How to get Better at Drawing Hands

On the short list of most common problems with student comics artwork is “mitten hands.” You know what I’m talking about: a drawn hand that’s just a thumb hooked to an amorphous, fingerless blob. The close cousin of the mitten hand is the “hidey-hand” in which the character’s hands are always in his/her pockets, behind the back, concealed by a mysterious mist, etc. The common origin of these two problems is of course this: hands are hard to draw. But, check it; there’s a simple solution:

Q: How do I get better at drawing hands?

A: Draw hands.

Fortunately you have a handy <groan> reference freely available here in the form of your own hands which are conveniently attached to your body. You’ll note that many of my comics characters are left-handed. This is because I’m right-handed and can draw with my right hand while looking at my left hand. Ideally, though, you’d want to practice by drawing someone else’s hands. Unless you’re in some situation where there’s a regular life drawing session you can attend you’ll probably need to work from pictures.

For my hand-drawing exercises, I use magazines–specifically, I use TIME magazine (which I subscribe to anyway). If you’re going to do this, it’s preferable to use news magazines rather than, for example, fashion magazines. News magazines will contain candid shots of real people’s hands in natural poses; fashion magazines feature posed hands that are often quite unnatural.  What I do is basically start at the beginning of the magazine and draw every hand I see that’s printed big enough for me to see and draw reasonably well. Then I just keep going until I’ve filled up a sketchbook page. That usually takes me around 45 minutes. Here are my three most recent hand exercise pages from my sketchbook:

You can use whatever drawing tools you find most comfortable. Personally, I feel that speed and volume of hands-drawn is far more important than laboring over each hand and trying to get them all perfect. (You can spot some real duds in the pages above, but that comes with the territory.) Accordingly, I use my favorite drawing pen, the Rotring Art Pen, and just start drawing directly in ink. As you can see, I sometimes–but not always–go in with Prismacolor marker afterwords and add some shading. Mitten hands, I CAST THEE OUT!!


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  1. Eric says:

    I have trouble drawing a right hand based on my left hand. Sometimes I wind up taking a photograph for reference because my brain can’t wrap itself around taking what I’m seeing and then mirroring it on the page.

  2. Gussio says:

    On occasion my job requires me to draw hands. The technique I use that I find the easiest is to sketch out the bones of the hands very lightly articulating the joints in the proper perspective. Then just draw the muscle/ flesh on top . It sounds difficult but I have saved hours by using this method. It sounds cumbersome but as in any drawing construction of forms is key.

  3. Ben says:

    @Gussio – I do something similar when I’m drawing hands from imagination rather than from a picture or live model. I don’t fully render bones, joints, etc., but use a rough rigging of “sticks and balls” then flesh out the forms based on that.

  4. Rich Johnson says:

    Very good points in post and comments – hands are difficult, but you feel so much better about it when you get them right.

    I find photographs invaluable ; it saves an awful lot of frustration and rubbing out if I just take five minutes with a self-timer on the camera to get the right pose to work from, and they can, as Eric says, be easily flipped for left/right.

    Gussio’s ‘skeletal’ approach works with whole bodies, too – sketching in a jointed, almost stick man form creates a good anchor to make the whole figure accurate.

  5. Nikita says:

    Thanks so much! This tutorial was super informative!! I’m so glad i found ur site now im so gonna use ur tips for evrything!
    My hands came out sooo much better after following ur tips!

  6. Ben says:

    @Nikita – Glad it’s been useful for you. As with most things drawing-related, it just takes lots of practice I think.

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