Lesson #1: Gesture Drawing

Part of the unit: The Figure at Rest and at Play |


Why do artists use "gestural lines?"
Students will be able to:
Identify the characteristics of a gesture drawing
Create gesture drawings using expressive line
Students will understand that:
Artists interpret the figure in a variety of ways.
Gesture drawings capture the essence of an action.

Black crayons, 12x18 drawing paper, drawing boards


Drawings by Degas that show a figure in an active pose such as Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper, 1873; Dancer in Fourth Position, 1885; The Russian Dancer, 1898; a Keith Haring image of a figure in action; three drawings of a figure in action:  a realistic, a loose quick sketch, and a gesture


Display a Degas drawing.

  • Describe the lines that Degas used to capture the action of the dancer.

Display the Keith Haring drawing.

  • How is the Haring drawing different from the Degas?
  • How are the drawings similar?

Explain that many artists are interested in capturing the action of the human figure.  Some artists work very quickly and use loose, expressive lines.  Other artists use line in a more formal way and take their time.  This lesson will focus on drawing the human form in action, using quick gestural strokes.  We will begin it by making drawings that use expressive line like Degas, but that eliminate detail like Haring. Explain that these drawings are called gesture drawings. Elicit a definition of gesture and add to the word wall.

Display three images of figures in action: a detailed drawing, a loose quick sketch,  and a quickly done gesture drawing. 

  • Which drawing emphasizes the action of the figure? 
  • How has the artist focused your attention on the pose?
  • How long do you think it took to make this drawing?



Ask for a volunteer to pose for a demonstration.  Assist the student with getting into an action pose.  Using a black crayon, demonstrate how to capture the action of the figure in thirty seconds by using a continuously quick moving line.   The facial features and clothing should be omitted.  A few quick lines can be drawn to indicate the angles of the body (the axis lines).  The mass could be filled in by using continuously moving circular lines.

  • Describe the lines used to capture this pose.
  • Why did I spend more time looking at the model than at the paper?
Distribute 12"x18" white drawing paper, black crayons, and drawing boards.  Ask the class to fold the paper in half and then in half again to create four boxes, one for each pose.  Invite a different student to model for each of the four poses.  Explain that these will be timed poses of approximately 30 seconds.

The teacher should select several examples of gesture drawings to post in front of the room. Ask student artists to share:

  • What was challenging about creating the gesture drawings?
  • What did you learn today?

Bring to class a standing figure from a magazine, newspaper or from the internet.