Basic Guide to Drawing Hands

This is a step-by-step guide on how to draw hands. Obviously, this is not the only way to do it, but it is a good start. Parts of this node have been lifted from another drawing node I wrote. I will work up from sketching the basic shapes of the hands, to adding tone. When drawing people (any part of them) it is often helpful to have some kind of reference picture. In this case you can use your own hand as reference, or you can find a picture out of a magazine or off the internet to help you.

Things You Will Need (for just about any drawing):

  1. A variety of pencils (at least two or three ranging from light to dark, I would recommend a 4H, HB, and a 2B)
  2. Drawing paper (printer/copymachine paper will do if you are in a jam)
  3. An eraser (two favorites: a)kneadable erasers because they don't flake and leave a mess, and they can be molded into a tip to erase very small areas b)drafting erasers because they can get just about any mark off the paper)
  4. A black pen (this is not necessary if you are doing a pencil sketch). India ink is the best for outlining, but stains easily and takes some time to learn how to use (not recommended for beginners)

The Anatomy of A Hand

When drawing any part of the human body it is important to keep in mind the bone structure that makes up that part of the body. In a hand, there are 27 bones. Palms are made of up of five bones, the metacarpals, each of which extends to a finger. There are eight bones in your wrist (the carpal bones), but these bones are not so important for understanding how to draw hands. The 14 bones in your fingers are called the phalanges. Each finger has three joints, one where it meets the palm, and two in the finger (look at your own hands, you'll see). The thumb only has 2 joints.

It can be generally assumed that the pinky is the shortest of the four fingers, the middle finger is the longest, and the index and ring finger are about the same length (the ring finger is a little longer, but they can be drawn the same and it won't normally make much of a difference). The palm should be about the same length as the middle finger. Tapered fingers suggest a more feminine hand, while more boxy fingers suggest a masculine hand.

The First Rough Sketch

The first rough sketch of the hand should look roughly like a deformed oval (depending on how the hand is posed), and should give the impression of a hand in a mitten. The individual fingers are not so important at this point, we are making an outline of the whole form. (For this step you should be using your lightest pencil)

Defining the Fingers

(It is very helpful for beginners to have some sort of reference for the next three steps.) Now you can define the fingers. Pay close attention to the space between the fingers, how much the fingers bend at the joints, and their relative size and thickness to each other and to the palm of the hand. You can redefine the fingers multiple times, starting with basic ovals, and working up to a more defined shape. Most of the beginning pencil marks (if you remember to mark lightly!) will be either erased at the end, or blended in during shading. So don't worry about making multiple lines.

Cartoon fingers will often be drawn as three shapes, the index finger, the pinky, and the ring finger and middle finger as one shape.

The Outline

If you are trying to draw a realistic hand, you do not want a very dark outline (people don't have black lines around them), if you are drawing a cartoon these final lines will be gone over with your black pen (or whatever color you choose to outline with).

When outlining, pay attention to the contours of the hand. How the fingers curve around the knuckles and taper at their ends, the creases where the thumb meets the hand, how the palm of the hand is slightly wider than the wrist. You also may want to add some very light lines to show the creases in your hand if you are viewing the palm.


Shading your drawing will add depth and dimension. When shading, it is important to establish where your light source is. The position of the light source will determine which way the shadows are cast and where they are cast. If you only have one very strong light source the shadows will be dark and more defined. If you have multiple light sources, the shadows will be lighter and less defined (ex: a flashlight vs. a well lit room). Keep in mind that the fingers are rounded, and the palm has a concave shape. For very detailed shading, the veins and tendons often show up as lighter than the surrounding areas because they are raised. Shading is not just about creating dark areas, but also remember the highlights.

Helpful Nodes!

Some other nodes that deal with drawing people:

artman2003 says: "some art profs will tell you, though, that everything you learned as far as tips for drawing figures, is meaningless and the most important thing is to just observe your subject carefully and do your best to translate the image from your eye straight to your hands.:)" Which is good advice.

I welcome spelling and grammar corrections, and any information you think should be changed/included in this node.

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