Anatomy of the Human Body for ArtistsFigure Drawing FundamentalsPortrait Drawing FundamentalsArt of Caricature CourseStore Package Deals

Q&A – Gesture vs Proportion and Time

June 1, 20145 Comments

Gesture vs. Proportion

Ok, I’ve received a lot of questions from you guys regarding gesture and proportion.

Gesture is primarily without proportion, but Roman is all about accurate proportion. How do I use each?

gesture vs proportionWell, first of all, gesture isn’t really without proportion. When practicing gesture, you shouldn’t be distracted by proportion, but you should still consider it. Ideally you will capture the gesture while staying true to the proportions. Though, that will take time to train your eye to see.

But I see what you’re saying.. Sometimes you’ll need to change the proportions or move things around to improve the gesture. But if you do that, you’re not being completely accurate according to your reference.

I think It’s a balance. Sometimes you have to lose accuracy to create a better gesture. Sometimes the job requires complete accuracy. It’s your decision how you want to balance it. Personally I usually exaggerate the gesture. Sometimes a lot, sometimes only a little. But rarely will I need to exaggerate gesture so much that the proportions look wrong. You can have both.

Moving on to another similar question:

At this point when drawing gesture should I be thinking about proportions or in the mean time just focus on gesture. Most of my gesture drawings have bad proportions. Is this something that with more gesture practice I’m gonna overcome? or I won’t get better at proportions until I start studying it?

Carolina Valdez

As an artist you will have to learn a lot of concepts, such as gesture, proportions, structure, shading, perspective, composition, color… the list goes on. You will struggle with each until you have studied and practiced each. Gesture and proportions happen to clash in a way that is frustrating to new students. The answer isn’t as simple as “study gesture and then study proportions”. You will need to study both. Alternate them as you wish. And don’t forget that art isn’t something you graduate from like college. You will never be done practicing gesture or proportions or structure or composition or color. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating this; drawing and painting is like a sport. You constantly have to practice to keep your skills up. So try not to get into that mentality that you can study a concept and then move on to the next. Instead think of it as if you’re adding a new concept to the soup of all the other things you’re already practicing. You can focus on one and then focus on another, but remember that you will need to regularly revisit them.

Anyway, going back to your gesture vs proportions question… It will be tough at first. Your gesture drawings will look disproportionate until you’ve trained your eyes enough to capture the proportion and gesture simultaneously.

You asked “I won’t get better at proportions until I start studying it?”. You will improve with proportion even if you don’t specifically focus on just proportion. A lot of drawing is observation, so as you observe, your eye is slowly tuning itself and you get better at seeing accurate proportion. But, of course if you focus on studying proportions and specific exercises for proportions, you will improve quicker.

Plug! In my premium figure course I show how you can practice measuring proportions and checking your own measurements. Getting feedback is critical in recognizing and fixing your mistakes. So, if you don’t have someone that is always critiquing your drawings, you need to do it yourself.

Struggles with Timed Gesture

I started seriously practicing gesture end of January. I’m still struggling with timed gesture drawing. I can’t seem to complete anything under 6 minutes, and when I do…there are key pieces missing and/or the proportions are out of whack.

Is there anything else I should be considering (i.e starting the gesture with “the bean”, etc) or do I just need more practice?

Cyd Haselton

Cyd, you probably just need more practice. You’ve only been doing this for a few months. It’s normal not to see results immediately. If 2 years from now you look back and there was no progress, then there’s a problem. But month to month it’s hard to see a significant difference. It’s a very slow process that’s why you just have to enjoy it. You’re going to spend years doing this until you get some sort of satisfaction, so if you don’t enjoy the actual process, it’s going to be tough..

You asked if there’s anything else you should be considering like starting with the bean. You can start with the bean, or the robo bean, or with the simple gesture lines. Try all of them, and get good at all of them.

timed gesture quick sketchDon’t worry about the time issue. Take as long as you need. You will get faster. I know the feeling of the timer making you anxious. Especially when you first start doing it. Go ahead and give yourself a few extra minutes. There’s nothing wrong with that. The purpose of the timer is to prevent you from drawing too many details, not to make you move your hand quickly. So if you find yourself trying to draw quickly and you think you’ve simplified as much as you could, then its better to add some time. You will get faster as you practice. But, if you’re spending too much time because you’re focusing on too much detail, then you just need to simplify it more.

Different length sketches are meant for a different amount of detail. If you only have 30 seconds – 2 minute. You only have enough time to do a few simple lines indicating the main flow. If you have 5-10 minutes, then you can add the anatomy and details like I showed earlier.


Filed in: Critiques / Q&AFigureVideos

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jack says:

    I have a problem that is the opposite of Cyd’s. I’ve been working on gesture for four months now. I aim for a 120 second gesture but I usually complete them (accurately) in 90, 75 or even 60 seconds. Should I be slowing down to fill the entire two minutes or is it OK?

  2. Kirsty says:

    I actually find that gesture improves my proportion.

    Before I knew about gesture, if I wanted to get the proportions right I would just trace the photo. But now I find looking for the gesture enables me to get the proportions right without tracing (and it’s obviously far better NOT to trace a photo!)

  3. chris says:

    I find that the three most important ingredients for a successful figure drawing are: proportion, balance and mass (defined as volume+weight). Proportion must become instinctive so that measurement (in a formal sense) can be dispensed with and you can compare at a glance. Balance, both the balance of the figure as well as its compositional placement on the page will often fulfill the essence of gesture. By paying attention to the balance of the figure you will by necessity imply the grace of gesture. Mass is the trickiest because it encompasses issues as diverse as weight placement, force of gravity, stress, and foreshortening. Grace and variety of line quality will go a long way to investing your drawings with these attributes.
    Once again, thanks Stan, for the pro-job videos.

  4. Zaki says:

    I like stick figures because you can map out the placement of shoulders, limbs and hips along the figure, but still find them stiff. Tried gesture, but ended up too chaotic.

    Is there anyway i can merge the two styles together?

    • Hey Zaki, gesture isn’t a style. I’s a fundamental concept that you’ll have to master if you want to be good at figure drawing. If your gesture quicksketch is too chaotic then you just don’t have the grasp of it yet. You need to practice until you can control your lines to be simple, effective and clean. Try to study from other artists’ quicksketch gestures.

Leave a Reply

Back to Top