If you have ever gone to a figure drawing class, chances are you have done a gesture drawing. As a warmup for longer poses, gesture drawings are like warming up before a run. You get your eyes, mind and hand on the same page literally and figuratively.
This one to five minute sketch introduces you to your subject and loosens you up. The best thing about a gesture drawing is that it forces you to look at the whole model at once, to capture the feel in a few strokes. When drawing or painting our attention often focuses on the details and, to our detriment, we don’t see the overall image. Our brains are actually wired to see detail, so to override our biological impulse to render the eyelashes first, we can impose a brief time limit. Shorter times translate into drawings with more gesture, vitality, and authenticity.
Recently I transferred the idea of gesture drawing to plein air painting. I set out to paint sixty, five-minute paintings in one day using gouache. As you might know if you read my posts, I just turned sixty, so it seemed like a good idea… at the time.
and it wasn’t.
It was good because the exercise helped me see the whole image right away. The influential French painter Ingres once told his students, “When studying nature, firstly have eyes for nothing but the whole”. With such a rigorous time constraint to fill the page, I had no time to see anything but the “whole”.
However, doing sixty paintings is an endurance event. In my planning I had neglected to figure in enough time to get from one painting site to the next. Often it was only a few steps, but I needed to move my easel, water and paints each time. The wind was whipping and constantly threatened to knock my whole set-up over, and did 4 times. Also, partly due to the wind, the gouache was drying on my palette pretty fast and after a few paintings I needed to clean up and replace colors. The whole process took longer and was more arduous than I had planed. Fatigue and the sunset were upon me before I could finish.
I completed the last of my 60 paintings in the studio using whatever was there as models and shortened the time limit for each to 3 minutes. I had to get home!
Though some of the landscape paintings are pretty abstract, they do have the feel of the path, the beach and the marsh. I am tempted to take them back out and do a more “finished” rendering of the areas, but won’t. They are my gesture paintings and I will include some of them in my show, “21 Months, 147 Miles, Painting the Bay” at Dryden Gallery this coming fall. And the price you ask? Why sixty dollars of course! ; )