Of Shape and Motion

Contour and gesture drawing are two terms that often arise in any drawing instruction. Basically, contour drawings are used to indicate the general shape of a subject while gesture drawing is used to capture a sense of movement. To create a contour drawing, keep your eyes on whatever you’re drawing as you place your pen or pencil on the paper. Then without looking down at your paper, try to “feel” your way along the edges of your subject with your pen or pencil. Use as few lines as possible and focus on describing the basic outline of your subject, as I did to create the first step in the demonstration series at right.

Like contour drawings, gesture drawings aren’t about detail. Instead, the idea is to work freely to capture a sense of your subject’s movement. To create a gesture drawing, place your pen or pencil on the paper and work quickly, scribbling lines that reflect the energy you feel from the motion of the subject. This usually results in a drawing with multiple, overlapping lines. You can see this approach in the drawings of the horse and riders.

Both types of drawing are great skill builders. Make them a habit, and you can’t help but improve the coordination between your eye and your hand.

Judy Morris earned a master’s degree in art education from Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. She taught high school art for 30 years before retiring in 1996 to become a full-time professional artist. In the last decade, Morris has become a popular juror and workshop instructor. She is a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, the Midwest Watercolor Society and the Northwest Watercolor Society. She is the author of Watercolor Basics: Light (North Light Books).

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