• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


ABC’s and PhD’s: Gesture Writing

The sketch and the lab report.

May 28, 2013

Before we moved from the East Coast to the West Coast last September, I regularly signed up for a life drawing class offered through Parks and Rec.  Thursdays I took the morning off for three hours of drawing - usually quick 2-5 minute sketches (gestures) of models for most of the class leading up to a 30-minute pose at the end - and I loved it.  I haven’t found the time to discover an equivalent class in our new city (I will sometime soon) but in the meantime I bought a sketchbook, which I carry with me and take out anytime I’m sitting for more than a few minutes.  My favorite venue is my daughter’s violin lesson; as they play, I sketch. Like when I’m drawing a model, in drawing my daughter and her teacher at work I get a short “pose” time - the length of whatever song or exercise they play.  Then that’s it - they move into a different position, forcing me to move on also.  In that short time, all I can do is capture the moment in a few marks.

The act of capturing the essence for a quick sketch is satisfying, liberating, and goes against my perfectionist tendency to correct everything as I go along.  It has taken some practice to develop an understanding of how to fit the pose on the page, and how to quickly hone in on the important aspects that make up that pose, putting them together to create the big picture without getting focused on any one particular aspect.  When my kids were young I tried to get them to try this, giving them each a clipboard with plain white paper to take on family visits to the National Gallery of Art.  The rule was they could draw any picture they wanted to, but they only got three minutes.  It frustrated them, but at the same time intrigued them - I think it’s the kind of thing you need to practice in order to enjoy.

I came across this NYT article recently and I’m fascinated with the connection the author, Rachel Howard, makes between gesture drawing and “gesture writing.” Applying the idea of gesture to writing, she suggests writers start a piece by “taking a step back” and envisioning the big picture of their piece in a “sketch” with a clear essence and without details to clutter it up. I envision this without the organization of an outline to get in the way - just a “sketch.” The author calls this holistic brain process a mode of consciousness. Of course this is just a start; having captured the essential idea(s), the written piece can be rendered from there, as a detailed drawing would be from a gesture drawing.

Grading lab reports last quarter I saw time and time again that my students had trouble figuring out the important parts of their lab write-ups. They consistently got bogged down by fleshing out the details of their project and trying to fit these together without a clear idea of the big picture.  I’m not teaching this quarter, but next time I do, I’m thinking about starting each lab session with a quick sketch drawing exercise to illustrate the power of this concept.  Do you think this will work?  Or just frustrate them as it did my kids.  I’m not sure.


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