Category Archives: the moving figure

project five: the moving figure



exercise one: the single moving figure



This exercise began on a weekend trip to the beach.  I spent a couple of hours each day trying to capture those unique positions that you only really see at the beach. The solid, wide-legged stance at the water’s edge in contemplation, perched on the end of a sun lounger chatting, prone on the sand. I had hoped for more movement, but people are surprisingly static at the beach. The only excitement came from a scrappy game of football – extraordinarily hard to capture – I ended up getting most down when the players stopped and stooped to pick up the ball or throw it in.

The following were a more simplified attempt to catch movement and energy.


IMG_3897           IMG_3898

The sketches above led me to the charcoal sketch (first image in this post), which I’m pleased with (except for the feet – I’m cross that I wasn’t really able to catch them in movement and using my own static foot as a stand-in model isn’t really working).


These sketches began with the pink-red swirls to capture movement, I then added in the forms. I’ve struggled with the upper bodies – with the position of the heads and arms – the movement through the shoulders is not believable. However the lower half of the body works better, I particularly like the lower legs in the left image though I’m not convinced simply cropping the sketch works.

My regular life class is very static but I was lucky to find a one-off class where the model changed positioned every minute or 30 seconds for the last 10 minutes. It was exhilarating. Unfortunately I used quite a hard pencil and the results are very faint. I went over them after the class with charcoal and red pen but this seems to have lost some of the dynamism rather than brought it out.

What I learnt:

  • Heads on a moving body seem to be the hardest thing to capture. Sometimes they all but disappear, often they’re seen as a strange distorted shape rising up behind a shoulder or arm.
  • Hands and ends of arms are most often in a blur – this makes sense, they will often be the part of the body covering most distance, with the torso the most static. I remember looking at one of Degas’s dancer pastels and noticing that he just made the hands a blur.
  • It seems that men power their body more through the upper part, and women through the pelvis. (I’ve never forgotten a self-defence tip for women which is to get on the ground and kick upwards – women have most strength in their legs).
  • As with heads, arms can be hard to capture – especially if they are extended towards to viewer.

exercise two: groups of moving figures

I’ve spent less time on this, though the resulting sketch is different to anything else I’ve done and I’m happy about that. I’ve been struggling to spot groups of moving figures – there is no rush hour here!

I did pack my sketch book when we went to a recent music festival but in the excitement I plain forgot it was in my bag. So when I got home I dug out a video I took at a festival last September, in Berlin. It was the last night (Radiohead), late, very hot and very dusty. Hordes of people swarmed away from the stage. I took three very short snippets of a girl who had stopped in the crowd to check her phone – while people parted around her like fish. In the second clip she turned to try and go against the crowd. In the third she thought better of it and headed off with everyone else.

(video clip shot on iPhone using hyperlapse app. If there is not play button just clicking the centre of the image seems to work!)

I don’t like to work from photos – it always feels like something is missing to me – but this sketch was challenging in a new way because only parts of the crowd were visible – patches of lit faces, arms, sometimes a thigh or a light-coloured t-shirt.


A4, coloured pencils on black paper

With more time to experiment I would like to have filled the page with my ‘transparent’ figures, but short on time I didn’t want to mess up what I already had. Another project to revisit!

The area to the left is more successful in terms of a sense of a crowd moving forward – some bodies to the right are rather static and the mix of directions stops that sense of flow.