You are currently viewing How to Draw Hands Using Basic Shapes

How to Draw Hands Using Basic Shapes

[themeone_drop_cap letter=”I” color=”accent-color1″ /]n addition to the face, a person’s hands are the most expressive part of the human anatomy. Movements, positions and gestures help us to communicate and express emotion.

A dissatisfying quick sketch experience in a cafe sent me on a few days of study recently to recapture the joy and technique of drawing hands. Hands are not something you can ignore or be lazy about, both due to their complex structure and expressive nature. There is as much personality in a person’s hands as there is in his or her face.

So being able to draw hands with some accuracy is important if we want to communicate well when drawing the human form and likenesses. The hand has a very complex structure, With all its joints, planes and landmarks, drawing them is as intimidating as drawing the entire body. It becomes easier if we look beyond all the details to the structure and basic shapes involved. The idea is to reduce complex elements to their simplest shapes. When you do this, you are able to draw even the most complex forms with ease.

I was drawing during lunch at a cafe, and picked out a gentleman across the room as my subject.  Since he was also eating lunch, he was moving a lot, and was partially hidden behind the person seated beside him. As I drew, I had to improvise pose and features a bit, including his hands. In drawing the hand, I realized I had lost sight of its structure. What I had drawn wasn’t communicating well. Because of that, I studied up on hands, relearning what I already knew and reinforcing it by drawing a number of hand studies.


Begin with simple shapes

Since the fingers are attached to and supported by the hand, begin by blocking in that basic shape. The shape of the palm is a square. The fingers extend from one side — each one anchored in its knuckle. Think of each knuckle as an oval, and the fingers as a set of cylinders or rectangles. The thumb extends from the opposite corner, aided by a triangular wedge of flesh. The fleshy base of the thumb is oval or even teardrop shaped, and the pad at the tip of the thumb is an oval.


Draw Through

The hand has volume. The palm and fingers all have front, side, top, bottom, and back planes. Obviously, we can’t see them all from the same point of view, but we need to understand that they exist and think “through the form” to depict the volume.


Overlap Forms to Depict Volume

Overlapped shapes, where one is in front or or on top of another, immediately creates a sense of depth. When one thing is behind another they cannot both be on the same visual plane. Therefore, look for places where forms overlap, where exterior contours continue into the interior of the form.


Capture the gesture

Look for directional lines that unite hand to wrist and fingers to palm. Either the thumb or the index finger will take the lead when the hand is in motion. Look for those dominant gestural lines — straights and curves — that run through the core of a form.



Your Turn: A Drawing Assignment

Use your non-drawing hand as a model, and draw 4-5 different poses. Begin by laying in simple shapes and volumes, then add the details of contour lines, and shadows.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.