Thursday, January 14, 2010

Art Lesson: Gesture Drawings of Plants

Capturing Gesture: Gesture Drawing is meant to quickly capture the essence of the subject; its movement, shape, weight, etc. Gesture is based in the act of seeing. It is a representation of basic elements quickly witnessed. Gesture gives your drawings life – gives your subject life. Often botanical drawings can seem stiff and lack life. This is because, in the course of drawing an accurate representation, the artist has lost sight of gesture. Since drawing gesture is directly connected to what you see, it obviously is also about improving your observation skills. The following exercise will help you to develop your observation of gesture.

Materials Needed:

  • 4B pencil
  • Newsprint pad
  • A plant with a stem, branches and leaves
  • Variety of plants - In this exercise you will need to have a few different plants available for drawing. These plants could be house plants or plants outdoors. Plants should have a variety of characteristics.
Place a plant at a comfortable distance from you in a place where there is enough light to draw and to see the plant. Gesture drawing is about capturing the energy and posture of your subject. With figure drawing, the first action is to find the spine of the model and use this as the central organizing unit for the drawing. Thankfully, when it comes to drawing the gesture of a plant there is a “spine” on most plants called a stem or trunk. This is the place to start.

Locate the stem of the plant. Quickly draw a line that captures the pose of the stem. Is it bending slightly one way or the other? Is it straight? Is it doubled over? The energy of the plant can easily be found in the manner in which it is growing, for that is how a plant’s energy is expressed. So, quickly draw an energetic line that captures the pose of the stem. From there, quickly draw lines that represent the branches coming off the stem. Be aware of the angle with which the branches come off the stem. Do the branches go up, straight out or hang down? Now, continue with the leaves, drawing lines that capture their angles and shapes. With groupings of leaves, drawing each individual leaf is not necessary. Look at the grouping of leaves as one big shape with a few edges in its interior. Continue on like this until you have completed drawing the plant.

Gesture drawings are meant to be done quickly and to have energy. If this is the first time you have ever made a gesture drawing, keep your pencil moving and try not to take it off the paper much. Try not to think much. Observe and draw. Observe and draw.

Now do this again with the same plant – but do it much faster. Then keep doing this for several more plants. Pick plants that are vertically growing, like grasses. Pick plants that branch out like geraniums or trees. Draw a plant and then turn its pot halfway around and draw it again. For gesture, feel free to draw dead plants, live plants – any plants at all. Create about 15 drawings of a variety of plants. Do them all quickly. Take no more than two minutes on any one drawing. Set an alarm clock if you have to. Fill the page of your sketch pad with each drawing. Draw big and use your whole arm to draw. Be loose!

What is the gesture of a thicket? Look for obvious stems and see the leaves as clumps or "drifts" instead of individual leaves.

Have fun making something beautiful!


  1. I'm glad you like this lesson. I will soon be offering online drawing lessons, if you would be interested.