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Hand Drawing Made Simple

Drawing the human hand takes almost as much knowledge, skill and experience as drawing the entire rest of the figure. However, when drawing the hand, you can adapt many of the same tools and techniques you’re already using to draw the rest of the figure. In this article, I will walk you through a few key ways to approach hand drawing so you can enhance your skillset and create more confident drawings.

Gesture drawing is a foundational figure drawing skill. Although you can approach gesture drawings in many ways, most strategies involve doing quick drawings (anywhere from 10 seconds to five minutes) that simplify the subject into as few strokes as possible, as well as favor dynamism over accuracy and large, general forms over small details.

When doing gesture drawings of the full figure, axis lines are used to capture the angle between a pair of landmarks on the body, most often of the hips or shoulders.

In the drawing below you’ll see how you can use a combination of dynamic directional marks and axis lines to capture the angle of the wrist as well as the line of the knuckles. This is an excellent way to quickly capture the most prominent forms and proportions of the hand. Remember, your gesture drawing will lay a light foundation upon which you’ll build the rest of your drawing, so start off as lightly as you can.

Whenever possible, begin your gesture drawing with the radius side of the wrist (the side with the thumb). In the drawing on the left, you’ll see a line the moves from the radial side of the wrist all the way up to to the tip of the pointer finger, ignoring the thumb. If the radial side of the wrist and the pointer finger aren’t easily visible, I usually switch to drawing the ulnar side of the wrist to the pinky finger. Pay particular attention to where this line changes direction.

You can use axis lines in two different ways while gesturing the hands. The first point is at the wrist. In the middle drawing (fig. 1), you’ll see that I’ve drawn a line from the ulna to the radius. With this angle in place I usually “square up” the wrist, communicating to the viewer the spatial orientation of the box of the wrist.

Next, just as you would use an axis line to capture the angle between pairs of skeletal landmarks of the body, you can draw a single line that captures the position of all four knuckles of the fingers. Ask yourself if the knuckle line appears closer to the tip of the pointer finger or closer to the wrist. I would recommend taking a proportional measurement and comparing the distances while placing the knuckle line.

Finally, in the drawing on the right (fig. 1), you’ll see that I’ve gestured each of the fingers and thumb. In this early gestural stage, instead of drawing both sides of the contour of each finger, I usually focus solely on the active side (the outside of the bend) rather than the passive side where the flesh collapses to accommodate the bend. Pay particular attention to where on the knuckle line each finger projects from. You’ll also want to consider the length of each finger in relationship to the rest of the hand, as well as to the other fingers and thumb.

This simple strategy will allow you to capture the most prominent directions, forms and relationships of the hand without getting prematurely mired in details. It’s important to remember: In drawing there are no silver bullets. Drawing the hand is a challenge, and you should expect to make several attempts and revisions. If done with care, this simple technique allows you to capture the basic forms of the hand in proper proportion. This will provide you with a solid foundation upon which you can build the rest of your drawing