Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Elephant No. 163: Gesture Drawing

After the hours I spent on yesterday's stuffed toy, I wanted something quick, so I settled on gesture drawing for today's elephant.

Gesture drawing is defined by its rapid execution. In art school, this normally means drawing a series of quick poses by a model, lasting as short as 30 seconds. This is often a means of helping artists loosen up, while also teaching them to see the main lines of the body. Gesture drawings are also made of athletes, zoo animals, and any other complex figure in motion.

Two Women Teaching a Child to Walk, ca. 1640.
Gesture drawing by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
Collection of the British Museum
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt.fallhut.jpg

Storyboards and animatics for film and animation often use a gesture-drawing style to capture movement and character. The quick lines of gesture drawing act as a sort of shorthand and, when well-executed, are quite effective.

Animation sketch for Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
© 1937 Walt Disney Company
Source: http://adamcope.blogspot.com/2009/08/rembrandts-drawings-of-children.html

I remember doing gesture drawings in art school, and liked them a lot. Since I was also a dancer at the time, I found it relatively easy to see the lines of movement in the model's body. But elephants don't really dance, and they're kind of blocky, so this promised to be interesting.

The basic idea behind gesture drawing is capturing a sense of action, movement, or even a mood. Because I have no immediate access to a zoo, I worked from photographs. And because gesture drawings, by definition, take less than two minutes, I decided to push the envelope and make drawings that took between 15 and 30 seconds each.

Since I was planning to whip these off quickly, I used my cheapest sketchpad. And because I wanted colour and something that would bite into the paper nicely, I used my set of coloured Conté crayons.

This was a really fun experience. I had low expectations in terms of producing finished drawings, so it was indeed quite freeing. And because such a short space of time requires laser-sharp focus on the major lines of the subject, I learned a surprising amount about the shape of elephants. I thought I was pretty familiar with elephants, but here are the things I learned today:

1. All elephants are hunchbacks.

2. Asian elephants have really teeny ears compared to the size of their heads.

3. Elephant legs are always close together, even when they're charging.

4. You can sometimes see the bottoms of elephants' feet when they're walking.

5. Baby African elephants have ears that are about half the size of their bodies.

6. All elephants truly have saggy, baggy skin.

Nothing earth-shattering, I know, but these were all things I'd never really noticed before, even though this is Day 163 of making nothing but elephants.

And here, in no particular order (because I lost track of the order in which I drew them), are today's elephants. The photographs aren't the best, but these drawings were surprisingly difficult to photograph effectively, even when I took them outside.

I highly recommend this exercise for anyone learning how to draw, as well as anyone wanting to refresh their drawing skills. I also recommend using something like Conté crayons or charcoal, and paper with a bit of tooth. This gives you real freedom of movement while you're drawing, as well as the ability to use various weights of line.

I liked this activity so much that I almost wish that this blog was called Gesture Drawing of an Elephant a Day. Then again, knowing me, I'd be bored of gesture drawing by Week Two, and I'd be wanting to do something more challenging, like arc welding.

Elephant Lore of the Day 
China's Elephant Trunk Hill, also known as Elephant Hill, is located in Guilin City in southern China, where the Li and Peach Blossom Rivers meet. Formed by the erosion of the klast formations common in the area, the hill was given its name because it looks like an elephant reaching its trunk into the water. 

There is a pagoda on top of the hill and, where the elephant's eye would be, there is a cave known as Elephant Eye Cave. The round opening under the elephant’s trunk is known as Water Moon Cave, because at night the reflection of the moon can be seen through the arch, appearing as though the moon is both under the water and floating on the surface.

Elephant Trunk Hill, Guilin City, China.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elephant_Trunk_Hill.jpg

Elephant's World (Thailand) 
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

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