Understanding how to draw hands is challenging. Even experienced artists have had to study this skill closely to master it. The human hand is a complex part of our anatomy, and one of the most crucial body parts in the whole of the animal kingdom – so it's a vital part of the body to learn to draw.
On this page, Brynn Metheney shares his simple step-by-step guide to drawing hands, including how to break down the forms of the hand into simple shapes like cylinders and spheres. Click through to page two for Stan Prokopenko's in-depth look at the anatomy of the hand – once you understand the underlying structure, you can learn how to draw hands accurately and confidently.
01. What's inside?
The hand is comprised of bone, tendon, and lots of connective tissue as well as muscle and fat. It’s a very strong and flexible appendage. It can be helpful to sketch out skeletal studies of human anatomy in general but, when learning how to draw hands, a lot of the form we are used to is lost at the skeletal view.
If we then overlay a surface view over top of the skeletal view, we can begin to appreciate where the skeleton sits inside our own hands. Click through to page two for an in-depth look at the anatomy of the hand, so you can start to understand how the mechanism works.
02. Break it into shapes
You can use my image as a base to draw this step over (hit the icon in the top right to enlarge it). From our skeletal view, you can lay in broad shapes to build the hand. Use a flattened wedge like shape for the palm; rectangles for the digits and a teardrop shape for the thumb.
When figuring how to draw hands, simplifying the forms like this will help take away the pressure of rendering out a perfect hand from the beginning. From here, you can begin to fill out the shapes into 3D forms to help us build the hand and pose it in perspective.
03. Build it in 3D and then observe
Now you can begin to turn the forms to make the hand feel more 3D! Our flattened wedge for the palm gains another dimension, the fingers become cylinders and the joints become spheres. We're going to call this view the planar view.
By drawing through our forms, we can also show volume as I've done here with the palm pads. This is also a good time to work on proportion and placement. Notice how the palm is about as long as the middle finger (the green lines indicate this). Remember that the fingers are never the same length or perfectly straight. What sells this is imperfection.
Note the blue lines indicating the angle at which the fingers end. We can also see that the middle finger stems straight from the middle of the hand. Paying attention to these proportions will help you ensure your hands look natural and accurate.
04. Pose the shapes
By breaking the hand into simpler forms and using contour to explore volumes, you can start to arrange the hand in a variety of poses without worrying too much about detail. Once you've drawn out the 3D version of your first hand, you can try out some poses of your own.
I've used my own hands as reference here, but used the planar view to help keep it simple. This way I can quickly draw out poses of hands without worrying too much about detail. In creating this tutorial, I found myself looking at my own two hands quite a bit. However, if you need to use your own hands to sketch, you might need to ask a friend or family member to help out.
Note the small diagram of the cylinder and sphere. Fingers can be unruly at times – it's best to keep them very simple and utilise 3D shapes to represent them at this stage.
05. Start with planes
Now that you've had some fun with posing, pick a pose that you like and, using your own hand as reference, draw out your hand in the planar view. I've drawn in little cones that help indicate which way the cylinders are traveling. It can be helpful to do this so you're able to keep a grasp on where the curves of the cylinders need to bend.
Again, I'm mostly concerned with keeping it simple at this stage and I’m not worried about detail. I want to capture proportion, perspective and volume. It's important to work lightly at this stage if you're using pencil.
06. Begin to find gesture and forms
Since I'm working digitally here, I will knock back the opacity of the planar drawing to begin to find the forms I see on my own hand. If you're working traditionally, be sure to start out light and gradually build up volume and forms with heavier lead only toward the end of your study.
From here, I can use the planar view as a guide to help me lay the forms of my hand as I look at it. I'm careful to take note of how the forms curve around each other and I'm also mindful of the silhouette of my hand. You can see where I've deviated from the pink line and instead used it as a guide to find where the forms turn in space.
07. Begin to lay in detail
Now you can push back the first two layers, or switch to a heavier lead to begin to lay in those details. You can see how helpful the construction of both the planar view drawing and the gesture drawing really help me place details like wrinkles and creases in the hand. I can also begin to place fingernails and render out the side of the palm.
Next page: An in-depth look at the structure of hands