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How to Draw Gesture – Step by Step

June 25, 201317 Comments

Premium extended version of this video and full Figure Drawing Series available – Figure Drawing Fundamentals

In the last episode, I explained gesture and now I’ll show you examples of how to apply it. If you haven’t watched the gesture introduction video yet, stop reading and go watch it.

Let’s take a look at some examples and find their gestures.

30 Second poses

A process

Usually I’ll start with the head, but not always. If I’m in the mood to identify the torso first, I’ll do that. There are no rules about this.

Then find the gesture of the neck, and the action line to the foot. Looking at the torso, the first thing I notice is that the left side is pinching and the right side is stretching. So, the shoulders will be slanted one way, and the hips the other way. This brings the points closer together on the left side, compressing the forms, and brings the points further away from each other on the right side, stretching the forms.

Find some rhythm lines for the legs… And the arms. That right there is the most simplified version of this pose. It’s only a few lines but in 30 seconds it’s enough to explain what the pose is doing.

A little longer?

You might feel like 30 seconds is just too quick. In that case there are two possibilities. Either you’re brand new at this and you really DO need a little extra time.

You can try 45 seconds to a minute. Or you’re really over thinking it. Looking at the contours too much will cause you to draw things that are not necessary to capture the motion and you end up running out of time.

Remember to draw what you feel, not what you see.

30 sec poses start of the gesture

30 sec poses longer gesture

2 minute poses

Game Plan

Taking 10-15 seconds to just look and analyze the pose is not a waste of time. It allows you to create a game plan and use the 2 minutes you have wisely.

Ok, so again I’ll start with a clean oval for the head and then attach the rhythm of the neck following the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Angle of the shoulders and rhythm of the torso using the centerline to determine that curve. From a front view ill start from the shoulder a drop a rhythm through the side of the ribcage to the pubic bone. Get the pinching on the right side and stretch on the left. Two c curves for the gesture of the leg from the front. Indicate the other side of the leg with somewhat parallel rhythm, considering the thickness of each part of the leg. Now I’ll find the arm rhythms, remembering to look for the motion not the contour. And an upside down heart shape for the breasts.

For a head in profile, I’ll start with a circle for the cranium, angle for the front of the face and jaw. Kind of like a simplified version of Loomis’s method I went over in my portrait fundamentals series.

Get the rhythm of the neck and the shoulders. In the torso, I’m seeing a stretch on the left side of the back and a pinch on the right side.

game plan of 2 minute poses

As you get comfortable ignoring detail and seeing the big picture, you can move on to a slightly more structural approach. Now you are giving some love and thought to the forms.

Still not drawing any 3d forms but considering them in the design of the gesture. I’m staying true to the thickness of the form and any kind of tapering from thick to thin, such as from the hip to the knee.

Whereas before, in the 30 second drawings, I wasn’t concerned about that at all. I was just drawing the motion.

tapering hip to the knees

Limbs as a Snake

If you tend to make your poses stiff, think of the torso and limbs as a snake. Forget about any bones, hard forms, rigid forms. Think of it as a fluid cylinder and try to see the motion. Find the C curves and S curves.

Draw Smart Not Fast

When you do these gesture drawings of 2-10 minutes, the point of the exercise is not to draw as fast as you can to draw as much as possible. If you draw as fast as you can you will have messy, bad lines and the more you do the exercise the more that will become a habit and eventually you’re drawing ugly lines whether its timed or not. Instead of drawing fast, draw smart.

limbs as a snake

draw smart not fast
Simplify the figure down to whatever degree needed to draw it in the time you have. As the time decreases, just filter out the next least important thing to finish the drawing in the allotted time. With a 30 second or 1 minute pose you only have enough time to draw the most essential elements. But keep your lines clean and accurate.

Look for a rhythm from the arm all the way to the end of the fingers. Unless separating the hand to its own rhythm is essential for the body language, try to find a continuous flow.

Starting with the head neck shoulders.. And then observing the C curve of the torso. The tendency for many people would be to draw the torso straight because it almost is.

The C curve is very subtle, but important to make her look relaxed. Making it too straight would make her feel tense and stiff.

Rhythm of the breasts

Curve over the breast around the pit of neck. Another from nipple to nipple and also under the breast curving up to show that they’re wrapping over the rib cage. This is more important than showing the downward curves of each individual breast. These curves would go against the large form of the rib cage. They’re important to show the forms of the individual breasts, but at this phase, focus on the bigger picture of identifying the pose. Anatomical detailed forms come later.

When it’s not too important to show the breasts wrapping over the rib cage, like, when the ribcage is vertical, I like using an upside-down heart rhythm.

rhythm of the breasts v shape

Again, Curve over the breast around the pit of neck and then under each breast. Make sure the heart is symmetrical and this V shape between the breasts lands on the centerline and follows the gesture.

I’ll use a zig zag in the arm, giving the elbow a sharp corner. This will add more tension there, which is good because a lot of the weight of her body is being supported by that elbow. The other arm is relaxed, so I’ll use a fluid S curve.

Curve the Shin

Curve the shin out at the tibia and then back in at the foot. It’s very common to see a beginner draw this area straight and lose the elegant gesture of the shin to the foot. Make sure to think about this motion as you draw the contour. Or a better way of saying it, think of the motion as you โ€œdesignโ€ the contours. Because when you’re designing something, you’re changing it with a purpose.

curve of the shin close up


Get used to being able to exaggerate the gesture. Push the story to be more exciting and clearer to the viewer. I’ll show you a pose where I’ll push the gesture REALLY far. As far as I can without breaking it.

With this pose I’m gonna try to exaggerate the motion of the pelvis going back and to the right. So, I’ll rotate the head to the right to follow this motion.

Consider the forms as you identify the gesture. When exaggerating you need to exaggerate thinking 3-dimensionally, not just 2d curves. Even though you’re drawing 2d curves, you kinda have to curve them in a way that still makes sense 3-dimensionally.

Gesture is like the eyes of a portrait drawing. Eyes give the portrait its life and gesture gives the figure its life.
exaggerate to push the pose


Get a bunch of figure photos and draw 10 to 20 of them every day. I promise you will improve. And rewatch this episode and the previous episode a few times. Remind yourself what you’re trying to do. And listen for those things that I repeat several times. Don’t copy, don’t draw the contour, find the story etc.. Also, try drawing along. The premium section has a lot of videos of example gesture drawings in real time. So you can draw along, pause if you need to. But most of all have fun with it. Don’t stress over it or get mad if they don’t turn out good right away. Enjoy the process, and realize that you’re drawing! It’s a treat to just sit down and draw for a while. If you’re having fun and enjoying yourself, you’ll learn better.

What’s in the premium section?

If you want to see more detailed explanation, plenty of examples and more premium videos check out the Figure Drawing Fundamentals Course. In this free video I showed 7 examples poses. In the premium section I show 41 examples, with more tips on specific areas of figure gesture. That’s over an hour of video with about 30 minutes of narration. And we’re just at the beginning of the figure drawing series. In the premium section, I’ll be posting student work and videos of me correcting those student drawings.

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Comments (17)

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  1. tom says:

    Really good!

  2. Jason Lewis says:


    I really enjoyed this, my one questions and I know there is no substitute from drawing from life, but do you gain as much knowledge drawing from images as you do from life or does that cause you to develop some bad habits that are hard to get away from?

    Thanks in Advance!

    • Lisa says:

      I have the same question!

      And thanks for the videos. I’m hoping to update to the premium version soon, but it’s already been amazing content!

  3. Randy says:

    Thanks for these videos!! Any chance we could see you draw the same pose as a 30 second and again as a 2 minute?

  4. aaron araya says:

    Hi Proko!

    I have purchase your figure drawing fundamental. Which is helping me a lot. But me and my twin brother have a serious problem. When ever I work with charcoal my gesture becomes smudgy and dirty. I don’t have any control of that tool.

    I hold the pencil the same way as you do, only that I am doing probably something wrong. I can’t figure it out. I have been practicing holing the pencil for about 6 month and I see very smalls improvements.

    I think people would appreciate if you did a short and quick video how to hold it probably, BUT ALSO few exercises to do for improving.

    Please please help us.

    Aaron ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Aaron, actually I have the same problem. As I draw I rub the bottom of my hand on the drawing and it smudges things. It’s a bad habit that I have to deal with. I try my best to avoid it, but when it happens i go back in the end and clean things up a bit. If it’s a long drawing with a lot of detail, I put a piece of paper under my hand to avoid smudging the drawing. Also, I use a bridge. It’s a plastic piece that sits on the edges of drawing that you rest your hand on.

    • Malakai says:


      I don’t know if this will help, but I hold the charcoal pencil side saddle like Stan. I do this by laying the pencil on a flat surface, than grabbing it with the tips of my thumb and first two fingers. Last I slide my ring finger around the pencil, so that the top of my ring finger nail will make contact with the paper or be in-between the pencil and paper. This is the only part of my hand the make contact with the paper. Since my finger nail is smooth it glides my hand smoothly and effortlessly over the paper without any smudging. Also, it creates a fulcrum and allows me to ghost in lines easier.

  5. Ivan Leandro Gaudiosi says:

    Hi Stan

    a little question: how much is important the way in which you hold the pencil? in your videos rarely you hold the pencil in the “handwriting” way

    • Ivan, holding the pencil underhand instead of like writing does a few things.

      1. You can control the angle of the pencil to use either the tip or the side. Gradating from one to the other adds line variation to your drawing. For thin lines you can use the tip OR the side if the stroke follows the angle of the pencil. For thick soft lines use the side and stroke against the angle of the pencil.

      2. It forces you to use your shoulder. Your shoulder provides a greater range of motion than your wrist. So, when drawing larger shapes, curvy lines, use your shoulder. This is especially useful for gesture drawing. Once you need to add some little details, you can switch to the writing position.

      When you first start holding it like that it feels weird because you donโ€™t have good control of your shoulder. You need to train our shoulder. Itโ€™s like playing sports. Repeat the motion so many times that it becomes intuitive. Muscle memory…

  6. Ilias says:

    *sigh* tried some of these and i end up with disproportionate and disfigured drawings that have no expression at all. What worries me is that i end up copying your gestures in the videos and i still can’t get a decent result.
    I’ll keep trying … is there any alternative to this ? Can we skip it ? Damn its hard. ๐Ÿ™

  7. Joseph says:

    Hi Stan!

    These are great videos. I’ve been trying to learn to draw for years, and attended life drawing classes, painting classes, and even Charles Barge classes, but seemed to never quite get it. I did lots of gesture drawings in the past, in class, but without any real guidance or instruction. None, in fact. Your videos have made me think that perhaps I can learn it after all!

    I was wondering, do you suggest a course structure in the premium videos for people starting out?

    Also, on gesture, should I try to view the model as the same size as I will draw? Or can or should I draw a figure smaller than positioned?

    Thanks for the wonderful videos!

    • Joseph, i suggest going through the lessons one by one and practcing each for a week or two before moving on. After completing the course, you will need to continue practicing each concept for years before you really nail it. Just make it part of your routine. 30 minute warm up before a drawing session.

      Im not a fan of drawing the same size as the reference. It doesnt train you to be able to scale. Most of the time you wont have that privilege.

  8. Carguz says:

    Hi! I’ve been practicing gesture drawing for a while but recently I’ve become a little worried that I’m too focused on the human body and anatomy and never really practice other stuff. So I remember you said that gesture drawing can be applied to anything and was wondering if you could upload some videos showing gesture drawing for buildings, landscapes, trees, plants, etc. Everytime I look for videos or content on gesture drawing it’s always about the human body but I think it’d be cool to see how other artists practice drawing backgrounds and nature.

  9. Millicent says:

    I am sorry I can not figure out what you are doing to get to where you end up.

  10. Ebem says:

    She is hot xD ๐Ÿ˜‰

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