Gesture in Painting

Today I want to share a bit about what I consider to be an essential difference between a "good" study of the figure and a masterful one: Gesture.

Capturing the gesture of the figure is not simply a matter of getting the tilts of the major forms and calling it a day. When a part of the skeleton moves, the surrounding muscles, tendons and fat pads move with it, being more or less influenced depending on their relative proximity to the area that's twisting, bending, stretching, etc. On top of all this (literally), the skin has to stretch or contract in response to these underlying movements.

There's also the question of the various rhythms we see in the body. Organic forms arrange themselves in beautiful, non-parallel ways. Forms taper, radiate, wrap around and fit into each other. There is, of course, a general symmetry across the vertical axis, but even this is only true to a degree; further inspection reveals incredible little variations that make each form unique (even if it is largely similar to other forms).

So, how does one capture this? The best painters I've seen and studied think about gesture constantly. Not just in the beginning, but all the way to the rendering. While the idea of flat, faceted planes is an extremely useful construct, rendering that's only focused on flat patches of tone often feels wooden. Hatching with paint is a great tool for lending movement not only along a form, but also across it. So is aiming planes and brushstrokes so that they correspond to the movement and rhythms of the forms they're representing. Even this is not completely necessary, though. If you're thinking about how forms sit on a rhythm (like beads on a string), chances are you'll create work with a stronger, more fluid (and organic) construction.

The result can be tight or loose, it makes no difference, but when you consider that rendering can also be informed by gesture, your paintings stand to gain that supple, easy quality that makes for superior, life-like figure work.

ramon hurtado