Monday, March 31, 2014

Gesture: why all the fuss? and how to get the best darn gestures possible. by Linda Dorn

I was asked to write about my process. So I picked one part of my process I get particularly excited about, Gesture.

Why are gestures so important? Because they clearly express what the character is feeling and/or doing. A great gesture creates empathy, you can feel what the character is feeling. 

What is the secret to a great gesture?….silhouette! If the action is clear in silhouette...  (and yes, I mean if you draw an outline around it and fill it in with black.) ...Then it will read clearly, and clarity is key to empathy. How cool is that?

(Silhouette is something I also consider when designing a character. All iconic character designs have a unique silhouette, which reflects their personality, and makes them immediately identifiable.)

Now it takes sometime to get used to, but if you look for it, you will see gesture everywhere. In animation an action is a series of gestures. Below are boards I did for an animation project.

So this is how I chase great gestures: I draw things moving. This is not an easy thing to do, but if you’ve been keeping up on your life drawing it can be done. I teach life drawing at Calarts, and every semester I will bring in a dancer and have her dance continuously for the entire six hour class, well almost continuously. Dancing is a series of gestures, even though it is not a conscious consideration of the dancer.

Here is the trick: Just watch for awhile, get the feel of it, embody what you are seeing. Then you take a mental snapshot, and get it down on that paper as fast as you can.

This is fantastic for drawing children.

I’ve found that the faster you draw, the better you will draw. Get out of your edit head, and just focus on what you see. When you stop trying to find your style and just draw what you see, your style emerges. It comes in the way you abbreviate a face, hands, an expression. Layer that with the principles of design an Whala!, You have a unique style that is all yours.

In my classes, the length of poses (when not a dancer) are 1, 2, 3, and 5 minutes, with a few 10 minutes at the end of the day. The day ends with a big stack of fabulous art.

These may seem like crude scribbles to a layman, but they are precious, they honesty capture life in a style that is unique to me. They convert nicely into characters, and in this process I am filling my mind with information that I can call on when there is no model in front of me.-

I will also photograph myself to reference a gesture, but this is primarily for a rough reference and most importantly to feel out the emotion of the moment.

Thank you for reading. Drawing is bliss, keep at it and be happy.

Linda Dorn is an illustrator and animator living in Southern California. To see more of her work go to


  1. Great tips, thanks! I've always loved the top illustration, and yours was one of my favorite portfolios in NY this year. I sure hope to see your book with the tiger published, I loved what I saw!

    1. @Christine, we never talked about it but Linda's book was my favorite too! And Linda, great post. So helpful.

  2. Your art it's absolutely amazing! thank you for the lesson, I appreciate it, I wish I could study under your guidance, you are very talented.

  3. Linda,
    So happy to read your post! I used to drawn on the weekend with Steve Brown on Sundays at CalArts. I wish they still had open drawing for us oldies but goodies. I love your work! I live a mile and a half away from he school. Maybe some day we will cross paths! Thank you for sharing your process and your images

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  5. Thank you everyone, so very much!
    I don't want to advertise, but it seems appropriate to let you know that I do teach a summer session at calarts for adults. It is an intense 5 week, (option to live on campus). Not too doable for most adults, but it would be so cool to have an Children's illustrator there. Life Drawing (including dancers and musicians), and design for character and scene design. It is so much fun! Only 6 seats left atm.

  6. Wow, good idea for improving one's gesture drawing. I got to try this out.