People have a hard time with hands when they start drawing, because hands are very complex. There are a lot of techniques and instruction on how to draw hands – here’s mine– but actually just doing it is the biggest part of learning.
These paintings are from my first year at MCAD, winter 1990, I think.
From early 1990, found in a sketchbook.
1990, a class assignment – probably to draw hands using volume created by light and dark.
1990. Always gotta draw all kinds of hand positions, not just flat.
1990. A strong light source helps to understand the structures.
I was searching for the image above for this post, knowing I had scanned and edited it, knowing it had “fist” in the filename, and let me tell you, well, most of the drawings with “fist” in the filename in my archives are quite different. My comic teachers often said the superhero fist resembles a Dixie cup from many angles. A reference which probably dates me!
I tell you this: if you are struggling with drawing hands, read all the books, watch all the Youtube videos, but most of all, draw your hands. It’s free, and they’re there.
And feet. Gotta draw feet nearly as much as hands.
These are from the late 80s I think, and they’re definitely my chunky little feet. I’m sure more will turn up as I archive. While feet have less moving parts than hands, they are still complexly structured. Because they receive so much impact, they change shape dramatically as a person moves. So you need to understand the bones and the tissue volumes underneath.
In 2016 I made some studies of the basic volumes and shapes that make up the feet for my drawing students.
None of these drawings had ever been photographed; until now, no record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.
I am so grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.
You know they do. If human hands were like kitty hands, they’d be easy to draw.
But instead, human hands have a renegade element, a fly in the ointment, a crazy uncle who makes everything complicated. You know why thumbs ruin everything?
Because they operate on an entirely different plane of existence than fingers.
Or at least, they move through a different spatial plane, at a right angle to your fingers.
Let’s look at the basic structure of the hand, then examine this whole spatial plane problem. First, of all, hands (like feet) are wedges. They are not flat.
Why are hands wedges? Partly because the heel of your hand is a thick, muscular body part, with significant bone mass. And partly, because of thumbs.
Your thumb lives downstairs from your hand and fingers, maybe in the janitor’s apartment.
And it’s not just living in a different apartment. Because of opposability, the thumb is anatomically different from the fingers in important ways.
(As you can see in this helpful public domain image I got from wikipedia, verified by my own personal knowledge, thanks to Minerva Durham my incredible anatomy teacher at Parsons!)
The thumb is missing one phalange, the intermediate phalange.
It might be more helpful, however, to think of the thumb as attaching to your hand in a different place than the fingers.
Your thumb and fingers have the same amount of knuckles, three, but the third knuckle of your thumb attaches to the base or heel of your hand instead of at the top of the palm!
It’s like we’re creepy mutants or something.
Your fingers splay out from the top of your palm in a group; your thumb projects from the bottom, on a much larger axis of rotation.
Your thumb rotates from the crazy midden heap of your carpal bones, where things are much more dynamic than at the top of your palm.
So your fingers travel in a pack, while your thumb has its own adventures. A good way to understand this is to draw broad arrows on your fingernails, as shown in the drawings, and observe the difference in the way your thumb points for a few days.
A great way to understand the limited rotational arc of the fingers is to visualise a pack of french fries.
Seeing the hand as a wedge is also important for understanding how the hand attaches to the wrist.
Basically you have a wedge of meat and bone, your hand, pivoting on the junk pile of carpal bones, which are cupped into the ends of your radius and ulna. Your hand doesn’t join your wrist- it pivots on a ball of bones which attaches to your wrist. BJD dolls provide a fabulous reference for this. If you want to draw some awesome wrists, get yourself a BJD doll arm and practise drawing it from every possible angle.
Of course, the best way to draw great hands is to draw bad hands for as long as it takes.
At Parsons I was notorious for choosing the cruelest, harshest, most obsessive teachers and doing whatever awful things they demanded with glee. One of my favorite teachers insisted we spend two entire weeks drawing nothing but hands, and then two weeks doing nothing but feet. I was thrilled, and everyone else was miserable.
I drew hands at home at night, on the subway; I studied my hands obsessively and read my books on how to draw hands for hours.
I wanted the confidence and power of being able to draw hands as accurately as I drew figures, so that I would never be limited in the poses I could draw.
It was really, really hard, and it was worth it. I can’t recommend it enough, taking the time to learn to draw hands really well.
And once you can draw hands, feet are no big deal!