Saturday, October 4, 2014


Gestural art is improv. It's performance art, in the sense that you have to do it fast and loose, and you only get one shot at it. You don't correct mistakes, you don't take a long time analyzing and measuring, you just take a deep breath, start the 30 second clock or whatever, and go! It's always exhilarating, like taking a risk. Though that does diminish as you get used to it. But you learn to love that aspect of it - the adrenaline rush. It's just you, a newsprint pad, a charcoal pencil, and 30 seconds of pure improvisational intensity. Like jumping out of an airplane, except that you can't actually get hurt. You don't break bones or even abrade the skin from drawing - if you do then you're doing it very wrong!!

In order to do it well you need preparation. It helps to already be familiar to some extent with figure drawing and anatomy, though I hear it's not a necessity. But you need a very different attitude from the one you needed to learn that stuff, which was slow deliberation with an eye toward accuracy and careful proportioning. The kind of gesture I'm interested in only adheres loosely to proportion and accuracy, though it does draw from your knowledge of the forms of the body and how they work together. But from that point it's all improv. Respond to what you see. Respond immediately with no thought, just go with it.

At first you make a lot of crap. I did many pages of terrible gesture attempts all posted at Conceptart and some here. And I found that what's important is learning a certain language, or I suppose a certain way of drawing the figure. At first I was doing contour drawings, trying to get in every form I know about along the edges of the figure with my line, and of course that takes too long. Then I saw some Proko videos on gesture as well as a lot of other videos on the subject, and I had some different ideas about how to do it. As Sycra Yassin said in a video I just watched the other day, "Change your ideas and you'll change the way you draw". It's true, it's all about finding the right kinds of ideas. A friend recommended a book on gesture by somebody named Stanchfield who used to train Disney artists, and that book was a massive blast of different ideas. It was a lot closer to the free-wheeling exaggerated approach Williams uses, rather than Stan Prokopenko's much more assembly line approach where everything is done a certain way and what exaggeration there is is very curtailed and mostly in the movement itself rather than in the forms of the body. That book inspired my latest and greatest gestural work to date, marking a huge and very sudden change in my approach. Oh, Kevin Chen's material I found through a thread on CA also helped immensely with this.

And now I discover Mattesi's Force books. This is great stuff, very much in line with what I need to learn right now.

And guess what I'm about to say --- yes, improv is another factor that my core trio of inspiring artists have in common. I know, I obsess about them, but it's how you get deeply into a subject. I remember a quote I found once long ago in one of those amazing Paper Tiger sci-f/fantasy art books from the 70's that had such quotes interspersed between images that has always stuck with me because I knew it for absolute truth the instant I saw it - "When you are deeply into one subject, you are into all subjects". I have no idea who the original author was, but it was somebody very wise. I know it because I tend to become obsessive about certain subjects and throw myself into massive amounts of research and study on them, and I often find myself learning things that apply  in other areas as well.

Anyway, that gestural looseness links the work of many of my favorite artists (not just those 3 - I do like others as well, I just obsess over them differently because in them I recognize my own tendencies and ideas). It applies not only to the figures, but to everything, most noticeably In Williams of course, since he exaggerates it much more. It's all about force flowing through the environment and the figures and animating them - it's what Frank talked about that made his work so different from the horde of followers who would do careful detailed line drawings copying reference from bodybuilder magazines down to the last throbbing vein and straining muscle fiber and then copy background reference with equal exactitude, then coloring them in with no sense of the way shadow creatively obliterates detail and unifies art. Jones went farther than Frank with exaggeration, but Williams goes the farthest of them all. He draws and paints like a total adrenaline junkie, needing that daily risk fix.

There's a certain completeness in the overall process - the need for accuracy and meticulous control in order to learn your stuff, and then the need to be able to loosen up and throw yourself entirely into the improvisational process of spontaneous creation while exploring what you see before you. It's yin and yang, it's dynamic balance in constant unpredictable motion. It's artist and subject locked in struggle that's by turns like making love and making war.

Anyway, originally I was going to combine this post and the last one about the artist as his own subject, because they're intimately linked - they're actually the same thing. But it seemed like a bit too much for one post.

You learn to do gesture by doing a lot of gesture, and as I said by seeking resources showing various ways of approaching it (ways to think about it). It goes like this, and really this is how you learn art. Punctuated equilibrium - you start by doing whatever you know how to do, and you find with time and experience it gets better and easier. Then you feel more secure about it, and ready to tackle the next step, so you challenge yourself - step outside your comfort zone, It can't be too big of a step though, you need to be ready for it next. You have to get your basics under control before you
re ready for the advanced stuff.

So you step out of the zone and it's terrifying. But you just do it anyway, and keep on doing it. You know it can't actually hurt you, the fear is all just anxiety. And after a while you find this zone is becoming comfortable. So you start thinking about what to do next. It's an ongoing cycle of facing your fear and acclimatizing to the new situation.

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