Dynamic Drawing: Getting Started!

Dynamic Drawing is praxis; pursuing greater quality and diversity of line; Dynamic composition and a broad range of mark making skills.

We come at it via:
- Technique: tools, how to use them, the math of composition, and general method.
- Physicality: The way we move, shows in our line.
- Philosophy. How to think about the work; Doing vs. study, the fallacy of getting things "right" and perfectionism. It's better to be done, than to be perfect. And to get more energy into your line you have to dare to go off the rails a bit. If you want to be accurate, then practice accuracy where it counts: in expanding your range of control: practice forms, made up and familiar; study from life more, and even practice by copying the best!
- Remembering your audience is generally looking to play along not catch your mistakes. Throw them something interesting!

I hope to add some patron only support posts to this soon but for now the basics for the 'First Class' are all here.

At the start of the classroom version of the course, I either play this video, or have the slide i’m using to embellish this post with up and give a short talk about the nature of the course.  The top row illustrates from left to right, 1. pure gesture based quick study, 2. gesture combined with contours for slightly longer studies, 3. and 'finishing' done in that case with ink & ink wash using a sumi brush. 4. Mid row, on the left, an image illustrating the difference between contour drawing, and a gesture drawing, by Kimon Nicolaides. 5. Middle is the course logo is surrounded by pattern work done in brush, the abc’s of drawing. 6. To it's right, four takes on the idea of 'perspective'. 7. And the bottom row are all relating to composition and design of the picture plane. FYI a few there are frames from a great slideshow on the subject, posted here by the very skillful Kali Ciesemier! 

NOTE: FYI I'm catching typos and amending text even after a few days of editing, let me know if you spot a typo or something!


I've been teaching Dynamic Drawing at Syn for a little over three years now, I designed it to be an intermediate, intensive drawing course with a heavy emphasis on the aspects of art that make it what most would call 'dynamic'. 

Getting over hesitation, making confident marks, and conveying lessons about how to develop an ongoing practices that aid in getting the most out of our efforts. Part of what makes it intensive is the pace at Syn. 10 weeks for 10 classes. The online version will allow you to set your own pace a bit more but don’t take it too easy!

The course is more or less and expression of my own drawing praxis. So while I won’t be duplicating exactly the class I've been teaching at Syn, it’s modeled on the same general philosophy and ideas. A look at the current site will still give a good impression of what i’ll be posting over the next few months following this first lesson plan, as I populate the course plan on Patreon.

The online Student Patron version will differ a bit from the classroom course at Syn a few ways. It’s basically a correspondence course, live studio models are not available and there is the before mentioned absence of time limits that come with fixed semesters. There are some areas like anatomy and perspective I’ll cover in more depth here. And you will more or less on your own clock and conscience to do the homework. When you register we’ll establish at the start the pace you can work at and that I can accommodate.

 This ‘First Class’ lesson plan is going to remain mostly free to the public to read. Subsequent classes and some of the support material will be patron only but at the lowest pledge levels [$1]. Constructive feedback on homework and and other examples of your art come with pledges in the Student Patron category exclusively! Though, within reason I’m often happy to answer questions here or elsewhere in social media when i have time. So questions are welcomed in the comments.

Hope you enjoy and great utility out of my lessons!

Required Materials 

For Dynamic Drawing, if you haven't already I recomend getting a very good portable sketchbook. For the ink work and fine pattern work we'll be doing, a smooth or even ivory finish is best. Rougher paper can be good for some things, but in this case it's often going to get in the way of some of what we're trying to do. Also look for books that can open flat. 

Along with that you'll want a very large pad of paper, the kind often seen in life art classes, 18”x24” inches, and again for the smoothness I recomend Cartridge paper pads. But as long as it has a smooth rather than rough finish, newsprint will do. 

FYI: You can tell if paper is smooth by touch! Printer cartridge sheets you see at the office or at home are mid range, on the smooth side often. A lot of "sketching" pads tend to be rough. Touch a few at the art store to familiarize yourself with this if you haven't already.

You will also want pencils, some graphite, I like mechanical pencils and wood one's, I often us a big fat one for Gestures like we'll be doing. But NOT too soft! HB, maybe a 2B, but I use 2H and 4H a lot too! And for a great deal of my sketching and studies I don't use graphite at all. I recomend the Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils, I use Light Blue, an Orange, and a Red typically. A couple of each are indispensable.

And while it does not come up for the first class typically, we explore brushes in Dynamic Drawing. There is no more dynamic tool to make a line. I favor the Pentel Pocket Brush myself, but there are other options. 

That's really just the tip of the iceberg, I have many other recommendations and some of the tools you'll need are pretty indispensable. If you can't get them right away don't worry too much, but in time it'll be best to get them or reasonable equivalents. I keep a Material list for the course can be found on this page. It includes links to online sources both so you know what they look like and if you need, can order online. it's written for the classroom version of the course so there's a Montreal bias to some of the info like stores, but should still work as a jumping off point for Student Patrons based elsewhere.


1 - Getting A Grip!First thing I like to bring up in Dynamic Drawing, the class about is their grips. Most of us use our tools with the same grip we use to write with, called the ‘tripod’.

It’s good for the small controlled movements you need to write letter forms, and for details when drawing. But it can constrain our forms and lines too. I have a post on this here; http://dd.salgoodsam.com/grip/

Watch the video and check out the materials on that page covering this topic. If you don’t use a tripod grip already let me know. Ideally i’d like to see a photo or video of your hand drawing clearly, from your POV, and looking from the palm side of your hand [rather than the back] showing how you do hold your tool.

Note that it’s not a question of having the “wrong” grip, and i’m not looking to see how ‘bad’ it is persay. But in general you will want to use more than one grip! And some grips interfere with our efforts, depending on what we’re doing. So if you have only one and it’s unusual, i’d like to see it in action to help understand where you’re starting out better. We’ll then make learning to have more than just that one and what they are each good for, a part of our praxis.

2 - Basic drawing exercises. 

You’ll notice that both Intro to Cartooning and this class involve them. They are one of the most basic units of exercise, but they also never get old.

25 years of working as a professional artist, I still utilize them to warm up before I start drawing. Often along with a bit of free doodling and general stretching.

In the classroom version of the class, I often ask everyone to start drawing 1.5 to 2 inch wide circles, with some care but fairly quickly, and then we look at the results and note how we can see in them the signs of how we were able to distribute the movement of our arms evenly for a perfect circle, or asymmetrically to attain an ellipse. For online we’ll have a post of myself doing this by example, and Student Patrons will be encouraged to send me a sheet or two of theirs and if possible, video of them doing them.

That’s just the first form exercise, there are several more, as well as many patterns and hatching exercises. You’ll find a pair of posts indluding some video demos that cover this here: pencil only work - http://makingcomics.spiltink.org/basic-drawing-exercises/
Brush and other more complex variations including pattern work that veers into things like drawing waveforms and refining perspective skills. - http://dd.salgoodsam.com/pattern-texture-and-technique-exercises/

Mastering them gives you much finer degree of control over your mark making, the same way practicing handwriting gives you better handwriting. This helps immensely as well, when we want to cut loose, as fear of loss of control is minimized if you have a fair amount to start.

And along with increasing control and confidence, making an ongoing and exploratory practice of doing them helps you build up a visual vocabulary of textures, patterns, and forms you can render later with as little thought as most of us give walking, having committed them to muscle memory.

If you find it hard to stay focused with these also know that this is worth pushing through for. Not JUST to get much better at hatching or ellipses, leaves, waves, whatever. But also every time you do something repetitive with intent and focus, you also exercise the parts of the brain that give you more attention and focus. Like a muscle, the more you do that the more focus you will have for other things. And doing it this way rather than while also drawing something, make it a lot easier to improve quickly with less relative frustration than if we do it while also trying to draw a person, place or thing.

Make sure to also feed your muse. Don’t only do easy things or repetitive things, or only hard things. Make some of it stuff you love, some you find hard, and some that challenges your attention.

Look at lots of things, educate your eye and entertain yourself. Try reducing things you find appealing or engaging to simple forms and patterns. Make those then some of your exercises to help make it all more personally engaging.

3 - Gesture! 

This is the exact opposite of the more controlled work done with many of the basic drawing exercises. Gesture drawing is often neglected these days, but it’s an invaluable tool. And even it is taught its often in the reduced form of action lines common to cartooning and animation. 

For the Classroom version of our course it dominates our in class time, and we use what I call 'full gesture' or 'dynamic gesture' due to being part of 'Dynamic Drawing'.

It's a flowing, even scribbly fast style of gesture that I picked up off one of my first art teachers. Probably they were following the lead of Kimon Nicolaides. See a post here for notes on that.

I've made an introductory post here that will walk you through what 'full gesture' quick studies look like, and why I teach it as a tool. 

For most students at Syn it takes at least 12 to 19 hours of drawing with our various dynamic models to really get the hand of it. Mainly due to their having to fight the urge to correct things, get them 'right', or a common and generally natural focuse on contours, which while at times discribed by parts of a gesture drawing, are not really the same things.

It does not replace or displace constructive drawing, contour drawing, figurative, or other forms. It’s in addition to. 

And for many I think getting comfortable with it is a great way to get over hesitation that gets in the way of more controlled but fast and graceful mark making in our art. It was very critical to any ability I have in this, so i’ve made it a key exercise in the Dynamic Drawing regime.

Over the course I’ll try to show you some of the ways you can employ full gesture, as well as limited forms like the ‘action line’. 

In classes I use a projector and play the clip of Pascale Bernardin you will find on the introduction page, life size before my students. At first to ease them into it, I slow her down to quarter speed for the first class so they can ease into the idea. FYI you can slow down or speed up any clip you find on youtube using the gear shaped setting menu. For working on your own at home, do what you can but if you can use a larger screen and larger paper, it will help! Trying to do small dynamic gestures is a bit counterproductive. You want to work large and cut loose a bit!

Once you’ve done a few dozen drawings of Pascal, move onto other subjects. These are all posts on my site that have video you can use to practise with if you can't find subjects in real life.

Also try going to dance schools, live acoustic music shows, and street festivals to find live subjects to draw and challenge yourself. You can also use family members, or even pets! Got kids? Draw them! But if you need, video will work too.

A note on drawing from life vs reference and video. You will hear often it’s better to draw from live subjects. I generally agree but not to the point of making a taboo of using photos or video. Live models we see with two eyes, and often even with the best model who can hold a pose like a statue, WE move, changing our perspective on them. This means A. we are often unaware of the work our brain does to take the images from two eyes, process it and pain the illusion of our sight. We’ll get more into this later, but this is the extra work we do when we work with a live subject. It’s very useful, and you should seek out or create the opportunities. That said, using a 2d photo, or video clip provides a bit of a break for that work, and lets you transpose form and gesture a little bit easier, and often more conveniently to your own schedule than only doing it when a model is available. Take full advantage of that.

I’ll bring this up again but in the case of using photos, don’t worry about ‘copying’ either, we’ll talk more about this but just don’t let yourself be a slave to the reference material. Gesture isn’t about making an exact copy. It often means exaggeration, and is very much about impression rather than pure representation. The IDEA of rhythm and movement through a form even when that form is sitting still.

4. Blood bones and guts.

Dynamic Drawing in the classroom version is a lot less focused on anatomy, but to get the most out of it you still should practise anatomical studies, it's a good thing to mix into your regular regime. 

And with the Patreon program we have the opportunity to expand into this more. So I want you to start making comprehensive studies of human anatomy, and eventually comparative anatomical drawings between us, and various animals. To get started I have two tools for you. I’ve posted several images to use as reference for copying here.


And here's more narrow set of a downloadable set of images like those with a clear example on the left, a blue line version to trace over in the middle, both on grids. And a final empty grid on the right to draw it freehand in a second time. I've pulled these from a few places for a bit of diversity, most of the sources can be found on this post about online Quick Study tools.


If you’re a lefty, I suggest mirroring the file when you print it so the reference image is on the right instead, and not under your hand as you work. 

Printing those out to fit on 8.5”x11” in colour will work, but if you can printing them on a 8.5”x14” or 11”x17” is even better. All these approaches, freehand studies from life or the images I posted, or copying over the printouts, are good ways to learn how the body is put together. 

If you care to label and name the parts, but FYI I never really did this much and don’t feel not knowing all the names is so important as knowing what it looks like and how it works. .

The more you do this, the more you can almost mindlessly capture gestures that also encode information about anatomy quickly. As with all things, understanding will make for more informed and effortless seeming art. It’s never really effortless-when it’s good you know the artists has simply put in the effort in advance and now can just do!

Extra goodies

This post is of the examples and notes on different drawing styles. Just to help clarify what the differences are between contour, gesture, and etc. All are of use, there’s no good or bad, they simply have different advantages and attributes. In the long run you’ll want to get fairly capable with all of them!

Gesture can be used for things other than people!

I’m going to recommend you check out the free instructional handouts by the amazing teacher and fellow Montrealer, Marc Taro Holmes. All are good, but this one in particular, i'd like you to find some time to read and even apply in your sketchbook. We’ll cover some ideas out of it in a later class but it’s a great tip sheet to look at generally. In it he uses a very loose, gestural form of contour drawing, mixing up the two techniques really well to execute his 'urban sketching' style of plein air drawing. 




I've also posted an excerpt of Mike Mattesi's notes on gesture, rhythm, and what he calls the expression of "Force" in our line to the class site, he's another great teacher of this stuff, I HIGHLY recommend watching the clips I posted there and looking up his books. It’s not identical to what we’re doing, but very compatible and well worth watching. He also offers online classes.


Another great but different again take on gesture, can be found in the work of Samantha Youssef, we have copies of her book Movement & Form at the school and I sat in on one of her workshops at Syn. While not the same approach as mine i think her classical combination of gesture and constructive drawing, based in the methods we see often in traditional animation are well worth a look. Very efficient once you get the hang of them and extremely well thought through. She also has online classes by the way!

http://www.studio-technique.com/. http://samanthasketches.blogspot.ca/.https://www.facebook.com/studiotechnique/.

I also recommend checking out Proko’s videos, he teaching a much more rigid form of gesture drawing, a mix of some of what Samantha does and classic Loomis technique. It's more stroke based, rather than using a continuous line like I have you doing in our classes, but the core ideas are similar.  I made a select play list of some of his best in a sequence I recomend here. And he offers online premium lessons!




And Peter Han is yet another very good teacher of ideas i find very compatible with my own, he’s got some material available on the net and I've posted a clip about his own take on what are pattern and form exercises here.

I put up some video tours through my own sketchbooks, you can see the kinds of mix of observed drawing, doodles, and general sketching i do in mine. Again you don't have to make your sketchbook pretty, that's not the point. The point is you want to be drawing as often as possible, having a sketchbook and tools with you always, and committing to filling it, is a good way to get into that habit.

A post on doodling, we didn't talk about it much in class but it's a fun break from more rigorous things like pattern work, that still helps you clock millage in your practise. It calls for invention and discovery, experimentation and autonomic drawing. It's less structured, but if you are experimenting and being attentive to what you're doing, you'll still learn and potentially improve your hand eye control with it.

some notes in finding a balance between design and order, and dynamic energetic work here. I shared this in the first message I sent out but here it is again in case you skipped it!

A few notes on using a brush, and how to use varying line weight! 

Ok, that's it for now. There’s a lot here, I like to encourage people to take in a lot of different ideas about a thing, not just one or my own alone. Diversity of practice and theory is great for anyone hoping to make powerful art.

I hope you find a bit of time every day to draw. Even if it's late and your worn out, don't make into a hard thing you can't do them. Patterns and doodles are both pretty easy to do half asleep, and if you can do patterns before and after you’ve slept, you'll help consolidate the learning even better!


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