Gesture drawing is a common exercise when studying the figure.
The idea is to show the action of the pose and move the line freely within the drawing to capture the form. There is less focus on the shapes, details, or the mass of the composition. Because the idea is to capture the changing movement and action of the subject, rather than study it, gesture drawing is usually quick, spontaneous and fluid.
Back in college, my figure drawing professors would have us do short 10 second, 20 second and 30 second gesture drawings of the figure as warm up. It trained the eye to focus on the essence of the figure and free you from becoming fixated or lost in the details. As examples to study from, we were introduced to gesture drawings by John Singer Sargent and Alberto Giacometti. Over the years, these artists became some of my favorite purely for their quick studies and active feel in their work.
Recently, while drawing animals from life, it became obvious why there are not many drawings of animals from life. Animals, unlike a figure model, tend to move and wander towards the next food source. They make terrible models, especially since they don't care that you are drawing them, or even in their vicinity. Unless of course you are considered a threat --- and if you are not, you must have food – and then, well, why are you drawing and not feeding them?
Most artists know this of course, which is why they work from photographs. However, to really know your subject, one must study it. And the best way to truly study and see it from all angles, is to draw it from life. Hence, why figure painters have live models and landscape artists paint en plein air.
This year, I have been studying animals from life with another professional (experienced) artist. I have watched how they study the anatomy, the texture and the shape of an animal from life as it sits, sleeps, eats, and wanders away. And I have watched how easily with grace and perfection they can draw the animal from life before the animal moves --- when mine usually look like this...
Accuracy they say comes with experience and years of practice. I have been told to achieve this, one must start with learning the core of the animal; by recording the movement and pose of the animal in quick spontaneous lines. Like in figure drawing, gesture drawing helps build these skills and understanding. In a long journey to understand my subjects, I have started to study and create gesture drawings of the random animals I experience along the way.
Here are some examples of gesture drawings I did of a few animals living at Bearizona, located right outside of Williams, Arizona. I thought these were good examples of progress -- at least they don't look like scribble messes.