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Q&A – Gesture vs Contour and Scribbly Lines

May 26, 201421 Comments

Hello welcome to Proko, my name is Stan Prokopenko. Still working on the Anatomy series, but in the mean time I’ll answer some of the questions you guys have been asking me. This time I’ll focus on the questions about gesture. Ok, let’s jump right in.

Can I skip Gesture?

When I am practicing my figure and gesture drawing I find it easier to start with a bean instead of a stick figure to point out the proportions and the line of action. Should I practice the stick figure or should I stick with the bean and skip the stick figure part?

YouTube: loliman777

If by “stick figure” you mean gesture, then no. I would not skip it. Gesture is the most important part of a figure drawing. If you struggle with it, that means you don’t understand it or you need to practice it more. If you don’t understand it, then you need to study it until you do understand it. Practice to improve your weakness rather than staying comfortable and reinforcing your strengths. I would re-watch the gesture video and pay very close attention. You can’t think of it like a stick figure. gesture drawings are very simplified lines, so they might resemble stick figure, but they’re not. They’re motion lines. They show the flow of the pose. Try to REALLY understand the purpose of gesture. It’s not something to skim through quickly. It’s something that requires your full attention.

So, to answer your question, No, don’t skip gesture. And don’t think of it as a stick figure.

Gesture vs Contour

Hi Stan! I still have trouble trying to find and draw the C and S curves under 30 seconds… I have a hard time trying to grasp the whole concept of not relying on the contours, but I head can’t grasp the logic of it.

gesture vs contourWell, the logic is that contour explains all the outer details of all the smaller forms as well as the larger forms. Gesture just explains the flow between all these forms. So, that’s the logic of it. But it can be hard to visualize and put into practice unless you see it, so if you didn’t get that, don’t worry, I’m going to show an example. And btw, if you can’t do it in 30 seconds yet, that’s fine. Do it in a minute or even 2 minutes, as long as you’re not adding time just to add more detail.

So, you’ll hear me saying to use C curves, S curves, or straights to find the gesture of the pose. I’m NOT talking about constructing the contour with C S and straight lines. C curves for the hips, C curve for the quads, S curve for the back of the leg, and so on… See how I’m using c and s curves, but the end result still looks stiff! That’s because those individual lines are not the gesture of the leg. That’s still contour even though you’re using C curves, S curves and straight lines… When I say, find the gesture, I mean a flow through the forms, not the contour of each individual form..

So, a flow through the whooole leg indicated by one s curve. Now I can go back and add contour lines on top of this. even use some straight lines in the knee and tendon areas.. And after I’ve added all these details, the leg still looks dynamic. That’s because all those details follow the main flow. Whereas these contour lines, even though they’re simplified, are stiff.

stiff vs dynamic gesture

THAT is the gesture.

It’s not the outlines, no matter how curvy you make them. The outlines themselves don’t create a dynamic drawing. It’s how all those outlines work together to create a flow. You have to look at the whole pose to make it look dynamic. Not the individual parts.

Gesture with Scribbly Lines

I am currently studying from Kimon Nicholaides’ book ‘Natural way to draw’. He says to draw the gesture in continuous scribbly lines and your approach is the one with minimal lines just enough to express the motion and volume. I don’t know which one to follow and if both are really similar or totally different ways of expressing gesture.

Sonal Prabhune

Hi Sonal, I think both methods are fine as long as you are searching for the gesture. Of course I prefer the way I showed, that is why I show it. The scribbly line method is a quick way of getting an idea on paper without worrying about line quality. It is more about feeling and that is a good thing. But you need to remember that this is just a beginning. You still need to be able to make those scribbly line drawings into something more developed. You can put tracing paper over them and clean them up a little if you want.

scribbly gesture

One reason I don’t prefer the scribbly lines is because if you do it too much you might develop a habit of using messy lines. I like each stage of my drawing to look good. But everyone has their preference, so I suggest you give both a serious effort (a few weeks at least) and decide for yourself.

Glenn Vilppu sometimes shows how to do gesture drawings using the side of the pencil (shown below). He finds gesture using tone. Marshall Vandruff even suggested dipping newspaper in ink during our gesture critique video (shown below). All this works fine as long as you’re looking for the motion. Remember the important part of all these methods. The materials and the line type are just techniques. The important part is the gesture itself. The body language, motion, idea, story… If you accurately capture the gesture with scribbly lines, then that’s fine.

gesture types

Eventually though, I think you need to take your quicksketch drawings further. As you get good at identifying the motion of the pose, start adding some anatomical forms. It’s great if you can capture the gesture in a 30 second scribble, but what practical purpose does that have on it’s own? Not much. You need to be able keep that gesture all the way to the end of a longer figure drawing. This is actually a very common problem. We’ll start with a dynamic simple gesture layin. And after we add all the structure and the details, the fluidity is gone. We’ve lost the gesture in all the details and the pose ends up being stiff again. That’s the main reason I recommend practicing to exaggerate gesture. Cause once you add the structure, you’re gonna lose some of that gesture.

So, back to the point. Eventually you need to take your quicksketches further. Spend 5-10 minutes on a single pose. Start with a light gesture layin and then add the anatomical details on top and make sure that the gestural flow is still there when you’re done.


That’s all for today. If you haven’t checked out the Premium Figure Drawing course yet, start going through those videos before the anatomy course starts. It’s good to have the basics covered going into anatomy.

Also, I’m releasing the Figure course as a 5 disc DVD set, very soon. So look out for that!

Alright, I hope this helped with some of your concerns. Good luck everybody!

Filed in: Critiques / Q&AFigureVideos

Comments (21)

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  1. Scott says:


    All your videos are good (which is why I keep watching them). This is the best discussion of gesture I have ever seen anywhere. Keep up the great work. I have used the Nicolaide’s scribble method, but, like you, I prefer the minimal line method for several reasons. First, you have to think more. If you are using one line, you want it to be a good one. That means understanding the gesture more precisely from the get go. Second, there is less erasure and clean up when you start to add structure. Third, when adding structure, there is less guess work where to center it. Fourth, and most importantly, I find that I lose the gesture less when I have a clean line. When I use scribble, the wobble allows me to subconsciously align structure again, and I end up with a stiffer drawing. — Scott

    • I find that I lose the gesture less when I have a clean line. When I use scribble, the wobble allows me to subconsciously align structure again, and I end up with a stiffer drawing. — Scott

      Interesting. Now that you say it, I think I experience the same thing..

  2. Paul Micich says:

    Hey Stan-
    Thanks for the clarity of your explanation of gesture in general and your particular approach. I’m constantly back and forth between scribbley that becomes out of control and a more minimal approach that can become a little stilted when I do it. It’s helpful to hear you talk about those two approaches. It will make it easier for me to find my own way.
    Looking forward to the anatomy video. Keep up the great work!
    Paul M.

  3. Meg says:

    Hey Stan, I love watching your videos and getting email updates about new courses. Thank you for this recent video discussion on gesture. It helps put into words what it is we are learning and visualizing as artists. I will be happy to work on this concept tonight during a figures class at a local art center, and see where I am at in the understanding of gesture and contour.

    Im working on using minimal lines when roughing out my figure also. When I was young I practiced drawing alot, and would use alot of lines to rough out my art, pretty much a scribble method, and would end up with hard-to-erase lines, and darker portions in the drawing where I did not want it.

    Thank you again for a very well rounded explanation.


  4. Sissy Alsabrook says:

    Stan, you are the best.

  5. dale says:

    Had some of the same questions…great answers…

  6. Shirley Long says:

    Hi Stan! Great videos, just wanted to say thanks. These have been so helpful. I noticed you mentioned the Anatomy series…when can we expect this to start? Looking forward to it. Be blessed chasing your bliss.

  7. BudR. says:

    Hi Stan, Your videos are very useful. I keep going back to them and learn more each time. Please make your latest critique on gesture a part of the downloadable “final Thoughts” Chapter of the figure drawing

  8. Mike Fladlien says:


  9. David Rofe says:

    Hi Stan,

    Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks for making these videos. I am learning a lot and they are very fun.

    I am a beginner drawer and I’m still figuring out how to go about learning. I have enrolled in an five-day intensive anatomy course which is coming up in a month and I asked the teacher about some preliminary materials. The teacher used to teach anatomy at Disney Australia and he made the recommendation of Vilppu’s materials. I had already signed up to your videos, however, and had begun moving through them but still very concerned with gesture and haven’t moved from that after a few weeks. Concerning Vilppu’s approach, it appears there is much over lap (that’s isn’t a bad thing at all) But do you think that you could outline the differences and similarities in the two methods of drawing and even teaching? e.g. are you more focused on line and Vilppu on value?

    P.S looking forward to the anatomy videos (have been trying to find Robert Beverly Hale’s lectures in full but to no avail!)

  10. Topi Kaskinen says:

    I have troubles with controlling my hand and arm when i’m trying to draw long smooth lines. What can i do to improve my arm/hand stability?

    • There’s only one thing you can do. Practice.

      Also, realize that having trouble with hand control doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Everyone has this issue until they practice enough to gain control. It is no different from athletes conditioning their body for specific actions. The top performers practice a lot.

      Check out some of the exercises I recommend in this video: How to Hold and Control Your Pencil

  11. Izak van Langevelde says:

    As I see it, the gesture is everything that can not be drawn: it is about vague notions like flow, movement, emotion, weight. For practical purposes, we will have to put this on paper, we have to draw this (yikes), which is why approaches to gesture vary so much, from intuitive (Nicolaides) through Mattesi and Loomis, all the way to the analytical Vilppu, who is wise enough to acknowledge there are no rules, there are only tools.

  12. Zaki says:

    Hope it’s not too late to ask this:

    While stick figures are considered stiff, I find trying to gesture draw too chaotic. Stick figures lets me map out the shoulder and hip lines along the spine, and know where and how to place the arms and legs, but they still come off as stiff.

    Is there a way to mix both the coherency of stick figures with the looseness of gesture drawing

  13. Steven Lee says:

    Thank you very much for clarifying the importance of gesture. I too was confused by the different styles of gesture drawing with some advocating a loose scribbly style (Nicolaides) and others a more precise clean line (Proko). Some even advise to skip gesture entirely which further confused me about whether it was even worth it to put in the time. But then I read that one of the all time great draftsmen, Leonardo da Vinci, also advocated the importance of gesture: “rough out the arrangement of the limbs of your figures and first attend to the movements appropriate to the mental state of the creatures that make up your picture rather than to the beauty and perfection of their parts.” [Treatise on Painting]. In other words, Leonardo is saying the same thing as you are: find the gesture before adding the details in order to create a dynamic drawing/painting. I have ordered your Figure Drawing DVD set today. Thanks again for your excellent instructions!

  14. Leandro says:

    Hi Proko.

    I just found around a “weird” gesture drawing: instead of using CSI, is completely based on straight lines.What do you think about it?

  15. joan reese says:

    Hi Stan,

    Besides being an amazing artist, You are a wonderful teacher. I bought all of your video’s. They are a treasury trove of information.

  16. Caridad says:

    Truly no matter if someone doesn’t be aware of then its up to other visitors that they will
    help, so here it occurs.

  17. jaganathan says:

    admirable and rare cobination of skill and understanding of student is a knowledge of psychology is necessary to depict gesture and mood thanks

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