Observational drawing – dreaded hands

It’s well known that hands are difficult to draw. There’s so much going on in a hand that putting together a good representation is a challenge. But we can help ourselves by forgetting all about that…

When we draw anything, and a hand is no exception, we will do it best by simply looking at what is in front of us. Get rid of the cartoon memory we have – a palm, a thumb, four fingers, all nice and straight and neatly arranged. Look instead, carefully at the collection of dips and hollows, curves and angles that make up the hand before us. Break it down into small bits of information, then cross-refer that information to the whole: What is this angle here? How does it lie in relationship to the whole? Is this bit wider than that bit? How wide in comparison to the whole? These words are to explain the process, but the observation can be wordless: simply by learning to look, to compare, to observe, our eyes and our mind are doing that work. It may help you to deliberately ask yourself questions, but the main thing is to get a little lost in the looking.

Even with that, I grant you, it can be hard to draw a hand, because it is a complex and subtle thing. But the group did really well, I was very impressed with their observations. And I was very proud of Maisie and Sol, younger group members, for having a second go when the first didn’t work out so well. Trying again is one of the best ways to learn as you are responding to what you discovered, vitally, in your first attempt – it’s one of the reasons ‘mistakes’ belong in the plus column, and thus are never a waste. When you make art as a practice rather than as an attempt to achieve an end result, all of your work is positive.

Like anything else, you will be better able to draw hands if you practice. The more you do it, the more familiarity you will have and the more you will notice. Alongside that you will become familiar with the ways to represent the things you notice – which little details of light and shade will help really form the hand, which bits you can afford to leave out.

We also talked a little about using ink pen and wash with a wet brush. This is a technique that feels somewhere between drawing and painting. And it can be a good way to loosen up your drawing style.

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