How to Draw Hands

Hands are considered by many artists to be one of the most difficult things to draw, with various techniques employed to hide them. When mastered they can add another level of dynamism to a portrait or figurative drawing; as compositionally important as the face or position on the canvas. They are positively steeped with symbolism and create so many more options for the painter. So how to go about it?

In this tutorial I will divulge the not-so-secret-secret to drawing hands, with step by step examples and sample images to draw from.

Step 1: The Approach.

Where most people fall down is the starting line, even before the first hurdle. Because hands are seen as these unassailably difficult things, they are approached that way. You could be forgiven for thinking to yourself: "What do hands look like?" and then making a careful, detailed start that still doesn't look right. The key is in the mindset. Hands should be approached in the same way as anything else, and this is pure observation.

Look at the hand in question, at it's shapes, the relationship of the fingers and how it falls compared to the rest of the body. Often the perspective will look rather odd in real life, and you shouldn't try to correct this in a drawing as that is what will make it look unrealistic. Instead, try and figure out what's going on to cause the odd shapes; trust your eyes not your mind.

Step 2: Shapes and Observation

Now that we have the mentality sorted the first step is marking how your hand falls with simple "stick-man-like" lines, before building the hand out of shapes. The articulation of the fingers and the amount of flexibility available to them does make them more complex than some body parts, so simplifying them into robotic looking shapes can greatly ease the process.

At this point, you should step back and check a few things.

Is your hand in proportion to the rest of the body?

It's very easy to make them too small or large and this is even trickier with perspective thrown into the mix. Hands should be roughly the same length as the face, this is often helpful as a reference.

Is your hand in the correct place on the body?

You don't want to end up with a beautifully drafted hand that you're extremely proud of only to find it should be 2cm further to the left.

Step 3: Defining the fingers

This is a creative decision that can be taken either way. In some cases, hands have so much more detail than the rest of the body that it might look odd if you add too much of it in. So even just hinting at the fingers is enough. In others, the detail might be what is desired, in which case looking closely and trusting your eye is the way forward. Drawing in the shadows will really make it look 3D.

Remember that fingers are not sausages but articulated, individual bones.

Step 4: Colour.

If you're adding colour, it should be noted that a lot of the skin tone of the face should similarly match the hands. Finger tips and knuckles are often slightly pinker than the main skin (the same goes for noses, cheeks, eyes and lips). Also, in the palm of the hand there are lots of blues from veins. Have a look at yours and you may be surprised just how many colours there are in the skin.


In this example, the hand is foreshortened and forming a strange shape. This can be used to your advantage as dramatic shapes are easier to notice than subtle ones. Again you look at the shapes, form a skeletal drawing of faint guide lines, then correct it accordingly in a darker more confident pencil. Don't try to fit in parts of the hand that you can't see.

Drawing hands on their own (not in relation to the body):

If you're drawing a hand as the prime focus of the drawing, then the method is much the same. Instead of looking at the proportions of it compared to the rest of the body, you should look between the fingers and the thumb, the knuckles, the palm and the wrist. It is very easy to make the wrist too thin in a close up hand drawing.

If you're drawing from a photograph then you can employ various measuring techniques to get the proportions right, such as gridding or traditional thumb and pencil measuring but those are topics for another time! (these don't work so well if you're drawing your own hand from life, still attached to your arm, but can be used effectively in life drawing too).

Don't be too hard on yourself.

An occupational hazard of being an artist is perfectionism. If you're frustrated by a finger just a little bit out, a hand that should be a smidge closer to the thigh, try stepping away for a few hours or days if possible -even weeks or months and you might find you like it more. You're the only person who will see your drawing precisely compared with it's real counterpart. To everyone else, they won't be any the wiser and after a while, the small things won't seem to stand out so much.

Alternatively you might look back and discover you've improved since then, and notice things you didn't before. This should be encouraging rather than an opportunity to criticise yourself, Move forwards with the knowledge of your improvement.

Worst Case Scenario

A lot of people say you should never throw away your art and this is true to an extent. It is fascinating to look back and see your progress and, as above, you might like something more at a later date. However, if you really hate a drawing and it's preventing you from trying another or impacting on your confidence, go ahead and enjoy tearing it into small pieces. It's cathartic and leaves you free to start afresh.

Ms Emma Leyfield currently trading as 'Valerian'. The copyright to all images and graphics used within this website are owned by Valerian, or Valerian has sought the appropriate permissions to use them.

Trademark number: UK00003464494

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