Monday, June 27, 2011

Contour VS Gesture Drawing

Just what is it?

There is a lot of confusion on what is meant by gesture drawing. The word gesture implies movement, a waving of the hands. How does this apply to drawing? There is also as much lack of understanding when contour drawing is discussed. These are two different approaches to drawing. Both are valid, but give totally different results.

Both deal with drawing what is actually see, not what you think you see. Both exercises teach you something about the real world and how you, as an artist interpret that world.

Contour Drawing

Contour drawing is simply put drawing the outline of the object or subject. Sound simple enough. But it requires a great deal of concentration. You are looking for edges, edges that might not actually exist in the real world. You are looking for the visual edges. But you are going to apply a sense of touch to your drawing.

When I was taking my first drawing class, we all struggled with this. The teacher had set up a complicated still life, and tried to get us to do a continuous lines contour of what was there. Frankly, the exercise was a failure because none of us understood just what the teacher was trying to have us do. Now, years later, I look back at that class and realize just how hard explaining this can be. You are trying to say in words what is happening in the head. Contour drawing is much more than simply looking at something. You need to see it, feel it almost taste it.


Contour drawing is all about concentrating on an object. Also, it is about drawing from life, not a photograph. You need a real life object or subject. Something solid. You want to experience this object totally. Immerse yourself in it.

The Set Up

Draw the outline
one contineous line
First, relax. Set up a simple still life, or find an interesting object. Have a 2B or 3B pencil, very sharp! Use a fairly large piece of paper, either a larger pad or a large piece of paper attached to your drawing board.

Completed contour drawing
What you are going to do is draw this object without looking at the paper in one contineous line. Yes, keep your eyes on the object, not on your paper. Look at the object and decide on where the line will start. Pick a point that you decide is the beginning. Stare at that point until you convince yourself you are touching that point, thus your pencil becomes an extension of you. Wait until you believe that your pencil is touching the contour of this object. Yes, you can do this! You want your eye and your pencil to move at the same speed, and in union with each other. So your eye, and pencil are in concert. Without taking your eyes off the object, trace around the contours of it. When you complete one section, briefly look down and move your pencil to a new starting point, wait until you can feel the object in your mind, your pencil is on that object, then continue. This is the contour of the object. And the contours change if you shift position, so keep your head still.

Gesture Drawing

Gesture Drawing of Bow

The exact opposite is gesture drawing. It is not about edges, but volume, movement; the fullness of the whole. This is a favorite method of mine when I can see people or animals move. It is about catching the action! Seizing the moment. Gesture drawings should be rapid, fluid and very expressive. Sometimes it just might be hard to see the object/subject in the activity! Let your pencil roam the paper, fill it with the action you see happening. Draw rapidly and continuously, in one fluid line what you see happening before your eyes.


Contour drawing puts you in touch with the edges of a form, in gesture drawing you feel the movement of the whole. Remember that contour drawing is about edges, and gesture drawing is about movement.

Gesture Drawings of Squirrels
at the Bird Feeder


  1. Thank you for your explanation, to the point. Cheers

  2. Thank You Kaylene. I love hearing from people.


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