How to Draw Hands: A Simple Guide
August 14, 2021
Do you want to draw or paint hands but always find it a little challenging?
Do the hands in your drawings lack a certain pose and style?
Look no further than this handy guide with only 6 steps to help you learn how to draw hands, the simple way.
1. Understanding the Hand
The hand is an anatomically complex part of the body. There are 14 bones in the fingers of each hand, 5 bones in the middle part of each hand, and another 8 bones to make up the wrist. Then there are muscles, ligaments, tendons, and sheaths. And on top of this, there are a multitude of arteries, veins, and nerves.
This structure doesn’t make for easy drawing.
Or does it?
These components of the hand are what make it move, pose, gesture and angle. Understanding them is the first step to understanding how to best draw the hands to capture how they really look on a living, breathing subject.
Understanding the hands as a live, human body part helps you bring reality into your drawings and paintings. Misunderstanding the hands and their complex structure allows for flat, lifeless hands which can bring an otherwise beautiful painting down to a much lower level of quality and beauty.
Viewing the complex structure of the hands as a blueprint for your drawing, rather than something intimidating and off-putting, will help you get started on the right foot (…or should it be the right hand?)
2. Consult References
Just like all parts of the human body, hands come in all shapes and sizes.
What your hand drawing will need to look like varies vastly depending on age and gender.
A baby’s hand is going to be structured significantly different to that of an adult’s, with smoother, plumper, dimpled skin and less developed joints and muscles. An elderly person’s hand will have less body fat than a younger person’s, and so more attention needs to be drawn into the much more visible bones, muscles, and tendons.
Female and male hands are also considerably different, with different proportions and features. Female hands, for example, have less visible veins, slimmer joints, and longer fingernails.
When painting and colouring, you will also need to take race and ethnicity into consideration, for tone, colour, and lighting, which will be discussed more in point 5 of this blog.
The best way to make sure you are depicting the hand accurately is to consult many visual references. Whether that be live subjects, photographs, or other drawings. Making sure the hands match the rest of the body you are drawing ensures a realistic and cohesive piece.
Having a few references to hand (get it?) also means you can get some practice in drawing all kinds of hands, building up your skills and portfolio at the same time.
Practice makes perfect, after all.
3. Level of Detail
The level of detail you need or want to put into your drawing or painting of hands will depend on the type of piece you are creating. Too much or too little detail in either direction can have a jarring effect on your piece, depending on its style.
For a comic, animated, or cartoon piece your level of detail won’t need to be the same as for a portrait or Realism piece.
Similarly, your level of detail in the hand will depend on the size of your drawing or painting. Packing too much detail into the veins, tendons, and structure will make a small drawing seem cluttered and overcrowded, whereas too little detail in a large drawing will make the hand seem flat and unfinished.
It’s all about balance, and it is an area again where your practicing will be crucial. Practicing drawing hands in all different types of art styles, forms, and sizes will help you hone your skill and help you make better decisions going forward on what level of detail will be right for you.
Don’t be afraid to try things out and make mistakes… It’s the best way to learn!
4. Break it Down
Once you know the vision of your piece and where you’re going with it, it’s time to put pen to paper.
The best way to tackle the challenging task of drawing hands is to break it down into parts and take things step by step.
Let’s make a list to help you out:
Choose your style: Choose your style, theme and form, and use it to direct your decisions for drawing the hands you need. Take into consideration level of detail here before you start.
Choose your subject: Pick your character or person whose hands you are drawing. Old? Young? Female? Male? Thin? Larger? All of these aspects influence how you will create their hands to fit in with the larger picture and keep it cohesive.
Choose an angle, pose and gesture: Before you begin, know which way your hand is facing and what pose or gesture it is making. Hands are dynamic, active, live body parts, and they need to be treated as such. Getting the gesture down before you start building a foundation drawing will help you as you go along in drawing structure and detail. Make sure you have some solid references for the angle and gesture you are drawing.
Wooden hand models can also be helpful for this step, as you can change their posture as you like. You can find these in all good art supplies stores.
Get your proportions right: Now that you are ready to start creating, the first pen to paper step is to lay out the proportions of the hand so you can create a base layer upon which the rest of the hand will build.
This base layer will include the general outline of the hand shape, with wrist, palm, and an outline of where the fingers will go.
Check all your lengths and widths are in-keeping with the realistic structure of the hand. Refer to the anatomy of the hand and your reference images/subjects.
Structure: After the base layer of the hand is down, start to add in the finer structure of the hand, always considering the previous steps including the subject type and the pose of the hand.
Add in the fingers including all joints and muscles, making sure it is all anatomically correct. Refer to bone structure and individual finger and thumb length at this stage.
No-one wants any Mickey Mouse hands with fingers all the same length in their Realism portrait!
Erase construction: Once everything is starting to take shape, erase the proportion and dimension construction lines you started with.
Add the detail: At this point you are ready to add in the necessary and relevant detail for your hands. Referring to the style and the specific subject, add in all necessary nails, veins, and any skin features.
At this stage you can also make any revisions or adjustments to your established structure, for example, if the hand needs further feminisation or any adjustment to the joints based on age.
By now you should have a nearly completed hand drawing, and there are only two steps left to consider before you count yourself as done:
5. Tonal Value, Colour and Lighting
There are more elements to consider when you are painting hands, or when using colour in your sketch or digital art.
These are tonal value, colour, and lighting.
To perfect a piece of art, it needs to live in the world that we do, and that is a world of light.
A piece needs the illusion of a discernible point of light, or light source. This gives it perspective, depth, value, and life.
This light is created through shadows and tonal value.
(Tonal value refers to the range of light and dark in a colour.)
So, the peachy colour of skin has a range of tones depending on how light or dark it appears in this specific scene, which depends on the positioning of a light source.
To finish your drawing or painting of hands, it is important that you establish the light source within the piece and then adjust your colours and shading accordingly.
Colour and tones are also important when establishing the race and ethnicity of the hands you are drawing. Make sure to study your references well to make sure the skin works and flows the way it should do for your subject.
The last step in our list might not seem too important but it is in fact one of the most important steps of all.
The edges of your drawing or painting are what determine their overall structure and angle, alongside relating the object to its surrounding environment or background.
They also direct the viewer’s attention wherever you want it, and so they determine whether the hands are the focal point of your drawing or not (given that you’re reading this detailed list, however, I imagine they will be).
Within the hands themselves, the edges are also important. An edge is any transition between two shapes of colour, and so the transition between finger to palm, between joints, and between hand and wrist is also crucial edges.
It is important to use the right edge for each instance. E.g., not too hard where it should be soft, and not too blurry where it should be defined.
In the unique case of the hand, you will want a myriad of edges to build its complex and nuanced structure.
Your decisions will also be informed by style, and so it is important that you have established the style of your drawing early on, as described in our handy list.
Apart from that, it is a personal choice and another example of the importance of practice.
Play about with your edges until you figure out what works for your piece, and don’t forget about the light!
With all these steps in-tact, you should be well on your way to completing your drawing or painting of hands.
Remember these main points for the next time you find yourself in a sticky sketching situation:
– Pick your style
– Understand the anatomy of the hands
– Remember the hand is a living thing and take gestures into account
– Pick a subject and have reference images
– Build it up in steps, starting with a base structure
– Build up detail after
– Establish lighting and use colour/shadows accordingly
– Take care of your edges
Good luck and remember to practice, practice, practice!