M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Drawing Portraits & Figures: Starting with Gestures

Sherrie McGraw (on the left) teaching figure drawing at the
Fredericksburg Artists School in Texas.

Gesture drawings Sherrie created to show students how to focus on movement, not detail.

A drawing from Sherrie's Book, The Language of Drawing: From An Artist's Viewpoint (Bright Light Publishing http://www.brightlightpublishing.com/).

A drawing demonstration created on colored paper with charcoal and Conte

During the first four days of a workshop that Sherrie McGraw (www.sherriemcgraw.com) taught at the Fredericksbug Artists School in Texas (http://www.fbgartschool.com/), the New Mexico artist emphasized the importance of capturing the gesture of the model's pose, not just the exact measurements or details of the body parts. She explained that this would be one way to capture the "life force" of a person instead of an exact portrait likeness of the figure. An artist might want to go on to develop a portrait, she indicated, and the underlying gesture drawing would add character and personality to the finished drawing.
Sherrie demonstrated that when creating a gesture drawing one tries to make long, flowing lines rather than short, straight lines; and one usually draws rounded, convex shapes rather than sharply angled or concave shapes. To verify that, she asked the workshop participants to look carefully at the outer edges of arms, legs, hips, shoulders, jaws, and ears.
This emphasis on drawing the gesture of a figure's weight distribution, momentary action, and bulging forms rather than the exact, measured appearance of body parts can be traced back to a book published in the late 1930's that promoted the idea of making contour and gesture drawings. Kimon Nicholaides' book, The Natural Way to Draw, was published at a time when many artists were interested in creating "action paintings" or abstract expressionist works of art. They liked the idea of creating a personal response to the energy, expressiveness, and action of the human form rather than the precise appearance of the anatomy, musculature, or naturalistic form.
Sherrie strikes a balance between personal expression and direct observation, and her drawings and paintings offer responses to specific people at one moment in time. I wrote an article about Sherrie's workshop on drawing and painting for the spring 2010 issue of Workshop magazine (www.artistdaily.com) and described her approach to painting figures and still lifes in oil as well as her methods of creating gesture drawings.

No comments:

Post a Comment