Studying Hands with Pencil
How to sketch hands.
I once confided to you that I was very scared of drawing hands. After completing various projects dedicated to them, I can now tell you that it's getting better!
I found that asking for help from artists of the past helped me learn how to draw hands. Drawing hands after drawings is much easier than drawing them after life models: all the analytic work has already been done, and the drawing teaches you all you need to know to get started.
I have drawn a portrait after the Dutch artist Thérèse Schwartze, a painter I discovered recently. This is how I first learned about her. I was looking for sketches of hands on the Rijksmuseum website, and I found these. Aren't they beautiful? I thought this sheet of studies of hands was both wonderful and probably a very good way for me to learn more about how to draw hands.
So I decided I would try to sketch them myself, observing intently how she was drawing hands. I can't tell you exactly how much time it took me: the drawing was on my desk and I kept coming back to it during the course of the day. It probably amounted to one or two hours in total.
Thérèse Schwartze (1861–1918) was a Dutch portrait painter. She trained with her father and then travelled around the world. There were various influences on her work and she was partly self-taught. Back in the Netherlands, she became famous enough to be asked to draw portraits of Amsterdam’s elite, which she did using mainly pastels and oil paint.
For this drawing, you don’t need a lot, just:
a pencil (I used 2B)
white paper (I used 180 g or 83 lb grained A3 paper – the less grainy side).
Step 1 – Sketching the general shape of the hands
This first step should not be the most difficult. But guess what? This time, it was! I had the hardest time just laying down the composition, sketching the general shape of where the different hands or pairs of hands were supposed to be drawn. I guess it is because it was not easy to construct all these hands as a single composition. It is easier to find the right proportions for each of them without looking at the others. But creating a common composition, or, rather, trying to recreate Thérèse Schwartze’s composition was a lot trickier than I had expected. You will easily deduce that from the video: I spent a fair amount of time sketching, erasing, and sketching again.
In the short video above, this runs from 0:00 to 01:55.
Step 2 – Erasing and adding details
In this step, I erased the previous sketch. Don't be shocked! As I have shown you before, I often do this after the first sketch. I erase, but lightly, so as to be able to distinguish the previous shapes and lines, and then I redraw with more details (and usually a sharper pencil). I did this for each hand or pair of hands.
I went back to my usual method, which is very much a trial and error process, in three steps. First, I look intently at a small part of the reference picture, as if it were some abstract shape. 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.
Then I look at my drawing again, not as geometrical shapes but as what it is supposed to be – hands in this case. Does it look like hands? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.
In the short video above, this runs from 1:55 to 02:38.
Step 3 – Refining and shading
The last step is very much an iteration of the second step. I went back to each hand and added more details and shading.
In the short video above, this runs from 02:38 to 04:06.
I can now officially admit that after years when I dreaded drawing hands (and sometimes doing anything to avoid it), I really enjoyed drawing this project. The list of projects about hands is expanding, so if you too want to tame your fear of drawing hands, here are the other projects, using various techniques:
Sketching hands with trois crayons (pencil)
Painting a hand with gouache (gouache)
If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other hands. Enjoy!