Artists have been doing gesture drawing for centuries, but not until the early 20th century did it get its label, thanks to Kimon Nicolaides who left for us a comprehensive study program in his book, The Natural Way to Draw. (First published in 1941 and available free in a PDF file HERE.)
We are accustomed to contour drawing where the shapes' edges are meticulously followed, our more deliberate or cognitive approach. Gesture drawing does just the opposite, following the movement of the subject--a more intuitive approach. Nicolaides taught that both are necessary, each balancing the other.
Here's how he introduces the comparison:
Below, from Nicolaides' book, student drawings illustrate the power of gesture drawing to express what the subject is doing.
Three of our historical masters--Rembrandt, Leonardo and Michelangelo-- each left us volumes of drawings with copious gesture studies among them. Most often these would be quick studies, responding to something that caught their eye or towards an upcoming painting, but sometimes they would flesh out the gesture drawing with values, as Rembrandt does with his lion sketch.
|Rembrandt van Rijn "Lion Resting" c. 1650|
|Rembrandt van Rijn Study: Baby Nursing c.1635|
|Rembrandt van Rijn Study for St. Jerome Reading c. 1652|
And among the hundreds of Leonardo da Vinci's scientific and analytical drawings are many gesture drawings.
|Leonardo da Vinci Study for the Trivulzio Monument, c. 1508|
|Leonardo da Vincin Study for the Sforza Monument, c. 1488-9|
Even among the many beautifully formed drawings of Michelangelo are his gesture studies.
|Michelangelo Buonarroti Sketches for two separate projects c.1503|
My favorite drawing of all times is Michelangelo's study of Madonna and Child where we see all the gestural lines and restatements along with his beginning to flesh out the form within the gesture drawing itself.
|Michelangelo Buonarroti Madonna and Child Study c. 1525|
Within this drawing, Rayyan searches for the image and begins to develop it in paint.
He continues by refining the drawing and adding more paint as the piece develops.
This process continue until the piece finds its conclusion.
Omar Rayyan "The Duel" Watercolor, 11x17 2011