Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Figures in Motion - Workshop Recap


As I’m flipping through my sketchbook and mourning the end of summer, I’m reflecting on all that I learned about urban sketching this season. I especially wanted to share some tricks I picked up at the annual sketch seminar.  In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the class I taught "Capturing Figures in Motion." 

To warm up we took our sketchbooks to the curb and immediately learned two things...

1.  Figures are frustrating.
2.  Moving figures are super frustrating.

So what’s the trick?  Well, there’s not just one, but a BIG one that might make all the difference is having an open mind.  I’m used to long commutes and having a good 20 minutes to make a decent drawing, but when you’re sketching from the sidewalk, you’d be lucky to get a 20 second glance of a passerby.  You have to change your expectations. It’s a different way of sketching, but no less impressive.

20 minute sketch
20 second sketch

Find a busy street and set yourself a goal like, “Today I’ll draw motion for half an hour.”  I encouraged everyone at the seminar to grab a stick of vine charcoal. It’s really messy and takes some getting used to, but it forces you to stay loose and let go of the details.

Don’t work in your absolute favorite sketchbook.  Instead of trying to get a post perfect picture, just try to fill a quota: ten pages of blobby human shapes. Draw as many people as you can, as fast as you can.  Fill up every inch!  (Don't forget to have a can of fixative and spray each page before turning!)

The results may not be readable to anyone other than yourself, but you’ll start to build some muscle memory of how people move, where their weight shifts, how a pair of pants hangs etc.  When you look back at your book you’ll have all of these wonderfully expressive reference pages to enrich your urban settings.  Were you sketching a crosswalk and only got down half a woman?  Fill in the gaps by looking at some scribbles you have in your gesture library.

Think about it like an athlete; warm up sketching, or gesture drawing, is awkward at first and can be embarrassing.  There's no doubt it's a lot of hard work!  But keep at it and before you know it you'll have trained your brain to rapidly record motion.  When you do get a decent motion sketch, you should be really proud of yourself and post it everywhere!  You recorded all that information in a matter of seconds…  That’s pretty amazing! 


  1. To anyone who has said, "I can't draw people", follow Angie's advice and you won't say that again! Great post Angie, welcome to the line up!

  2. The natural, Darwinian evolution of the sketched figure has to be this style of modified stick figures. I have even done this without looking at my page because it is the observation of shape and form that will serve you well.

  3. its very hopeful post on Figures in Motion - Workshop Recap and i think important post for us.

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