Sketching Hands with Trois Crayons

How to draw hands with the aux trois crayons technique

How to draw hands with the aux trois crayons technique |  by The Daily Atelier

Drawing hands was one of the things I used to fear most when it came to drawing. And I am pretty sure I was not the only one! So I decided to tackle the issue with various projects involving the drawing of hands (and, believe me, you will not see the half of it in this blog!):

In today’s project, I am using as an inspiration a sketch by the British artist Sir Peter Lely, dated circa 1665. It is a very simple sketch in which very few lines and colours define the subject very well. Trois crayons is a beautiful technique: let’s try using it to draw hands!

Study of the Forearms and Hands of a Woman, Sir Peter Lely, c. 1665 Black chalk with touches of red, heightened with white, on buff paper. Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, Robert Lehman Collection

First, what is the aux trois crayons technique? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in the entry on ‘Chalk Drawing’:

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Peter Paul Rubens and other artists often combined black and white chalk, a technique known as aux deux crayons. … The devices employed in the 18th century to achieve this subtlety of effect included the use of coloured paper; combining red, black, and white chalk (a technique known as aux trois crayons); and manipulating the medium to create an effect of mass rather than of line.

Since I did not have a lot of time for this project – less than half an hour in fact – I decided to emulate the effect of the aux trois crayons technique with pencil.


Sir Peter Lely (Soest, Westphalia, Germany 1618–London 1680) was the most famous painter of mid-17th-century London. He was especially famous for his portraits.




I used three coloured pencils:

  • black

  • white

  • orange.

I would usually use a graphite pencil, but I noticed that graphite pencil on coloured paper was not easy to shoot with the camera above me, because it is too reflective. I decided to use a black coloured pencil so that you can see it better. I also think that the general effect is closer to the effect of the chalk in my inspiration sketch.




Step 1 – Sketching a hand with pencil

First, I sketched the hands with black pencil. For those who are not familiar with my current drawing technique, it is basically a three-step trial and error process:

  1. I look intently at a small part of the reference photo, as if it were some abstract shape

  2. I try to reproduce it on paper, looking back and forth a lot between the photo and the drawing. Do the shapes look the same? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.

  3. Then I look at my drawing again, not as geometrical shapes but as the thing it is meant to look like. Does it look like the hands of my model? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.

In the short video above, this runs from 00:00 to 02:08. It actually took me 15 minutes.


Step 2 – Adding details with black pencil

Secondly, I added details with the black pencil:

  • tiny details;

  • soft shadows;

  • in some places, a thicker line instead of a shadow.


In the short video above, this runs from 02:08 to 02:35. It actually took me 3 minutes.


Step 3 – Adding details with orange and white pencil

Last but not least, I added white and orange details:

  • white accents, mainly in the centre of the composition, to create an effect of mass rather than of line;

  • orange lines alongside the black lines in some places.

In the short video above, this is from 02:35 to 04:06. It actually took me 3 minutes.


And voilà!

And voilà! In less than half an hour, you can have a beautiful sketch of hands for your sketchbook.

You can also frame it to add it into your home décor. See, the cat seems to like it in my home!

I realise that I love using brown paper. I should use it more often. I should also try other aux trois crayons projects. We shall see!

I hope you have enjoyed this post. As always, I do not pretend to be a teacher, a seasoned artist or an expert in anything. I am just a very motivated learner who finds a deep joy in regular art practice. 



The framed drawing, and the cat! | Sketching Hands with Trois Crayons, by The Daily Atelier


If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other projects about hands. Enjoy!