Hands are almost universally believed to be the most difficult part of the human body to sketch. It’s no surprise there are countless techniques people use to deconstruct the hand. There’s a million ways to go about how to draw hands. I’m going to show you two.
I struggled with hands early on. But I was big into super heroes and ninja turtles, so it was something I needed to figure out.
I struggled with hands early on. But I was big into super heroes and ninja turtles, so it was something I needed to figure out. I couldn’t avoid it. I put my head down for ages to practice and eventually came up with my own “breakdown” that helped me see hands differently. It allowed me to draw hands relatively accurately from multiple angles in a range of poses and configurations. (Big shout out to Eastman and Laird for developing Turtles with only two fingers and a thumb. Very helpful.) Here are a couple of ways I approach drawing hands.
The realistic way using anatomy as reference
In this first example, I’ll walk through the step by step of a straightforward flat male hand, palm down. If you think about the human anatomy, everything starts with skeletal structure. This is where proficiency in drawing stick figures comes into play. A couple of straight lines to get things started….
The two horizontal lines I throw down are the main row of knuckles and the wrist joint.
From here, it’s a matter of placing the knuckles and drawing in the metacarpals. (I know that word because of a hand fracture from punching a wall back when I was a super-smart, level-headed high school student.)
Now it’s time to block out the knuckle and place the proximal phalanges and the thumb’s metacarpal. Tack on finger joints and keep going through the middle and distal phalanges. (And draw in fancy bone details if you want, even though it’s completely unnecessary.)
For the sake of this tutorial, I started playing around with musculature to help give a sense of volume. Hands have the tendency of looking very flat, especially in this position. Having an awareness of what’s going on beneath the skin is always helpful.
After that, it’s time for the tendons. For detailed, veiny hands, it’s nice to know where the tendons and veins go. (As I type this, I realize I forgot the veins in this example.) For the tendons, I used a custom brush made with a shape + a color stamp so I could quickly draw the outline and the light grey shade.
Now for the juicy part. Or “step one” for a lot of people who have utter confidence in drawing hands: sketching the outline of the hand. I’m using my go-to Tapered Paintbrush (from the Designer set) to lay down the outline. I’m using both the muscle tissue on the lower layers and my own hand as reference as I go. Starting with the thumb.
Once I have the outline locked in, I create a new layer under the line-art and block in the colour.
From here it’s a matter of using multiple layers and blending modes to get the hand coloured. Once the basic shading and highlights are added, I lock transparency of the line layer and use an airbrush with a similar skin tone to pull back the black. This is an attempt to shift the sketch from cartoony toward realism.
A couple additional layers were added with blending modes to help with overall depth and a soft glow layer to give the skin life. That’s one way to draw hands — using lots of reference materials to learn the anatomy of how these things work. This will help you draw very realistic hands.
The second way using basic forms
Another way to go about this is to break the hand down into its basic forms. I use a rectangular prism to represent the palm of the hand. I lay down a red dotted line to indicate the centre of the box. This line splits the middle finger and the ring finger, but it is much closer to the middle finger.
Next, I use five lines to block out the centre axes of the four fingers, plus one for the thumb. On top of those, I imagine three cocktail weenies are pierced onto each stick. (One larger weenie for the thumb’s metacarpal, as it transitions into the palm.)
At this point, depending on which side of the hand you’re looking at, you can add knuckles and metacarpals or creases on the palm of the hand.
Finally, adding the wrist/forearm will show the hand in some context. Taking this approach a step forward, I have developed a warped box form that I use to develop my hand sketches. It look something like this:
This is what I use to help determine position of hands in scenes, so that I can visualize the final result. I do this to avoid committing time to highly detailed hands that don’t fit the perspective or position relative to the rest of the arm.
Once I’m happy with this shape, I put my left hand into a similar angle (and probably look super weird while sitting at my desk). I try to use it as a reference while drawing with my right hand.
Here’s a quick look at how I use this form to build my hands.
And here are a couple more examples of the process in different positions.
Turns out (like everything else) drawing hands well is all about observation and lots of practice. When you have a hard time drawing hands, look at some Google Image search results for reference, or even take pictures of your own hands. Do whatever it takes to get better. But don’t give up. You will get better if you commit to it.