At 4 am Mike shakes me awake: “Something’s wrong with the cat”. A banshee wail comes from the living room. I call her name as though summoning a spirit. Her shape speeds past me in the dark and dives into the laundry basket. Alarmed, I call for light. The cat spins in circles at the basket’s bottom; when I touch her back she leaps out, hair on end. A confused mouse squats, blinking, in the wicker. Witlessly, I pick up the basket and tip it forward for Mike to see, like I’m showing him a clever toy. The mouse begins to hop in short arcs. “Take it outside and let it go” he says. While I think this over, the mouse vaults like popcorn in a hot skillet, building momentum. With one final bounce it clears the rim, hits the floor and shoots under the bed.
I’ve joined an art group that hires a model once a week. If figure drawing is a good hand-eye exercise, drawing gestures- no more than 4 minutes- is a vigorous workout. It keeps you loose and sharp all at once. Unlike birds or landscapes, you’re drawing structures resembling your own, and unconsciously you sense the model’s movements in your own muscles and joints. When you draw quick gestures, you can’t spend a lot of time mulling things over. You have to catch the pose, react fast before it gets away. You have to be the cat.
To get to the point where you can speed through a gesture pose, try to get a working knowledge of the body. Study anatomy. Draw longer poses where you can measure the moving parts at leisure- so you don’t have to do it on the fly. (I start with the head height measurement, using a pencil at arm’s-length against a thumbnail, one eye shut. Seven and a half head heights= so-called ideal human proportions, unless you’re drawing superheroes). Build up muscle memory so you can lean on it as you race the clock. You have exactly four minutes. Go.
The cat looks up at me, waiting for whatever brilliant thing I’m going to do next. She brought me an exciting gift- a live mouse to chase- and I’m not following up. “After you”, I say. She slides under the bed. A cartoonish ruckus a la Tom and Jerry does not ensue; instead there is silence. The mouse has escaped. Better luck next time, I tell her, climbing back in bed. Mouse or no mouse.