How to draw hands

Hands are complicated pieces of anatomy, so they can be hard – even intimidating – to draw. But if you start to understand hands inside out, you can remove the guesswork. By having an understanding of all the dimensions, structures and joints, you have a blueprint that can allow you to make confident decisions about how you represent the hand. Read on for a deep dive into the structure of the hand beneath the skin so you can learn how to draw hands well.

01. The arm bones

How to draw hands: image of arm bones

The upper arm is one thick bone, while the lower arm is split into two bones

The lower arm is split into two bones. In our forearm, the radius can rotate around the ulna so our hands can flip over. The radius and ulna are three-quarters the length of the humerus. The upper arm contains the femur – a thick, strong bone. It’s shaped like a mallet, with a long cylindrical body and a set of big bumps (condyles) on the bottom. The femur is three cranial units long. 

02. The hand bones

How to draw hands: image of hand bones

Hands comprise three sections of bones

Our hands consist of three sections: a jumble of bones at the start, then a set of long bridge bones, and then the three-jointed digits. The hand’s three sections are organised from small to large for maximum dexterity, so you have a short wrist and long, elegant fingers. The length of your hand is equal to that of your face.

03. Thenar eminence

How to draw hands: muscles

Three teardrop-shaped muscles help control the hand

Most of the muscles that control your hand are located in your forearm (these are called extrinsic muscles). But there are some muscles on the hand itself that you should know about. Called intrinsic muscles, these create three squishy masses on the otherwise bony surface of the hand. All three are shaped like teardrops, so they're not hard to capture. The biggest one, which runs from your wrist to your thumb, creates a rolling hill when the thumb is out, and gives the thumb a pot belly when the thumb is moved towards the palm.

04. Hypothenar eminence 

How to draw hands: muscle

Another muscle mass wraps around the bone to the bottom of your pinky

The other palmar mass runs from the base of the hand to the pinky metacarpal. It actually wraps around the outside of the bone, which is why the pinky edge of your hand is kind of soft and squishy. Notice that his pinky mass is flatter than the thumb mass. 

05. First dorsal interosseous 

How to draw hands: sketch of muscles in the hand

Another muscle mass sits between your thumb and index finger

The third major muscle mass can be found on the back of your hand. It fills the space between your thumb metacarpal and your index finger metacarpal. It’s easy to see when you tuck your thumb up against your index finger since it creates a big, round egg form. When the thumb is out, it stretches thin. 

06. Bones on the back 

How to draw hands: a sketch of bones on the back of the hand

The back of the hand is a bony plane that doesn't move much

The dorsal side of your hand is bony, especially at the joints. You can represent this characteristic by drawing the dorsal contour with straight lines and corners. The back of the hand is a flat plane, and it doesn’t change much when the hand moves (only some tendons move). This contrast with the front of the hand, which changes a lot depending on the position of the pinky and thumb. 

07. Tendons in the hand

How to draw hands: a sketch showing tendons in the hand

Tendons run along the back of the hand

There are also tendons that run along the back of the hand. Each finger receives at least one. When drawing tendons, make sure you keep them subservient to the larger form of the hand. Don’t shade each cylindrical tendon with dark lines and sharp edges because this will create funny-looking, distracting chasms in the middle of the hand. A subtle indication here and there is all you need, unless you’re drawing a character that calls for pronounced tendons. 

08. Veins in the hand

How to draw hands: a drawing showing veins in the hands

Veins meander in the spaces between bones

The back of the hand also has veins. These veins run along the back of the hand, like tendons do, and meander in the spaces between bones where they’re safe. You should keep the difference between tendons and veins very clear: tendons are straight, and veins are curvy, like lazy rivers. Veins also have a darker, cooler local colour. 

09. Fat pads 

How to draw hands: fat pads

Fat pads surround the centre of the palm

Sitting on top of the muscles, fat pads surround the centre of your palm. They cover and soften the muscular masses of the palm. There are also fat pads along the palm-side of each finger. These fat pads are very malleable: you can squash, stretch and flatten them to exaggerate the action of the hand.

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Brynn Metheney specializes in creature design, fantasy illustration and visual development for film, games and publishing. She lives and works in Oakland, California.