Why I Spent An Hour Drawing Hands Tonight

A trip outside of my drawing comfort zone.

Image for post
Image for post
The first ten of a couple dozen hands. Picture by the author, Benya Clark.

Hands have a reputation among artists as being one of the most difficult parts of the body to draw.

I just started drawing this year, but I can already understand why hands are so maligned. As a beginner, I can’t draw anything great yet, but I can certainly draw some things better than others. When I draw people, the hands always seem to be a few degrees worse than the rest of the drawing.

I’ll confess that I’ve occasionally relied on the old trick of keeping the hands of my figures in their pockets and behind their backs. I’m well aware though, that as a wannabe artist, tricks like these are a terrible habit for me to be getting into.

In order to get better, I should be focusing on the areas I’m weakest — not avoiding them!

When I was in school and had an upcoming test, did I spend my time studying the material I knew or the material I didn’t? Obviously, I focused on the material I didn’t know yet. That’s where the improvement comes from. I wouldn’t have learned anything by drilling what I already had down. The same is true when it comes to drawing.

So, tonight I faced my fears head-on and spent an hour doing nothing but quick sketches of hands.

I tried to limit myself to two minutes per hand, but I continued with a few of them after my time was up. In the end I got through just under two-dozen. The picture at the top of this post has the first ten.

Did It Help?

Just by looking at the hands I drew, I don’t see massive improvement. I’m okay with that — one hour isn’t going to completely change the way I draw.

Where I did feel a big difference though is in my confidence. Before doing this exercise, I normally took anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to draw a single hand. And those hands weren’t any better (or even more detailed) than the ones I drew tonight.

After going through so many hands, I also have a much better sense of the general proportions of the hand, and the range of motion of the fingers.

Overall, drawing through so many hands in a relatively short time got me through the nervousness of drawing a tricky body part. I don’t expect to ever again have the urge to hide the hands in my drawings.

Will I repeat this exercise? I think I may, but not too often. I’m still such a beginner that in general my time is probably more productively spent focusing on big-picture topics (composition, form, etc.), rather than learning the anatomy of specific body parts.

For me, this was less about learning to draw a hand and more about learning to get comfortable drawing things that I’m bad at. To that end, the exercise definitely served its purpose.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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