Notes On Gesture Drawing


Last November I attended the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank, CA, where I gave a lecture on business tips for self-employed artists. Towards the end of the conference I attended a late-night gesture drawing workshop hosted by Dave Pimentel. For about an hour or so a costumed model (the terrific John Tucker dressed as a hobo) struck some wonderful one-to-five-minute poses while we sketched furiously and listened to Mr. Pimentel walk around the room sharing his pearls of drawing wisdom. It was all very inspiring. One of the downsides of living so far away from California is that I rarely get the opportunity to attend a life drawing session that puts the emphasis on character and acting rather than anatomy and realism.

I was thumbing through one of my sketchbooks and came across my drawings and notes from that night (Sorry for the poor scans, blue pencil is not scanner-friendly). I had jotted down several notes from Mr. Pimentel’s comments as I drew and thought I’d pass them along. There’s some great advice for any cartoonist or character designer to keep in mind while he draws:

  • Think *shape* with your gestures.
  • Focus on four things: acting, expression, character, and movement.
  • Push the poses!
  • Draw from your shoulders, not your wrist.
  • Center lines are a crutch. You don’t need them.
  • Contour lines are OK as long as you are defining a shape and not just contour for contour’s sake.
  • Don’t draw the model. Draw a *character*.
  • Never draw the straight, literal pose. Push the angles!
  • Stare at the pose for ten seconds, study it, and then draw until you need to look again.
  • Think about squash-and-stretch as you draw.
  • Think in giant swoops from chest to toe.
  • Find all the angles you can squash and stretch.
  • Think about adjectives as you draw.
  • When indicating hair, sketch in the direction of the haircut.


And finally, my favorite tip….

  • Put the “life” back in life drawing!


Walt Stanchfield’s “Drawn To Life”


For twenty years Walt Stanchfield was a drawing instructor at Disney, teaching and inspiring some of the worlds’ best artists and animators to help them hone their craft. He often gave his students handouts filled with inspiring sketches and valuable insights into the process of gesture drawing. The handouts were so popular that they were photocopied and traded like baseball cards. Several of them have also popped up here and there on the internet. (A few years ago I downloaded a batch from a website which unfortunately no longer makes them available.)

Academy Award® nominated producer Don Hahn (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) has collected those notes and edited them into a brand new two-volume set entitled Drawn to Life: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures. The books will be available in late March/early April but are currently available for pre-order at (Volume 1 and Volume 2). The books total 800 pages of inspiration and instruction so at $20 each it’s a steal.

You can view a short video “trailer” for the books at