We joke a lot about people talking with their hands, but actually, hands do a lot of talking on their own. This was pointed out to me many years ago by Calling All Girls magazine, also known at various times as Compact, or Young Miss magazine. It began publication in the 1930’s and taught generations of pre-teen and teen girls how to become well-mannered and well-groomed young ladies. Its final issue appeared in 2004.
For some reason, one particular article has always stayed in my mind. “What Are Your Hands Saying About You?” the title asked. It’s true that hands do reveal a lot of information, and we very often do judge people by their hands.
The article, of course, went on to teach the importance of cleanliness, provided tips for care of the nails, and finished with instructions on doing a proper manicure. I suppose one reason that article stuck in my head was because I was a young pianist and that meant always keeping my fingernails trimmed. Each time I looked at my hands I thought, “Well, my hands are saying that I play the piano.”
Along with feet, hands are probably the most hated body part when it comes to drawing. I’ve read comments from art instructors who tell of students whose figure drawings always show people posed with their hands behind their backs. I can relate.
My first attempts at drawing hands were “turkey hands”. Remember how in grade school we traced our hands and turned them into turkeys for Thanksgiving?
You can barely see the sketch, I know. Even trying to darken it a bit with photo-editing didn’t change what this hand was saying about me. It’s clearly telling everyone that I was afraid of trying, afraid I would never learn to draw a hand — or anything else. I felt like I was cheating a bit by tracing my hand, so I barely touched the pencil to the paper.
Of course, I kept on learning more about drawing skills, and eventually I drew my hand again, this time from observation alone. I have no idea why I drew the right hand instead of the left, but as before, this hand has a lot to say. It says that I’m getting bolder and making heavier marks. It also says that I was starting to learn a little about shading. The fingers are misshapen and out of proportion a bit, but this hand said, “Hey, you’re making progress.”
I continued drawing hands. Some were better than others. I practiced drawing hands in various poses. This one caught my husband’s attention. “Did you draw that hand?” he asked.
Yes, I drew this hand with its woefully skinny little thumb and its rather fat index finger, but for some reason it impressed my husband. I’d been learning to draw for about six weeks, and this hand was pointing the way ahead, saying, “Keep going. You can do this.”
As much as possible though, I’ve avoided drawing hands. I understand the basic principles behind them, how to identify the individual shapes that make up the human hand — square, triangle, cylinders — and I’ve learned more about proportions. In studying anatomy, I’ve been drawing the bones of the hands, too. I think that’s helping me.
Still, drawing hands on figures has been hard. When I enrolled in the free Craftsy class on figure drawing, I definitely had problems getting the hands right.
The hand on his knee isn’t too awful, but I more or less gave up trying when it came to the hand holding that rod. It was too much to even think about. I sketched in a few lines to represent his fingers, but that was the best I could do.
Since then, I’ve been practicing my hands even more, drawing more different poses, more different gestures.
One thing about drawing hands — we always have one with us, so it’s the perfect subject for quick sketches.
Here’s one of my more recent hand drawings. What it says is that I’m getting a bit more comfortable with drawing hands, a bit more relaxed.
Another recent sketch says I’m getting more confident, more sure of myself when drawing hands.
But the true test, I knew, would be going back and giving that Craftsy fellow the hand a hero deserves. That was my project this morning, and I like what this hand has to say — not so much about the model but about me as an artist. It speaks of the value of persistence and proclaims that I have, indeed, come a long way since last summer.
The hands I’m drawing now are not perfect by any means, but they are hands that look human, hands that are more proportionately correct, hands that represent hard work and determination.
I like what these hands have to say about my journey.