“Find the gesture! What is the essence of that pose? How does that pose feel to the model? The whole pose — quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. The line of energy. What is the pose about? Step back and see it — really see it — whole.”
Life Drawing Instructor
It’s always fascinating to learn how writers find inspiration and practical techniques they can use to energize their work from other artistic fields. This is exactly what happened to Rachel Howard, the author of a memoir called The Long Night. In an excerpt called “Gesture Writing” from “Draft,” a series on writing in The New York Times, Rachel described how modeling for artists enriched her prose by awakening her to the importance of finding “the line of energy” in crucial scenes.
In the story, she notes that “the paintings that looked most alive were built on top of a good gesture sketch, a first-step, quick-and-dirty drawing in which many crucial decisions about placement, perspective, and emphasis were made intuitively.” The goal of a “gesture sketch” is to capture the essence, the line of energy, that made the figure being drawn “a live human being rather than a corpse of stitched-together parts. If you ‘found the gesture,’ you found life.”
While struggling with what she felt was “stylistically choppy novel,” Rachel found that she could apply some of the principles of gesture drawing to her writing. At one point, for example, she put her laptop aside and simply sat on the floor with a notebook and pen. Then she began reworking a scene she wasn’t happy with. She felt that it was “clunky” and kept trying to fix it by adding more interior thoughts and “tinkering with the dialogue.” But it wasn’t working.
Then she remembered an art instructor’s advice: “Step back. See it whole.” she began thinking about the scene from an entirely different character’s perspective, and suddenly, it shifted into focus and became much more provocative. Again, she remembered the art instructor’s words “Where’s the line of energy? What is the essence of what you see? Quick!” She wrote all over the page: a line of dialogue, a snippet of description, an arrow pointing to the next action, a key image she wanted to include.
The result? Rachel had created a kind of mind map: she’d “captured the movement of the scene, not one line of dialogue connected clunkily to the next action. There was the whole. It made leaps. It had perspective. It had emphasis and connection. It had life.” In short, she had a form of “gesture sketch” that she could build on — and it had taken her only five minutes to create it and bring her scene alive. This flash sketch helped her move out of an “information-gathering mode into an intuitive way of seeing subtle organic connections and capturing them in bold strokes.” What a great technique! What Rachel calls “gesture writing,” can be a fun and fruitful way to “see” the whole, the essence of what we aim to capture. I’m definitely going to try this. How about you? Write on!