Hands are one of the most expressive parts of the human body, and if drawn correctly they can carry your artwork to places above and beyond. They have a lot of control over emotional expression and the feel of a piece in general, and I think that they are very important to understand if you are going to draw people. However, hands are unfortunately very difficult to draw and take a lot of time and patience to get right. They are not as simple as making a cube or a sphere, and require a lot of diligence to really understand. So today, I am going to show you how I studied and learned the anatomy of hands, and the steps that you can take to become a hand drawing master yourself! 😀
The first step in understanding how to draw hands is understanding the skeletal structure of them. To the right (or maybe below if you are on mobile) is an anatomical reference I drew up showcasing this structure.
Hands consist of many bones that all link together to create them. Wrists are made up of a bunch of tiny bones that are connected by tissue, and fingers actually extend all the way into the palm of the hand. Study the image closely, because the bone structure has an incredibly large impact on the shadowing and general shape of hands overall when we paint and draw them.
It is important to note that the forearm is made up of two bones. These two bones twist and rotate in respect to each other depending on what position the hand is in. Additionally, the thumb has one very large bone within the “meat” of it, and that bone appears very strongly in most positions — it juts out a bit.
As you can see from the drawing, fingers –which begin from the second bone and extend all the way to the end of the hand — are about half the length of the entire hand, the other half is consistent of the palm, the thumb, and the wrist.
Additionally, for those interested to go a bit deeper, all the main bones in the hand typically follow the pattern of a logarithmic spiral. Numberphile made a great video on this if you want more information.
The next step to understanding hands is studying the muscular structure of them. The muscular structure is what ties the bones together, creates movement, and also begins to build up the form. There are actually not that many muscles in the hand, but there are a ton of tendons and linkages. These appear quite often in various positions.
Most notably are the muscles that are around the base of the thumb, and the tendons that connect the fingers to the muscles in the arm. These tendons tend to appear very strongly in some hands, especially on the back side, and can be used to make exaggerated expressions by jutting them out more. I tried to showcase these tendons in the drawing by making them appear lighter than the other muscles. It is also very important to remember that on the other side of the hand (palm side up) the tendons show up very prominently in the wrist. They tend to jut out down the length of the wrist much like they do on the top of the hand.
The rest of the muscles in the hand are small and not very noticeable. They tend to hug the bones and don’t bulk out too much. This is because hands need to be very nimble, so it wouldn’t make sense for there to be much muscle in them. In most cases hands primarily consist of flesh and bone.
Drawing the Basic Shape
Now that we have explored the skeletal structure and muscular shape of the hand, we can move on to drawing the basic form. I like to break it down into simple geometric shapes that allow the hand to be easily replicated in a variety of poses.
These shapes include tubes, pentagons, trapezoids, and curves. For the main palm of the hand I use a pentagon almost exclusively. While hands are not actually angular, I feel the pentagon provides the best basic shape to really get the correct proportions down. From there, the wrist is a very elongated trapezoid, and the fingers extend out as cones from the tops of the pentagon. The fingers are almost always the same height as the pentagon, thus creating a 1:1 ratio. For the thumb, I do not have a specific trick. I generally draw a curve jutting out from a little above have way through the pentagon, and then draw another curve that turns into a straight line with a sharp corner, down to a little below the pentagon.
For the thumb, it is very important to understand the muscular and skeletal structure of the hand in order to draw it correctly. Because it is so complex, there are not very many easy ways to break it down into simple geometries.
Once you’ve got all that down, you can use all the information to begin drawing the hand in various poses. I mentioned before that the hand is one of the most expressive parts of the human body, and it really is! I recommend looking up a bunch of reference images, or even using your own hand, and practice as many poses as you can. The more you practice these the better you will get.
Hands can be used to create relaxation, tension, anger, sadness, distress, excitement, and pretty much any emotional state that you want to portray. It just takes a bit of creativity and understanding to pull off correctly.
It can be daunting to create poses with hands at first. However, using the techniques and the information I discussed above, coupled with lots of practice, you’ll surely be a master at it in not time.
For all of the images on the left side, I used the same techniques that I discussed above. They all started out with pentagons, cones, and other basic geometries.
Something very important to remember that I’ve seen a lot of people do incorrectly, is that bones DO NOT BEND. I’ve seen it happen time and time again, where someone makes a beautiful drawing of a person, and it’s almost perfect, but for some reason or another, they decided to bend the bones. Bones don’t bend, they don’t, just don’t do it. Don’t, or I’ll be upset 🙁
Painting the Hand in Volumes
Now that we have the basics of hands down, it is really important to finally explore how hands work in volume/mass drawing. This allows us to fully understand the shape and form of a hand. Combining all of our previous knowledge, we can now paint a full hand.
To start out, just create a simple dark silhouette of the hand. I recommend using the basic geometries we discussed before to create this.
Then, slowly start to add shadowing and lighting. Remember to follow the skeletal and muscular tendencies within the hand. This becomes increasingly important as we add more lighting and detail. You may start to see that the skeleton and muscles come out of the flesh and form the basis of our shadowing and lighting later on.
Keep adding lighting, and work the image as much as you can until you are satisfied with the results. Don’t be afraid to refer to reference images of muscles and skeletons until you really have it down.
All done! Using all of the techniques above coupled with a lot of practice, you should now be a hand master! You can play with the lighting as much as you want, or keep working the painting until it’s just right. Just don’t forget to keep the basic structures we discussed before in mind. All of these techniques are very applicable to any drawing style, even cartooning and abstraction, and I believe every artist should try to keep them, or a similar system, in mind when they are drawing hands.
Overall, hands are one of the most complex pieces of human anatomy to draw, and while many people struggle with learning them, I believe that with enough time and effort anyone can become a master at drawing them. I hope this article was helpful to you, and that you now have the tools and resources available to you to create your own amazing hands. Have a wonderful day, and thank you so much for reading!