How To Draw Hands
By Joe Catapano
For anyone who has struggled with drawing hands (which is pretty much everyone), we’ve made this tutorial for you. Even non-artists know how tremendous the task is. The goal with this tutorial is to simply guide you in getting a grasp of the hand's forms and help you learn how to draw them in practice. Ultimately, I want you to get excited by the challenge of drawing hands instead of be intimidated. And just like most challenges, it’ll be great fun.
Here’s the breakdown of how this tutorial will flow. First, we will run through the structure and anatomy of the hand. Then, I will walk you through a step-by-step process for actually drawing a hand. Lastly, I will discuss how comic artists stylize hands and my special way to study from the masters.
Let’s Get’s Going!
Our hands may seem simple but they are really complex organic machines. Not only do they have multiple functions but they can contort and bend for even more utility. For now, let’s keep it simple and look at it orthographically in the top view.
As you can see, on the right side of the graphic; the most basic thing to understand about the hand is that it can be divided in half at the knuckles. Secondly, shown clearly on the skeleton view, the fingers joints have progressively smaller sections. The sections follow the rule of thirds. This means that the middle section will be 2/3’s the length of the largest section. And similarly, the smallest will be 2/3’s the length of the middle section.
So let’s move on to how the hands breakdown into smaller parts. These are just groups that help show proportions and recognize how they fit together.
The fingers and thumb.These are pretty explanatory, right? Each has 3 joints.
In laymen's terms, this is the soft padding that lies on the top half of the palm.
This meaty section connects the palm and the thumb. This part can contort quite a bit depending on the position of the thumb.
This is what I call the blade of the hand. It wraps around the pinky side of the hand.Its padding completes the other side of the palm.
Some of the other features not labeled are the knuckles that, again, divide the hand in half and also the fingernails. Both of these are features you want to include if visible. Also, notice how you can see the webbing from the palm side when viewing the top view. Also, notice the absence of flesh in the palm. Sometimes exaggerating this aspect of the palm will really help your drawings.
Range of Motion
Not only can your fingers and thumb bend toward the palm, but they also have a lateral movement. Take a look at this graphic where we can see that all the appendages have a good amount of wiggle room. The thumb has a much more range of motion but always remember that the fingers are far from static laterally.
The hand can be pretty intimidating when you first approach a new drawing. Like all other types of drawings, goal number one of the artist is to break the objects down into digestible parts. The foundation of the hand is the base on which the fingers extend.
In this graphic, you can clearly see that this shape is pretty simple. It’s basically a warped cube with a division line. Drawing a volume like this will take some knowledge of perspective so maybe even draw in a ground plane grid as I have here. There are two things that I want to be very clear here and both explain why we use a shape like this to start with. (By the way, this shape is taken from Michael Hampton’s Figure Drawing book.)
First off, notice how this cube shape’s division line is off-center and raised slightly. In fact, this division aligns with the middle finger bones. It is raised because the hand is curved slightly. This enables us to pick things up much easier.
Secondly, notice how the bottom edge of the cube is wider than the top edge. This small factor is actually very useful to remember. That’s because the bottom of the palm and the top of the hand are not identical. The bottom edge extends farther than the knuckles. Take a minute again to notice how you can see the webbing of the palm when looking at your hand from the top view.
On this same side, you can see I’ve drawn some circles that represent the places where the fingers would branch out. These circles are not drawn in a straight line but in a curved grouping. If you draw a circle around them, it somewhat resembles peas in a pod, (or at least that’s what Alvin Lee would say). Great, let’s move on to the fingers themselves.
We have already pointed out the proportions of the fingers, but how do you construct them? Well, we will just keep things real simple. Draw some circles and connect the dots. A finger has three joints, two if you don’t count the knuckle. To simplify the fingers and thumb, just draw circles in the places where the joints are and connect them with lines.
Now, I want you to imagine that these lines are cylindrical. Pretend that they are bendy straws that connect these spheres. The second step is to draw in the cylinders in place of the lines. Once these are in place you have essentially drawn the positioning of the bones in the finger. Lastly, all you have to do is draw the fleshy padding and silhouette. But how do you know what types of line to use? Let’s see!
Hard or Soft Lines
This section is actually the simplest part of drawing the hand. Take a minute and look at your hand. Notice that there is much more padding on the palm side rather than on the topside. This means that the underside of the fingers will need a softer line than the top. In addition to that, pay attention to the drawing. Here I’ve exaggerated the shapes of the bones to show where the hard lines will appear. The more closed a hand is the harder these lines should appear. There are some subtleties with this but don’t fret. All of these intricacies will become second nature with some art mileage. And speaking of which let’s put some pencils to the page!
Step 1: As always, let’s draw a couple of gesture lines to start. Ideally, you will be also using reference so pay attention to how the wrist and hand connect to add these nice rhythm lines.
Step 2: Now, draw in some straight lines and box in a silhouette of the hand. Using straight lines will keep everything simple easily editable.
Step 3: Like in the construction breakdown, let’s add in the cube volume for the base which includes the “peas in the pod” positioning for the fingers. In many positions like this one, the cube will be obstructed in the reference. In this case, try to visualize these shapes as best as you can.
Step 4: Draw in the wrist as a cube-like volume. Here I actually used dotted lines for the sides that will be covered by the hand. All of these volumes will really help you visualize the hand as it’s being drawn.
Step 5: Ok, let’s do step 1 of the finger construction. Simply drawing in circles for the joints and then draw lines that connect the joints along each finger
Step 6: Great, it already starting to look like a hand! So here’s the tricky bit. With the help of your reference, find the right contours for each finger. Notice how these lines bulge out around the joints and get skinny in between. Also, remember to use hard lines around the joints and soft lines of the padding of the pinky.
Step 7: Nice! This is the last step of the construction. Let’s, add some lines for the palm and also use wedging shapes to make the pinky look like its curled up. Also, draw in the lines for the knuckles.
Step 8: To start this step, let’s lightly erase away these first seven construction steps so we can add the final lines. Once you have a light drawing, trace just the important contour lines from the construction. Use my example as a guide and try to keep these lines clean and deliberate.
Step 9: The last step is to add all the render detail. This is the coolest, most fun part but it’s nothing without the construction underneath. Here I use a classic comic “thick to thin” brush techniques for my crosshatching and shadow. Do your best to match my example.
Excellent! You drew a hand the right way. Drawing the construction lines will always lead to the most improvement in your comic art.
Simplifying for Comics
Some of the most attractive parts of comic art are the simplifications and stylizations of the forms. Faces and hands are the primary focus of your reader so it’s important to make these parts stand out with some of your own flair. Here I’ve included some examples of how artists add style to their hands.
Alvin Lee’s Doggy Bones - When I took Alvin Lees Comic Portfolio online course many years ago, this is one of the first things I noticed about his art. He uses an exaggerated, Asian infused style to his hand anatomy. And one key part of it is to use chunky doggy bone shapes for the top sides of the fingers. With a little practice, you can utilize this technique for yourself.
Greg Capullo’s Flat Fingers - Pay attention to how Greg really uses the planes of the fingers and exaggerates the thickness of each finger. The contours tend to have a nice squarish shape that is easy on the eyes. Maybe add a bit of this technique to your work.
Exclude the End Joint - Here I am using Jim Lee as an example but this technique is quite popular. Some positions of the hand just look more attractive if you don’t draw the last end joint on the fingers. Instead, use a nice flowing line that widens around the finger pad and tapers at the end.
Simplify the Silhouette - Again, this technique is a staple for almost all artists but some just do it better. Here I am referencing Katsuhiro Otomo. Notice how he aligns the contours of fingers together to create a more simple shape. These simple shapes are more easily read by the viewer and will certainly improve readability in comics.
How to Practice
I’ve already presented some really cool techniques and how to go about constructing hands, but now it’s time to practice. While there are many ways to “git gud” at comic art, here’s the best way to learn that I’ve discovered. It combines doing master studies, where you learn from great artists, and doing life drawing where you learn from real life. It’s really just setting yourself up with perfect reference so to learn both at the same time. Now that’s efficient!
Here’s the first example of the process.
Before you begin, you need to find a piece of comic art and that you want to emulate to some degree. After finding a good reference, now take a photo or find a photo online that matches the same pose and perspective of the comic art. The closer that they resemble each other, the better. Now we are ready to begin.
Step 1: Start with drawing a basic silhouette. You will always be drawing from the photo reference. The pose, lighting, and structure are all derived from this photo. Don’t draw from the comic art.
Step 2: Next, using the photo as reference, place in the joints and lines. You can also refine them into cylinder bendy straws too.
Step 3: Ok, now let’s do the brainy part. Here, compare the photo reference with your artist reference and find a few places where the artist used cool ways to represent the forms. The idea is to emulate the technique and not copy from the artist.
Step 4: Now, with this newly realized knowledge, apply some of these same techniques to your own drawing.
Great! Repeat this using a variety of references and artists. Don’t stick to the same artist because you don’t want to become too similar where you end up an art clone of that artist.
Here is another example using a different angle and style.
Step 1: Start with Silhouette.
Step 2: Add some construction and landmarks.
Step 3: Analyze the artist's approach to this particular pose.
Step 4: Finish the drawing with the artist’s techniques.
Before You Go
With all that work and analysis under your belt, you can feel confident about having a decent foundation. The mastery of drawing hands will take much more study and consistency but it is attainable without much fret. So keep drawing them consistently and using good references to ensure that you are learning the real-life forms.
Like portraits, hands are incredibly important for humans. When we see well-rendered and expressive hands we have an innate attraction to them; just like faces. In fact, the way I would calculate the appeal of a certain drawing would be to count how many exceptional heads and hands are in the image. It’s not a foolproof method but it’s at least a basis for you to judge your own work. So basically, if you nail drawing dynamic heads and hands, much of the appeal to your work will already be done.
For extra reference with drawing hands look to Michael Hampton, Andrew Loomis, and many of the other masters’ anatomy books.
Also, I’ve drawn many hands on video on my YouTube channel, found here: https://www.youtube.com/c/Joecatapano. These can be very helpful too. Make sure to join the HTDC community for help on your artistic journey with drawing comics and to network with the other members.
Thank you so much for reading. If you’d like to connect on social media, feel free to reach out on either of these: https://joecatapanoart.com or on IG, https://Instagram.com/Catapanoart. I also have a cyberpunk, moto racing themed comic in the works called STAR CIRCUIT. You can read a preview of that at https://starcircuitcomic.com.
Keep on drawing!
Sign Up Free and Get:
The Step-By-Step E-Book walking you through the making of "Cleineclypto"
Figure Drawing Foundations: Proportions Of The Heroic Figure E-Book
Access to subscriber exclusive special offers, promotions and giveaways