Start with Gestures

Warming up your arms, sharpening your observation skills, and finding forms on paper through the use of line.

By doing gesture drawings, we make use of an excellent way of gaining an understanding of birds and their forms.  With gesture drawings, we are searching for the three-dimensional shapes of birds by making fluid marks on the paper. Without being overly concerned about details, our lines are brisk maps of the bird’s postures and attitudes.

More importantly, gestures are a great way of warming up our arms and hand-eye coordination. They allow us to have fun with our work, learning to be less precious about our markings and open to possibilities and growth. Gestures give us the freedom to search and find the way for our lines.

Get Started!

TOOLS: Just about any medium will do for drawing gestures, but self-contained tools such as a pencil or a pen are easier for beginners than paints. Consider using a graphite pencil, a felt-tip marker, a charcoal stick or a pastel. Use a drawing pad of a comfortable size – large enough for loose drawings and portable enough to be taken on every outing.

SUBJECT: Take your drawing pad out everywhere you can. While your primary interest may be sketching birds, practice doing gesture drawings of animate and inanimate objects. Take your pad out when you are birding – or when you are out in nature in general. Stop briefly to make gestures of every bird you see. Do quick sketches of leaves, mushrooms, rock formations, etc. Get into the habit!

Gray Catbird gestures GALVEZ
Gesture drawings of a Gray Catbird done with charcoal at Fort Zachary Taylor, Key West, Spring 2012. As the catbird foraged on the floor and changed positions, I made fast sketches of its various postures. These are only 4 out of many. Some are just a few lines, but I tried to address the entire bird in each, not being too concerned with details, but with portraying the action. Each drawing is roughly 7 inches in size, done on a large newsprint pad.
  • Make your gestures loose and as large as space allows.
  • Use your entire arm while drawing! Wrists alone have limited movement.
  • Don’t spend much time on each gesture, a minute or two will do.
  • Do several gestures one after the other.
  • Spend as much time observing as you do sketching.

What we are trying to capture with gesture drawings is the character of the bird, not necessarily its details. The character may be in its posture or behavior. Ask yourself these questions: How is your subject holding its head in relation to its body? Where is its center of gravity? Where are the legs in relation to its body? Is the body or head foreshortened? What is the tail doing? Always ask questions while gesturing, and look for the answers in brief strokes.

Getting Ahead: Before you go out sketching birds in the field, familiarize yourself with the parts of birds, even if it is a general understanding. The more you know about bird topography, particularly the feather groupings, the better prepared you will be at drawing birds with accuracy.

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