Drawing human anatomy is tricky. One of the most challenging parts of the body are the hands—especially when you’re sketching them in a realistic manner. As with all things in art, practice builds skills and confidence—which is just one reason why you should learn how to draw hands. They are undoubtedly a challenge, but when you can make them look so life-like that they’re popping off the page, it’s sure to boost your creative confidence.
One reason that the hands are difficult to draw is that they can easily look askew. (That’s why so many artists “hide” them by stuffing them into pockets!) There’s a fine line between too little and too much realism. By implying too many folds in the skin, you can dramatically (and unintentionally) age your subject. Or a misshapen finger can make the hand look like a claw. So when the initial sketching phase begins, it’s important that you make sure the proportions of the palm and fingers are correct.
Bone Structure of a Human Hand
One of the biggest issues we can face in hand drawing is that we don’t fully understand what’s underneath our skin. The hands are made of 27 bones; some are very tiny at the tip of your fingers while there are long bones that comprise the base of the digits. In addition to bone structure, there are four main parts of articulation: interphalangeal articulations (the hinge joints between the bones on your fingers); metacarpophalangeal joints (where your fingers meet the palm); intercarpal articulations (the point at which the palm and wrist meet); and the wrist.
You needn’t memorize all of the bones in the hand. Instead, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the general structure. That way, when you’re trying to imagine how someone’s hand might look holding their cell phone or pointing their finger, you’ll imagine how their bones and joints would move.
How to Draw a Hand Step by Step
Before you begin to put pencil to paper, make sure you have the proper supplies. You’ll want at least three pencils plus a white eraser. The pencils should be in three different types of graphite: an H-grade pencil, which will be the hardest graphite and produce the lightest lines; the industry-standard HB pencil that’s great for sketching, because it’s not too hard or too soft; and a B-grade pencil that features soft graphite to produce rich, dark lines.
Want to know our favorite pencils? Check out the best drawing pencils that professionals and beginners are sure to love.
When you’re learning to draw, it’s best to observe from real life. But often, when sketching parts of the body, this is difficult. In this case, a well-lit photograph is also a good source; just make sure it’s clear enough to see all of the details on the hand.
Step 1: Sketch the Basic Shapes of the Hand
It’s always easiest to go from general shapes to specific details. For the first step, study the large shapes that make up the hand and lightly sketch them on the page. The palm will probably look like a big circle while the fingers will appear as cylinders. Pay attention to proportions. For instance, how long is the middle finger compared to the palm of the hand?
Going beyond proportions, observe the angles of every finger and the thumb. (Plot the angles of the fingers using a thin, straight line on your page.) Additionally, determine what is the longest finger, and how much space there is between each of them.
In examining and recording what you see, you’re setting yourself up for a successful drawing. This part of the process is the most forgiving because it’s easy to erase and correct any mistakes. It won’t be that simple going forward!
Step 2: Refine Your Sketch
Once you’ve got the initial sketch complete, it’s time to refine your drawing. Using contour lines, pencil in the folds you see present in the fingers and joints. Remember, there are multiple points of articulation in the fingers, so that means that each digit will grow wider and taper at different spots. (Just like the bone structure shows!)
At this point, you can also start to block out the areas of shadow. In the source image, the thumb is heavily shaded as it is pressed towards the palm of the hand. On your sketch, indicate the shape of the shadows and highlights.
Step 3: Apply Shading to Your Hand
Here’s where the fun begins—you’re on the home stretch of the hand drawing! Working finger by finger, apply shadows to your drawing, taking note of the intensity of them. The thumb has a lot of deep shadows on it, but there are some areas of highlight—particularly the folds where it bends and the center. The bones underneath the fingers are also spots with highlights.
While shading, consider the age of your subject; you’ll want to be careful not to shade too intensely or add more wrinkles in the skin than necessary. They can age your subject (unless they are older) or make the hand look unnatural.
Step 4: Blend Your Shading
Shading will bring your drawing to life, but it can have an unintended consequence. It can cause your hand to look patchy and disjointed. Blending the tones (either with your finger or a blending stump) will get rid of pencil lines and make the skin appear smooth.
Step 5: Refine Any Shading and Celebrate: You’re Done!
Once you’ve blended your shading, go back over your hand. There will probably be some spots where you need to add some additional tones or accent with a few lines. Determine where these are, but it shouldn’t take long—these are the final touches. Then, celebrate your accomplishment. Your hand drawing is done!
Additional Resources for How to Draw Hands
There are many ways to draw a hand, and these artists will show you their approach.
Draw with Jazza
Rapid Fire Art
This provides additional information on the anatomy of the hand…
… and the details that bring it to life!
All images via Sara Barnes / My Modern Met unless otherwise noted.
New to Drawing? Make Sure You Know These Basic Techniques Before You Start
Challenge Yourself by Drawing in “Reverse” on Black Paper