Friday, July 12, 2013

Drawing an Expressive Stick Figure

One of my students at Ringling College of Art and Design recently emailed me for some feedback on drawing the human figure in their sketchbook. They were having trouble capturing the essence of the pose...which is a very tricky thing to do when you're at a cafe watching people and they are moving. This is something we artists are always trying to master! 

I wanted to share some of the feedback notes as a sort of refresher because this was a really great exercise to quickly interpret the pose (30 seconds or less). There are a lot of resources on how to draw really amazing gestures, so I am simply passing along the information I've learned. 

Believe it or not, the first thing to AVOID is copying what you see! A gesture is not about the clothing or surface details, it's about the bodily dynamics. 

It's really important to use long fluid lines instead of short scratchy lines to describe the figure. Michael Mattesi, who wrote the FORCE books, notes that each line you draw is a visual statement. Using only one line instead of 50 lines will make a concise powerful statement about what the person is doing. 

There are lots of things to look for in a drawing. Here are just a few things that a strong gesture drawing will have:
- Line of action. This should be a curve/angle of some sort. If it's straight up and down, the figure will look stiff. 
- A squash and stretch in the torso. This helps put the body in action and avoid the rigormortis look of death. 
- Angles. The 45 degree angle is the most dynamic. If the person you are drawing isn't making any angles with their body, then you'll need to push the pose so that they do. A solid understanding of anatomy and perspective is required to invent convincingly. 
- Weight and Balance. This topic can get very theoretical, but oftentimes our innate sense of balance will tell us if something looks off kilter. It's the same concept as in Design - if something is jutting out from the center, then there needs to be something else jutting out in the other direction to serve as a counterbalance. Oftentimes its as simple as moving a foot or bending the torso, which would cause the hips to tilt (creating a lovely angle!)

In the notes above, I wanted to emphasize fluidity and simplicity. The gesture reads much better when you can find places to tie things together into one looooong line. Character Designers like Carter Goodrich are SO brilliant at doing this! 

Pushing the pose is a big concept to always keep in mind. Just as an example, in the sketch above, I played with pushing the pose forward and backward from the original sketch and tried to incorporate more angles and longer lines. 

Above is another example of how to push the pose. If you think of the drawing as a silhouette, you want to make sure that it will read. In order to make it work, you might have to turn the character in space a bit to find a clearer design.  Notice the arms and legs on this drawing. One thing to AVOID like the plague is the concept of twinning, where arms and legs are parallel to each other. Twinning makes a drawing static and predictable. If you push the pose to include multiple angles, try to make ALL of them at different angles. In my blue drawing, I changed the both leg and arm positions to add a little more variety (hands and feet play a huge role in expression too). This created more negative space and brought the prop out into the open so we can better guess what the figure is doing when in silhouette. 

Here are a few resources for more info on gesture drawing:

I subscribe for $10 a month and watch the weekly videos and once a month he has hour long live demos you can join online. 

Wonderful anecdotal essays about the nitty gritty of gesture drawing for animation. Very inspiring!

A site create by one of my college friends, Josh Reed. An excellent resource for handouts.

A collection of figure photos you can draw from at a set pace. 

(Images posted with permission. Artist wishes to remain anonymous). 

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