary information in the contours and to capture that gesture the lines you use should be simple. Don’t use anything more complicated than a c curve, s curve, or straight.

You can use combinations of these curves as you move down the figure, but attempt to do it in as few lines as possible using the simplest lines, C, S, or I.

Line of Action

The gesture should be drawn with as few lines as possible necessary to capture the idea. Start by finding the longest action line of the body. Try to find a curve that could connect the head to the toes. Not all poses can be efficiently described with one long line that connect the head to the toes, but there is always one main line that shows the directional flow of the pose. This is called the “Line of Action”. In this pose the line of action would be a c curve showing the major flow from the torso to the legs. But this doesnt tell the whole story, so this pose would need to be broken up into more parts. I think this sharp turn in the hips is important, so describing it with a soft curve isn’t right. In this case, I would use a combination of a c curve for the torso, and s curves for the legs.

Relaxed and tense curves

The “bendiness” of the curve you use changes how the gesture feels. A longer, fluid curve feels relaxed and moves the eye quickly through that flow. As you start to bend the curve more, you show more energy and more tension in the gesture. Eventually, when it’s bent far enough you can use a zig zag. A zig zag indicates tension, sharp corners, very sudden changes in the movement.

Nature presents this very well with water. When the water is calm the waves flow in an S curve rhythm. During a storm, when there’s more energy in the water, the waves flow in a zig zag pattern.

So, when you want to create tension, think zig zag. When you want to show something is relaxed, use a flowing curve.

Asymmetry of the body

Consider the asymmetrical aspect of the body from the side. The forms alternate in angle from head, ribcage, pelvis, upper leg and lower leg.

This causes alternating c curves that lead the eye through the body. Like a river flowing through a stream…

The tendency for us is to make things, but this stiffens the gesture and makes the figure look like a snowman

Next week I’ll show some examples of gesture quick sketches and guide you step by step through the process. But, I suggest you attempt to practice these concepts on your own before watching the step by step video next week. You’ll have an idea of what it’s like and will be able to pull more information from it because you know what to look for. You’ll have questions you can focus on, and you can compare what you did with what I do. If you need reference photos, I have some pose file sets you can get in the proko store.

If you want to see a more detailed explanation and plenty of examples.. oh cmon! Really?! if you want to see a more detailed explanation, plenty of examples and more premium videos check out the premium figure course. For every free video that I post during this figure series, I’m posting additional premium content in the course.

If you like this lesson, share the wealth. Tell your friends, post it on your favorite social network.

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Comments (38)

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  1. Dadart says:

    Stan, thanks again for delivering great instruction and video. I’ve learned more from your free content than I have in a full-priced (hundreds of dollars)college drawing course. I watched you free video last night because I couldn’t get my tablet to play the premium version (flash issue on my cheap tablet?). Today I watch the premium version on my PC. The premium content is well worth the money (to those on the fence: if you can afford it, go for it). I’ve bought many art instructional videos in the past, and yours have been the best produced and most informative of them all). Thank you! Thanks to your models and all those who work behind the scenes too.

  2. Danas says:

    Stan, you are my hero!

  3. Diego says:

    I loved your tutorial and I’m amazed by the result of your classes in my productions. You are a great teacher!

  4. Christina says:

    I love this tutorial! It was well taught and very clear.

  5. Fran says:

    Superb! Thanks.

  6. James says:

    Hey Stan,
    Your tutorials are amazing from both a production level to the outstanding content so thanks for all your hard work. With that said, I’ve read over the descriptions you’ve included as a preface to your human figure drawing tutorials and I saw that for premium members, they can download the full video. I was wondering if you are planning to make DVD’s available for purchase of these lessons at some point? Again, I know we can download them but some (like me) might prefer them on disc. Thanks again and be well brotha!

    • James, DVDs are up in the air right now for the Figure Series. I will need to do more research on manufacturing multi-disk sets, since the content will be way too long to fit on a single DVD.

      • James says:

        I understand and thanks for the speedy response. I purchased your portrait drawing videos yesterday and I’m looking forward to getting and reviewing those and I’ll keep checking your site for additional information on the figure series. I do plan to get the entire series regardless of format but again, having them on disc would be cool. Anyway, thanks again and watching your tutorials makes me wish I would have had access to this type of instruction back in the day! Keep up the great work Stan.

  7. Lluis says:

    Hi Stan
    You have a knack, you know how to teach, you know how to do easy the difficult

  8. Hi Stan, Butt-munch? 🙂

    Excellent video, just the right amount of humor mixed in with excellent instruction. I’ve studied gestures off and on before. You’ve inspired me to do some more, maybe lots more!

    I look forward to your next newsletter.

  9. tom says:

    Excellent Stan. Can’t wait to see more.

  10. Jason Lewis says:


    Thanks again for another great video! I wanted to find out of drawing from images encourages poor habits in someone who is learning or if it is a matter of “If you have a choice, draw from life, but they are pretty much the same so long as you are drawing”. Thanks for any reply.

  11. Gerry Diaz says:

    I’m not sure if this is the forum for this, but I tried to join your premium classes and the credit card option is not working and I dont have paypal. Thanks for all your helpful videos.

    • Gerry, what happens when you click credit card? I just checked and its working. You can also use the PayPal option without an account. Just pay as a guest. They’ll ask if you want to create an account but you can just say no.

  12. Pierre Graf says:

    This is one of my favorite videos of yours.
    Fantastic work again. Love the dynamic sketches.


  13. sergeys says:

    Great! Much better in comparison to most content found on the web teaching this stuff

  14. Thanks for sharing your incredible talent as an artist and instructor. I recently bought myself a Samsung tablet for digital drawing/painting and your tutorials are perfect for helping me improve my skills.
    Stay inspired!

  15. Karen Rogeberg says:

    Genius! Stan you are an amazing teacher,thank you!

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  17. Ivan Leandro Gaudiosi says:

    Drawing “from life” you mean gesture of people in marketplaces,parks, crowded places etc? I tried but seems very hard compared to photo drawing. I have a lot of difficulty finding the rythm on clothes, specially in very “neutral” poses

    • You could draw the gesture of clothed people around you. What I was referring to was life drawing workshops with a model. You pay $5-$20 for the model fee and get to draw. These are uninstructed and are meant for people to come in and practice.

      Btw, both options are difficult.

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  20. Franco says:

    Excuse my English, is translated by google.
    Bravo, indeed very good your videos are an important resource for those who want to learn to draw the figure, I bought the premium series to draw the face, really well done and I must say, it’s really much more than the money spent.
    Thank you for your work.

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    Ǫuel bonheur de lire votre site internet

  24. e-Vo says:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
    Your enthusiasm has made pick up my drawing pencil again.
    I can’t help starting to observe the real world an constantly keep looking for gesture…

    Q: any suggestion on how large a typical gesture drawing should be? Can imagine it shouldn’t be too small. What would be optimum size?

  25. Jean Felix URIHO KALIMBA says:

    hey Stan! i used to draw as a hobby but hadn’t realised that it may be one of my talents until many of my friends told me as the see some of my drawings.
    some one wants to hire me in his company so that i can help in illustrations and partrait. so, i want to doitas a profession but i don’t know where to start from as i have never attended any class for arts. i was born with it in my blood maybe…hahahahah.
    any way, what would you advice me so that i can strengthen this? where shouuld i start to master your lessons?
    thank you in advance

  26. Justin says:


    I’m a big fan and a premium member. For those of us who are struggling at making progress with gesture drawing, is it more advisable to continue drawing multiple gestures in each session or to repeat the same gesture multiple times until we improve?

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