Drawing in action and movement in art

Drawing in action and movement in art. Patricia Hannaway is concerned about the state of figurative art, especially when it comes to movement in art. Much of the actual work that I see being done today is very surface-oriented. It’s very well rendered and often quite beautiful, but it can seem very still and doesn’t sing to me. Sometimes it seems that the artist pursues a photographic similarity. And when you try to be accurate, your cheetah drawing can waste a lot of growth. We are not just cold eyes that copy things: we need to get emotionally involved. There is a tremendous feeling in the work of great artists.

Moving beyond the surface

Hannaway believes in the merits of skills-based arts education, but she also feels it has its limitations. Solid training is essential. Art requires years of practice and study of topics such as perspective, anatomy, and color theory. But as these principles are learned, it is necessary to develop the imagination simultaneously through composition and memory training, playing with ideas and expression. An artist must use the technique to serve his vision but not govern that the work becomes technical. It is a great challenge.

When Hannaway sets out to represent a theme, she tries to focus on its essence. The artist has spent most of her career as an entertainer. So it is perhaps not surprising to learn that she, in many cases, decides that the nature of her work has to do with the change in art. You have to feel the kinesthetic understanding of your idea. FOR EXAMPLE, if I am animating a bear, I will go to the zoo and spend weeks looking at and drawing bears, seeing how they stand up and react to things. I wonder, what makes a bear a bear, as opposed to another animal? What is its basic shape? When I draw, I don’t concentrate on all the hairs on her body because that’s not what matters. The important thing is the excellent actions that reveal the essence of the subject.

Mickey Mouse

Haan-naway was a part of the first class to finish from the New York Academy of Art, where she gained training in popular subjects. It was a friendly group of people to learn from. But she also felt that the school’s stress on conventional methods, particularly a reverence for 19th-century realism, was not thoroughly preparing her for the more contemporary forms of expression that interested her.

Later, Haan-naway attended the School of Visual Arts, where she earned a master’s degree in computer graphics. It led her to work as an animator at Disney, where she served on such movies as Pocahontas and Mulan. At first, I imagined animation looked like a massive diversion from where I was going. But she soon discovered that the experience of drawing from the live model was as valued at Disney as it was at the Academy. It was a gesture and movement-oriented design. A model came in and took poses from 1 minute to 10 minutes. She can quickly draw on the figure, then add more poses and freely create the composition.

Sketch movement

Drawing in action

The best opportunity for an artist to capture that all-important sense of movement and life is to draw from the model first. I’m a gesture artist. First I create the sensation of training with an abstract line of action. So, I build the form on the movement. He recommends artists who want to add a greater sense of direction to their drawings start by practicing very short poses: 30 seconds or a minute. Draw the shape of the movement, not the thing itself. Draw how the model moves, not how it looks. You will feel incredibly uncomfortable for a while, but it will end up resembling the person’s shape. You have to trust.


Hannaway’s large multi-figure paintings originate, in many cases, from gestural drawings. I start with 1 minute or 5 minute poses with a model and composes my large paintings from these quick sketches. Sometimes it only takes one session with a model to develop a complete work with numerous figures. I take a model and in 20 minutes, we will do 20 poses. I’m working to draw them on the part of the paper: all these different courses of action. And sometimes I see how a pose connects to a previous one, and together they begin to suggest a composition. Perhaps I see a seated figure and another that seems to empty a jug of water. Then all of a sudden, it’s a scene in a restaurant, with a customer and a waitress.


Once she has developed an elemental composition of figures, Hannaway moves on to the sketch value, which she calls phase two. In these sketches, she elaborates on the lighting and other aspects of the composition and scenery. She includes four values: two light values, a medium shadow, and a dark accent in most cases. With a very simplified value palette, you can easily play with different types of light.


After the value exercise comes the third phase: clarification and refinement of all aspects of the image. I start to look a lot more at the anatomy, the shape, and the way the figures fit together, she says. At this point, she will often have modeling poses for more extended periods to help her work on a particular figure or body part. She can also turn to her computer to pose a three-dimensional mannequin-like figure to further experiment with lighting and composition. Some artists seem to be afraid of being in front of the computer, but it is another tool. Anything that helps me clarify and better understand my topic is welcome.

Old skills, new opportunities

After spending many years in the film industry, I wanted to see if there was a way to harness my animation skill and reapply it to my painting, says Hannaway. An opportunity arose when the city of Palo Alto, California, awarded him a controlled rental studio and a commission to hang a large painting in city hall. The piece I’m working on now is called Objectified. It’s about materialism and our obsession with having perfect bodies, especially for women. I like being able to use this seemingly traditional method to do work that is contemporary in its concerns.

Hannaway generally works with a relatively relaxed gestural style, which she believes best captures the life force of her subjects. If I want to, I can reproduce every detail of the human face down to the pores of the skin and the dimples. But I find that when I look for a photographic image, the result seems woody. So slowly I keep abstracting the elements, choosing what to emphasize and what to omit. There is a point between realism and animation where the human mind reads the image as if it were still alive.

Also read: Guide to mass drawing


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