Introducing Drawing Bodies in Motion

See a few example of my paintings that demonstrates Drawing Bodies in Motion. I have been working in partnership with a number of contemporary dance choreographers but primarily with Luke Brown Dance in the UK. This work is done live in the studio with the dancers or remotely using Zoom and recorded video sessions. The aim is to capture the essence of the dancers movement and choreography of the dance. When painting in this way the mental approach is similar to the jazz musician. Each painting is a compilation of improvised marks. I use Japanese inks on heavy 300gsm Fabriano watercolor paper. The composition of each painting is dictated by the dance and reveals itself as the build up of flowing marks is captured. The brush must move in as loose and immediate a way as possible in sympathy with the movement of the dancer. The dancers say that they see us moving in synchronisation with them. I maintain the rules of composition in the paintings so that the brush marks are readable in space. This requires equal negative and positive space. The images have vigour and balance in equal measure. This way of working is as far away from realist art as you can go! The marks and gestures captured by the brush must be intuitive and instinctive. Often I am not even looking at the paper as my eyes track the figure around the dance space. I do this first at the beginning of the capture then add realist clues for the eye to gravitate to thus allowing the viewers brain to make sense of the rest of the marks.

How to paint bodies in motion

If you are new to drawing figures when in motion and have come from life drawing where the figure is always static. Here are some thoughts and strategies to try out in a graded way to ease your way into it. If you have never done it before it can seem quite daunting! I hear you asking yourself several questions about how to approach this? Here may be a few of them?

Questions and Answers

Q: How do I draw something realistic when what I am drawing is constantly moving?

A: You do not have the time! The only way to reference elements of the figure to make it recognisable is to hold elements in your minds eye, leave the flow of the drawing and add them. Another way is to use recorded video of a session on a loop and use that as reference. Realistic visual clues for the person looking at your drawing should only be extra clues but not overshadow the live capture when drawing in real time. Otherwise you defeat the object of the exercise. You are trying to capture the flow and feeling of the dance and what the dancer is trying to express in a 2D format.

What media shall I use, dry or wet?

A: Wet or dry is down to your preference. Each will result in a different result and of course use the right surface whatever you choose. If wet I would suggest first using black ink (whether Indian, Chinese, or acrylic). Get 3 small bowls and water down the ink in to 3 shades before the session starts. Start the session by painting the most watered-down tone then work up to the neat ink. Ideally use heavy watercolour paper (300gsm) so it does not buckle. You will find that by overlaying the grey tones they build up an overlay of marks that represent the movement.

What paper or surface would work?

A: If working wet, use heavy 300gsm watercolour paper (suggest you use 300gsm Fabriano that can be bought in rolls from Cassart if in the UK).

If working dry a suitable surface for whatever media, you are using so if pastel it needs a tooth to hold it. Experiment with different coloured paper as well. What you paint on applies limitations to the media you use. So, think about that. Does the media match what you are drawing?

How large should I work and with what size paper for instance?

A: The size of paper you use governs the size of the media you use such as brush size or pen. Also, the larger the paper the more gestural you can be with your mark making which works well when following the movements of a dancer. As a tip I stand up when painting. This allows me to mirror the dancer’s movement when painting which translates into the painter mark. It makes a MASSIVE difference. Try it. Do not sit down and be static!

What drawing and painting tools shall I use?

A: I am not going to tell you what you should use. My preference is for wet media like Liquitex acrylics or Chinese inks. Although charcoal and pastel are equally effective at translating the essence of movement. Play with media that you can use to create soft gestural marks as an underpainting and then add hard edges on top for definition and small detailing.

How should I setup my workspace?

A: I use a large drawing board (architect drafting board) that allows me to work standing up or I can tip it up at any angle as well. I have a table next to it for all my painting materials and I have a large Monitor on a pedestal easel positioned in front of my board that is connected to my laptop. I have a mouse on my drawing board to control my laptop.

How much space will I need?

A: Ideally setup a permanent workspace. If you do not have that option, use as large a table as possible and put everything on it.

How should I setup my tech and what devices would be best to work from?

A: You will ideally need a device with the largest screen size you can get your hands on. You cannot peer into a phone screen and get the essence of movement from that? Ideally get a laptop and a large monitor and work from that. Or screencast to your TV?


Tips and Tricks

Here are a selectio on titps and tricks that you could use when drawing in DBinM workshops or zoom sessions. These are a collation of the insights I have developed over the last few years.

My first drawing dance in motion session

Try working wet. Buy a long roll of some cheap paper that will take ink. Get a large bottle of black ink (Indian or Chinese calligraphy ink or black Liquitex acrylic ink). Water down the ink into 3 tones in 3 small bowls like you would get at the Chinese restaurant for dipping your hands in. I got a load from a charity shop.

A range of brushes in different sizes. I find a combination of large Chinese brushes, flats and dagger brushes work well. Also, refillable brush pens with a large reservoir (cartridge) that enable you to paint without having to charge it up all the time are good.

A range of pens with different sized nibs from bamboo dip pens to markers with different shaped nibs.

When you start painting work up the tonal range from light to dark using large brushes first then to smaller. Then use pens on top to add any realistic hints to give your figures some realistic hooks for the eye to grab on to. When you start do not look at your paper! Just start your brush at one or other end of the paper and watch the dancer painting freely and just translating the gestures and speed of the dancer in to your hand and move across the paper as the dancer moves across the space. Do not cheat and take you eye off the dancer!!! DON’T add extra marks when not looking at the dancer to try and make realistic sense of your painting. As you build up the painted marks its up to you to decide when to stop. Experiment with recording different lengths of time. Experiment, experiment, experiment…have fun with it. Forget about creating a painting, the process of having fun and making up new ways of translating the dance is the goal?

First rule. Forget about creating perfect realistic drawings of what you are about to draw. Your first try will be about experimenting with different drawing styles, media, and ways of approaching it. Be prepared to fail completely and throw what you have done on the fire. Each drawing is just another drawing and you will learn from each drawing what to do next. I only keep a small number of drawings that record the marks that have translated from the session. This is all about those happenings that occur when you are drawing that you are unconscious of and could not plan for but suddenly appear from nowhere and you go WOW! Its like the thrill of the chase for those drawings that cannot be created any other way and won’t come from hours of time studiously fiddling with a picture in the studio from a static image. Those are dead images in comparison?