Finding The “Abstract Gesture” To Start Any Drawing

Mackenzie Swenson
Duration:   21  mins

The moment you take your paper or canvas from “nothing” to “something” can be one of the hardest—and scariest—parts of the drawing process! Those first few lines say a lot, and they set the stage for the entire direction of your drawing or painting. At the same time, those starting lines often wind up being shifted, refined, or completely replaced by the time you’ve finished your work of art. How do you find the balance between laying a strong foundation and also keeping your lines flexible?

Join artist and instructor Mackenzie Swenson as you learn to use this step-by-step method and a few simple techniques to help you to find what Mackenzie refers to in her practice as the “Abstract Gesture”. This approach allows you to find fun and freedom with the very start of the block-in while still giving yourself a reliable scaffolding on which to build the rest of your drawing. She takes you through the very start of three different portrait drawing Master Copies—“Portrait of Mrs. Hardt” by John Singer Sargent, “Portrait Study of a Young Boy” by Michelangelo, and then finally “Self Portrait” by Peter Paul Rubens.

Mackenzie goes through a detailed explanation of every step of the process she uses when first observing and assessing her subject; there’s a lot that happens before her pencil even touches the paper! Follow along as you use a measuring tool to find your main “through-lines” that keep your drawing connected as a whole, get your big angles to be in the right relationships to each other, and simplify your start to the few essential lines that get you off and running in the right direction. You’ll see Mackenzie take each portrait through a small preparatory study. After completely the study of the Rubens self-portrait, she than shows how to use that study to inform the start and placement of the final drawing.