Still-life painting is appropriate for training your observation skills and studying your subject, but occasionally it can feel stagnant. Sometimes, you want to paint a subject in motion.

I’ll show you how to get things “moving” in this tutorial! Let’s get going!

1. All About the Line

If you’re drawing or painting people, it will be a little easier to capture movement because humans are moving most of the time. When painting people, it’s all about the lines you make – both with the body (i.e. pose) and your drawn / painted lines.

For example, let’s draw a dancing ballerina. While you could do a stationary pose, I recommend something more dynamic, like a leap or a spin. 

Sometimes, even a sketch contains more “movement” than a drawing with very clean lines because a sketch includes the movement of your hand across the paper. People will see these lines and subconsciously feel the actions needed to create them.

I’ve drawn two ballerinas side by side for you to compare – one “sketchy” and the other “clean”. Which one contains the stronger sense of “movement”?

You can even exaggerate movement by replacing a line with several dashed lines parallel to the movement’s direction. For example, I drew a baseball pitcher throwing a ball. At this moment, his hand is moving faster than the rest of his body, so I drew it like a “blur”, using this “dashed line” technique.

Once you have your lines down, add the blur by trailing the colours in the areas with the most movement, following the same direction. For the ballerina, the area will be her tutu (or even her entire body, depending on the dance movement!).

It’s up to you how much blur you add, but in general, a little goes a long way.

This technique is also great for urban sketching. Check out this FREE class on people sketching to learn how to bring your subjects to life in an urban scene. 

Bonus tip: If you’re drawing a moving person, consider that those light things catching the wind will also move. For example, long hair will flutter (unless it’s tied in a bun), or something flowy like a dress will fan out naturally in both the wind and when a person is moving. So don’t forget to add movement in these areas as well!

2. Squash or Stretch

Another way to capture movement on paper is to take a page from the animator’s book, the “squash and stretch” technique; an animator exaggerates movement by adding in-between frames that squash or stretch the subject to imply a big movement.

One of the easiest ways to see this is to draw a ball flying through the air. While you could draw a perfect circle in the air, it will look like it’s floating rather than moving at any speed.

However, once you stretch it in the direction it’s flying and add a few blur lines, you suddenly get the feeling of a thrown ball instead!

And when said ball hits the ground, you can squash it where it makes contact, like a real-life ball does (but exaggerated). 

You can apply these same principles to anything that moves quickly, and the more exaggerated your squash or stretch is, the greater the movement becomes.

3. Blurred Background

One last method to imply movement is to make the pose stationary, but the background move in a blur. Similar to watching the scenery speed by as you ride a train or car, though it’s best to restrict this technique to things that are moving quickly as a whole rather than just a single body part.

To get a “blurred background” effect, I recommend skipping the linework and starting with paint. Then, start painting the things furthest away, such as the sky or mountains. These shouldn’t be too blurry because they’re too far away for the extra speed to affect.

Tip: One thing you can do is make your brushstrokes in the direction of the movement. For example, if it’s the background of a speeding train, use horizontal brushstrokes as the train moves along a horizontal axis. If it’s a falling object, use vertical brushstrokes instead.

Things closer to the main subject should be more blurred, so it’s okay if the colours overlap the ones from the layers behind. To complete the effect, make sure to make a “trail” of paint more than the side left behind.

For example, if a train is zooming past a rock going from left to right, the left side of the rock should “trail” more than the right side. Its afterimage is left behind in the dust!  

4. Combining Techniques

For maximum effect, you can combine several of these techniques, where your lines, shapes, and brushstrokes all change depending on the movement being made. 

You can also tweak some of these techniques to create a different movement style. For instance, how about adding movement lines for a more cartoony effect? Or smudging the lines where there’s movement?

The basic principle is to blur the moving part somehow or to stretch out or squash the object to emphasise how its shape distorts (or seems to distort) when it’s moving. 

Ultimately, it’s the feeling of movement that you need to convey, and once you’re even halfway there, the viewer’s eye will do the rest. Practice and experiment, and you’ll be creating your own art “movement” in no time!

Have you tried painting a movement before? Which technique do you find works the best? Share with us in the comments! Learn more about the creative process and get more tips by subscribing to our email newsletter! We’ll notify you of all the latest happenings with Etchr!

Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. She likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm during her downtime. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 


  • Cindy Bale Tanner said:

    Very helpful. Thank you.
    Etchr Studio replied:
    So glad you found it helpful, Cindy! Can’t wait to see what you create! 🧡

    January 11, 2022

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