Creating Figures That Look Dynamic, Not Stiff (Part II)

Do you struggle to create figures that look dynamic and not stiff? When you commit to painting a studio figurative work, you know it will be a time investment, so you want to get it right. There are few things more frustrating than spending hours upon hours painting a figure, only to step back and realize the pose looks forced, faked or stiff.

Today, I'll share some tips for making your figures look dynamic and full of life.

1. Don't Fake Action Poses

This little girl's parents commissioned me to paint their daughter (Jenna) dashing across their patio. The last thing I wanted to do was tell the girl "OK, act like you're running. Now, hold that pose and let me take your picture." My painting would have ended up looking like a posed mannequin!

Instead, I actually had her run through the patio again and again in a circuit. Each time she ran through, I had my camera ready (set to a fast shutter speed) and took as many photos as I could before she ran out of view. Fortunately, Jenna had lots of energy and enjoyed running in circles!

2. Don't Pose Your Model Too Much

Has this ever happened to you? You have a great idea for a figure painting. You have a clear mental image of how you'd like the model to pose, and maybe you've even drawn a few sketches from your imagination. But when the model arrives, and you try to get her to pose like your sketch, she looks awkward and uncomfortable (maybe even a bit pale).

First, get your model a nice cold glass of water. Then, suggest taking a break to relax. After a few minutes, your model will probably have settled into a very natural-looking pose. Often, the pose a person assumes when they're not trying is better than the one you invented!

3. Practice Gesture Drawing

Yes, I said the "P-word"—practice. But this kind of practice is OK. Gesture drawing is fun! Furthermore, gesture drawing can sharpen your eye for accuracy while helping you infuse your drawings with movement and energy.

I discussed gesture drawing in Part I of this lesson. Now, I'll give some tips for practicing gesture drawing successfully:

  • Set a time limit for each gesture drawing.
    Warm up with a few 1- or 2-min sketches.
    Then try 2 or 3 5-min sketches. Then do a 10-min sketch.

  • Frequency and focus are key to improving. If you're just starting out with gesture drawing, I recommend practicing 30 min/day every day for 1 month. After this period, practice at least once a week.

  • During the gesture drawing, check your drawing by applying the 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions with your eyes.
    After the gesture drawing, double-check your drawing by applying the 4 Actions with a measuring tool.

  • Draw from life as much as possible, but if you don't have access to a model, there are many online resources that provide photo slideshows for drawing. You can also make your own by hiring a model for an afternoon and taking lots of photos.

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Practicing gesture drawing can help you loosen up and create figures that look dynamic and not static. However, maintaining accuracy while gesture drawing can be a challenge. Next, I'll share an important tip for maintaining accuracy in Drawing a Head in Proportion to the Body.

Until then, happy painting!