Step aside Legs Day it's HANDS DAY
Hey class! Let's draw some hands! 

Between what I know about drawing hands and what I learned from other artists' tutorials (I happen to like this one a good bit), these were the most important bits, IMO. Let's go!

Basic Shapes

The basic shapes I see in a hand are a softened square (palm), a softened triangle (thumb meat), circles (knuckles) and lines (fingers). I've seen some artists who use nothing but circles, some who skip the lines and go straight to cylinders... maybe you see something different. Go with your gut, but if your gut isn't telling you anything, just try my method and see how it feels.  :)

This is how I lay out practically ALL hands  that I draw. I've included all of the knuckles in the green drawings above, but I generally just use lines for the fingers (like in the very first three examples) when I sketch out hands, to make sure the gesture feels appropriate before I flesh it out.

So, start out drawing a plain old open hand. Once you've got your softened square palm, look at your hand reference (use hand reference!!) and figure out where all the meat of that thumb is. It takes up a lot of the palm! Soft-triangle that thing.

From there, indicate where your first knuckles will fall. The most important element of drawing hands, in my opinion, is keeping in mind that ARCH. The knuckles arch, and the tips of the fingers arch the same way. The pointer finger and ring finger start at nearly the same place; the middle finger's knuckle is a smidge higher than those two; and the pinkie finger is WAY THE F DOWN, way farther than you probably think! Use reference, look at your own hand, and draw what you see, not what you think you see.

The fingers are about the same length as the palm. On some hands they're longer, some they're shorter (so I guess that "not quite" was unnecessary - they may be exactly the same after all! Depends on the hand). 

The next set of knuckles will be about halfway up the fingers, mirroring the arch of the first knuckles. The final set of knuckles are between that and the fingertips, again arching the same way. Your pinkie may end before it even reaches the other three fingers' last knuckles, so pay attention to that!

The thumb's first knuckle starts OUTSIDE of the palm, quite low. Unless someone's got MAD LONG thumbs, the final knuckle (it only has two visible knuckles) will land somewhere around the same level as the first pinkie knuckle. 

As you may recall from your days in middle school fingering the letter L on your forehead, your thumb rotates from the base of the palm and can move perpendicular to the rest of your fingers (or, if you're a weirdo like me, ANYWHERE).

When you're drawing a hand from the side, keep in mind that the palm is thicker near the bottom (wrist) than the top, although there's still a good meaty section up  near the first knuckles on the inside. 

Finger Wang

This will probably be old hat to many of you, BUT! ...

Your pointer finger generally leads the rest of the fingers, but it sometimes enjoys venturing out on its own and leaving the gang behind a bit. You'll often see it at the bar, somewhat near the middle, ring and pinkie fingers, but still far enough away to look like, hey, maybe it came in alone.

Your middle and ring fingers often stick together. In fact, if you try to bend your middle or ring fingers, it may be difficult to keep the other one straight.

And if you try to bend your pinkie finger, forget it, that ring finger is coming along for the ride. The pinkie generally tries to follow the middle and ring fingers, but often gets left behind like a little kid who was sort of an oops-baby and was born several years after all of its siblings.

The thumb has already moved out of the house and lives in its own apartment with a cat and a futon and a part-time job.


Here are some don'ts that I highly recommend not doing!!

  • DON'T make your fingers taper too much near the end; they actually stay mostly the same width, aside from the knuckles.
  • DON'T make them too bulbous at the ends, or make the fingernails too distracting. Consider leaving the nails out entirely - they're a detail that should only be included if they're important to the story.
  • DON'T make each knuckle stick out unless you're trying to make the person's hand look arthritic... in which case, do!
  • DON'T add more knuckles, there are plenty of knuckles to go around.
  • DON'T forget the thumb's knuckles!
  • DON'T make the wrist too thick! Those wrist bones are actually pretty subtle, even on burly dudes.
  • DON'T forget the arches!! DON'T FORGET THE ARCHES >:|
  • DON'T forget the arches, did I say that? DON'T FORGET THE ARCHES even if the hand is closed in a fist! The knuckles don't form a straight line in a fist, they still ARCH.
  • DON'T make your fingers straight or stiff - they curve INWARD, so let them curl a bit. Even if the fingers are pulled backward, the knuckles only enable the fingers to curl forward. If yours are curled backward go to the hospital.
  • DON'T forget the finger lengths! I see a lot of people draw fanned-out fingers and suddenly the pinkie finger is half the size it should be. Keep those fingers the right length!
  • DON'T put too much space between the fingers, too much webbing, or too deep of a crevice. And most of all...
  • DON'T be lazy - use your other hand for reference! And if you don't have another hand, first of all, good for you for taking a drawing class anyway, and second of all, apparently you can still type so USE GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH.

Hand Exercise

Here's what I had my college students do in class!

Open this folder:

The first image should be hand exercise example.jpg, which is the same image at the top of this post. Okay, I drew those in a hurry before class using my laptop's trackpad, so they're terrible, but you get the idea. Really simple basic shapes.

From there, you've got a bunch of photos of hands. Copyright Gods forgive me, for I nabbed them from an image search, I confess.

Time yourself. Give yourself a minute for one or two of these hands, then do them in 30 seconds or fewer. Draw the hands using JUST the basic shapes. If you'd like to include all of the knuckles, go for it. Or just use lines if you feel more comfortable doing that.

Once you've done that, move on to drawing in the full hand after laying it out with the same sketching method. Pay attention to the way the skin shifts and bunches up to compensate for the hands' movements. Recall what you learned about economy of line, and only include the lines that are important to explain what's going on in the hand. I gave my students about five minutes per hand on this one.


Draw five fleshed-out hands! Use reference (PHOTOS, not drawings or paintings). Finish them in ink, unless you feel more confident using another medium; just make sure that we can tell you know HOW to draw hands, and that you've used your knowledge of how the fingers and knuckles are laid out. Here's a list of what kinds of hands I'm looking for:

  • One hand should be open, and we should see the BACK of it. (By "open" I mean that the fingers can be doing anything as long as they're not bent into a fist; use your judgment, and for that matter, your creativity.)
  • One hand should be open, and we should see the FRONT of it (the palm).
  • One hand should be holding something (make sure whatever it's holding doesn't obstruct our view of the hand too much!).
  • One hand should be creating one of the letters in American Sign Language (google it!).
  • And the last hand can be doing whatever you want it to be doing, so long as we can see 95% of it.

Get crackin', hand drawers!

PS! Before I forget! I've decided to move the Cowgirl Laura project to a later date. So you'll see more on that project later on in the semester. :)

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