Drawing people quickly with gesture drawing exercises.

Capturing people within a scene is fairly high level stuff, but we need to go over how you can approach it.

People move around, you can never predict how long they will remain in one spot. So if you decide you want to get better at including people in your scene, you have to practice gesture drawing. It is a skill every trained animator has learned, the art of capturing someone in less than a minute. Here is what to focus on:

Emotion/Attitude. You only have a moment to capture someone, so what does their body language convey? Are they tense? Hunched over? Happy? Try to get the gesture in two or three lines first. They aren’t the lines you will keep, but you can think of it as a stick figure representing them so that you can continue to fill out the rest afterwards.


by http://hospitalvespers.tumblr.com/

Once you have the gesture in place, you have to look hard at the subject to try to keep their likeness in your mind, what they are wearing, what they look like, because at any moment they are likely to change position or leave entirely (alternatively you could also take a photo of your subject, which would also give you the opportunity to draw it without them ever changing position, but you should still be practicing this live as well). Once you have the gesture in place it is just a matter of practicing a steady hand that still needs to move with some speed. Your first results will be awkward and frustrating (Mine still are when I don’t do them for awhile, as you will see below) , just remember to keep your hand loose over the paper, your hand gliding from point to point as you try to capture clothing shapes, face, head, hands, hair. If the subject stands still long enough to get to all of that you are extremely lucky, most will move or leave. In those cases you have to fill in the blanks with what you remember, which is why I told you to give them a hard look early on.

AE9KBB People at Central Park Manhattan NY USA

ltd_woman_1min  ltd_woman_fin

This is my first couple of attempts for this lesson. Each of the figures on the left were drawn in a single minute, and when I chose a difficult subject with foreshortened legs, and did not do a good job of adhering to my rule of trying to compose the character in just a few lines to start out with. The end result is rocky. If my goal was to draw her well, I only did a so-so job, but if she is one element of a larger canvas of subjects (as she is in the photo) then I don’t have nearly as big a problem with it.


The mother above seems a little worn out to me. Her arms are crossed, maybe she is negotiating?

ltd_woman2_1min ltd_woman2_1min-02

Above left is how far I got in the minute time limit. More structured though the subject is a little bland.




So I wanted to capture this great old man on the bench. His position is so interesting, I start off figuring out where the figure zigs and zags with one line. Then I held to a more structured and controlled method of getting the body down in one minute.

ltd_oldman_1min-01 ltd_oldman_1min-02

Now the second drawing above is likely as far as you will get by drawing for one minute. As you practice you will get faster, but if you at least get this much down on the paper, you will have a figure placed in the scene that you can flesh out more later. If the subject stays still  you can start fleshing it out more.

ltd_oldman_1min-03 ltd_oldman_1min-04

Keep in mind that if you make it to this point you are incredibly lucky, but because you spent time getting the figure in place, you have the ability to flesh it out later. I stopped looking at the reference photo of the man for the final renders below, just to test out how I would flesh this out once the subject was gone.

ltd_oldman_1min-05 6ltd_oldman_1min-0

Doing the rest of the drawing from memory is not ideal, but it often has to be done, and done is better than perfect.

I am including some materials by people more proficient in this than I am that will give you more of an idea of what I mean. This is going to be an area that you will always be working to improve no matter what level you grow into. Some of the finest urban sketchers you will run into avoid drawing people in the locations they draw.


So your assignment is to spend 20 minutes (at least) doing gestures. One minute drawings, and no more. Don’t bother fleshing the subject out, simply practice putting pen or pencil to paper quickly and as accurately as possible.


120 Minutes worth of people watching/gesture studies
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