How to draw hands

Hands are pretty complicated, and can be hard to draw – intimidating, even. But when you understand hands from the inside-out, you don’t have to guess any more. You have a blueprint, you know all the dimensions, you understand the structures and joints, and you can make confident decisions about how you’re representing the hand. Read on for an in-depth look at the structures under the skin, so you can learn how to draw hands with confidence.

01. Arm bones

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

Hands are built from three sections of bones

Hands are built from three sections of bones

Our hands are built from the 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 hand’s length is equal to your face.

03. Thenar eminence

Three teardrop-shaped muscles help control the hand

Three teardrop-shaped muscles help control the hand

Most of the muscles that control your hand are located in your forearm (called extrinsic muscles). But there are some on the hand that you should know about (called intrinsic muscles). They create three squishy masses on the otherwise bony surface. All three of them are teardrop shaped, so this isn’t too hard! The biggest one that goes from your wrist to your thumb. It creates a rolling hill when the thumb is out, and gives the thumb a pot belly when the thumb is towards the palm.

04. Hypothenar eminence 

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

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

The other palmar mass goes 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 squishy and soft. This pinky mass is flatter than the thumb mass. 

05. First dorsal interosseous 

Another muscle mass sits between your thumb and index finger

Another muscle mass sits between your thumb and index finger

The third major muscle mass is on the back of your hand. It fills in 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 and it creates a big, round egg form. When the thumb is out, it becomes stretched thin. 

06. Bones on the back 

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

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 doesn’t change much when the hand moves (just some tendons), unlike the front of the hand, which changes a lot depending on the position of the pinky and thumb. 

07. Tendons 

Tendons run along the back of 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, keep them subservient to the larger form of the hand. Don’t shade each cylindrical tendon with dark lines and sharp edges – this will just create funny-looking, distracting chasms in the middle of your hand. A subtle indication here and there is all you need, unless you’re drawing a character that calls for pronounced tendons. 

08. Veins

Veins meander between bones

Veins meander 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. Keep the difference between tendons and veins really clear: tendons are straight, and veins are curvy – much like lazy rivers. Veins also have a darker, cooler local colour. 

09. Fat pads 

Fat pads surround the centre of the palm

Fat pads surround the centre of the palm

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

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