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Drawing Hands: Exercises and Tips to Improve Your Technique

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #4

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #4

Tips for Drawing Hands

I wanted to get better at drawing hands, so I challenged myself to draw one hand a day for 100 days, and here is the result of my empowering drawings. I've compiled what I learned throughout the process in the hopes that it will empower you too!

In This Article

  • Anyone Can Draw
  • Use Toned Paper
  • Identify Your Weakness
  • Knowledge Is Empowering
  • My Process
  • Construction of Hands

Anyone Can Draw

The idea that people cannot learn to draw is ludicrous. Just the idea that you aren’t talented enough to learn creates a mental block that will prevent you from learning. Talent is some aristocracy that you are born into, or if you are not, you are doomed to mediocrity. If that were so, all my children would be artists, or perhaps I would not. Just like learning the piano, languages, or mathematics, drawing can be taught and learned. It is time and practice that makes all the difference.

Drawing Helps Us See the World

Drawing is fundamental to the seeing process. It is an “active way of engaging reality, to observe, analyze, and record it with the possibility of reimagining it.” (Eviston) What we artists are doing is learning to see and then translating that into lines that allow the viewer to see as we do. We do more than cameras can do (merely capture the image). If done well, we artists capture the feeling, the soul of the person.

Source: Eviston, Brent. How Learning to Draw Had Taught Me to Live, Artists Network, 13 May 2016.

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #1

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #1

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #74

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #74

Use Toned Paper

Sometimes I used toned paper and pretend that the tone on the paper is the middle value. Then I have to build up the darker values and use a white charcoal pencil or white pastel pencil for the highlights. I like the toned paper because some of the work is already done with the middle value already there. Also, I like being able to add a highlight just where I want it. The deal is that you cannot and should not mix the white with the black. It doesn’t look right or good. The area where the white goes must first be free of any black smudges to be pure. This is done with a kneaded gum eraser.

Charcoal drawing of hands,  #24

Charcoal drawing of hands, #24

"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls."

— Pablo Picasso

Identify Your Weakness

When doing portraits, the underlying drawing is crucial. To accomplish good paintings, you must be able to draw well. And the key is practice.

Identify the area you feel you need the most help with and force yourself to practice that part. For me, it was the hands. My drawings of hands always look like blocks of wood; stiff, forced, and unnatural. That's why I challenged myself to draw 100 hands; one per day for 100 days. I used charcoal pencils so that they would be easy to photograph later and share on social media and other web pages. Regular pencil lead does not photograph well because of the shiny nature of the lead. Charcoal stays smooth and black and doesn’t have brilliance issues.

I got photos from various places, online, stock photo sites, family photos, and family events where I got my family to pose for me.

Charcoal drawing of my mom's hands,  #55

Charcoal drawing of my mom's hands, #55

"Before a child talks they sing. Before they write they draw. As soon as they stand they dance. Art is fundamental to human expression."

— Phylicia Rashad

Knowledge Is Empowering

I did all these hands on toned paper using black charcoal and white charcoal pencils. After the first 50 hands, I started to see that they were easier, took less time to draw, and I could see the details easier without straining, and I didn’t have to keep measuring the proportions each time. After the 75 mark, I started to get tired of the whole exercise and wanted it to end—but I was so determined to make it to 100 that I refused to quit. Some were sloppy, some were less than perfect, some were terrible, and some were terrific. In the end, I was so proud of my accomplishment that it felt good.

After posting my drawings on social media, some of my friends and family were impressed as well. One friend was inspired by my 100 hands and asked if we could draw 100 feet next (also a difficult body part to get accurately) during the following three months. So I was very happy to take her up on her offer, and we will be drawing 100 feet together for the next three months and posting them to compare.

I learned the names of the bones in the hand and the musculature, how the veins go near the surface, and the tendons that show up during tension and hand movement. This was not necessary but helpful, and I feel I am empowered by the knowledge.

Charcoal drawing of an artist's hand, #62

Charcoal drawing of an artist's hand, #62

My Process

My process goes like this: I draw the sketch, measure the proportions, and block in the shapes, all with vine charcoal. If I need to rub out an unwanted line, I can. When all the proportions and shapes are the way I want them, I go over them with an HB charcoal pencil, adding more details but still drawing lightly in case I want to make changes still.

Next, I pick up the 2B and commit to some of the shadow areas. Shadow shapes are very important. The shadows really define the subject almost as much as the positive or lit sides. If the shadow shapes are accurate, you are more likely to have an accurate rendering. Next, I pick up the 4B or 6B pencil and, drawing lightly at first, build up the layers of deep shadows. In the end, I pull up the light and highlights with the kneaded gum eraser.

When it is time to take a photo and share it on social media or elsewhere digitally, these charcoal drawings photograph perfectly, with lovely dark to light shapes and lines with perfect contrast. Carbon pencils don’t photograph well because the darkest marks are shiny and cause a glare on the paper when being photographed.

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #82

Charcoal drawing of a hand, #82

Construction of Hands

The knuckles are curved, not square. The fingers are not sausages at the end of a rectangle; they are more square-shaped with rounded corners. The backs of the fingers are longer than the palm side (ever noticed that before?). Halfway between the wrist and the longest finger usually falls at the web at the end of the fingers, not at the knuckles. They say the length of the hand from the wrist to the longest finger is the length of your face, but I either have a very long face or a very short hand. Measure yours and see.

The width of the wrist is roughly the same as the width of the second, third and fourth fingers combined. A woman’s fingertips are more rounded, whereas a man’s fingertips are more squared. I think that has something to do with the musculature. A child’s hands are pudgy, and the knuckles are usually not pronounced, but as you age, the knuckles become more and more visible until the elderly have very thin skin, and the veins, as well as tendons and knuckles, become very visible.

Charcoal drawing of hands, #94

Charcoal drawing of hands, #94

Want to Improve Your Draw Skills?

Do you have areas where you feel your drawing are less than perfect? Want to get better at lips or ears, or hands? Do what I did and schedule one drawing per day for 100 days. It doesn’t take that long for just one drawing, and you will be amazed at the skill and confidence that comes from the exercise. It is very galvanizing. Your drawings will never be the same.

Drawing Comments: please sign in my guestbook and make a comment.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 24, 2020:

Daniel McGraw,

I'm very happy you want to use my artwork on your album cover. I do own the copyright on all my artwork but will give you unlimited and exclusive use for a small fee, like $20. You will need to contact me at my email address to work up the particulars.



Daniel McGraw on August 14, 2020:


I saw one of your images online and I absolutely love it! I’m not big on drawing or anything but I am an musician. I’m producing my first single and i was actually wondering if i could use one of your images as my song cover? I didn’t know if you copyright your drawing or if it’s free to use. Please let me know. Thank you!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 12, 2016:


That's so nice. Maybe it would make a good coffee table book. I'll have to give it some thought. Thanks for commenting.



Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on August 12, 2016:

How beautiful and inspiring, Denise. Not only have you been given the gift of art but also the gift of teaching. I love the idea of putting your 100 hands into a printed work. Even non-artists like me would enjoy and appreciate it.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 12, 2016:

Thank you, favored1, I always appreciate your comments and encouragement. Thank you for checking it out.



Fay Favored from USA on August 12, 2016:

Beautiful work as usual Denise. I think of you often and admire how you continue to challenge yourself.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 29, 2016:


Yes, drawing is therapy. It somehow connects the eyes, brain and hands with the outside world and brings in into the inner thinking world of our own minds. There is a connection on a spiritual level than can't really be explained. Maybe that is why I love it so much. Thanks for commenting.



Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 29, 2016:

The drawings are fantastic and so real. I guess drawing is like therapy to the soul and brings out the best. Great illustrations.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 19, 2016:


Hands are quite difficult and because they are so expressive, they are considered second only to the face in importance in any portrait. So I really needed to work on my hand drawing skills and this challenge helped a lot. I am currently working on 100 days of feet. Although they aren't as difficult as hands they do have lots of bones and more flexibility than you would think. Thanks so much for commenting.



Dianna Mendez on June 19, 2016:

Oh my, your drawings are excellent. I love your illustration of your mother's hands. My sister says drawing hands are quite difficult for her and I will have to share your post with her.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 24, 2016:


Yes, confidence, that's exactly what you want when drawing. Isn't it interesting how much emotion and feeling we show with our hands? They are expressive and intricate and vital in a portrait or painting; almost as important as the facial expressions. Thanks for commenting. Have a lovely day.



Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 24, 2016:

Denise, I feel motivated and I want to try. The message for me is that more than drawing lines, we develop confidence and more.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 23, 2016:


I am so glad to be inspiration and encouragement for you. It is true. All you need is practice to excel at anything. I'd love to see how your drawings turn out. Give it a try and see if you don't love it. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 23, 2016:


You know to do that I would want to go back and correct some of the mistakes and smudges, the less than ideal renderings, etc. Some joints and knuckles were not properly measured and some of the shading was off. However a hundred pages of hands does sound like a great book. Thanks for commenting.



Lori Colbo from United States on May 23, 2016:

Th his is awesome. I love to draw but am not very good. I took a basic drawing class and did fair. But I like to do drawin journal. I have always wanted to draw hands. I felt very encouraged by your opening remarks that people can learn. Thank you. I will try your experiment.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on May 23, 2016:

I love the drawings of hands that you have included in this hub. Each one seems to tell its own story! It would be wonderful to see all of them compiled into a published work!