View Full Version : Portrait Classroom: Hands

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 07:23 PM
Hand Demonstration


My name is Leslie Pease and welcome to my demonstration on hands! I hope this demonstration is helpful and more importantly, is clear! Doing the best I can, I conceed I am not a writer. I am going to try to make this as brief as possible, but hands are complex to paint; especially when they are the dominant subject. BUT certainly hands are not impossible and in this demonstration, you will see how I attempt to paint them.

There are a few things to keep in mind, before painting hands: Are the hands the subject of the piece? Are the hands as important as the subject of the painting? (Subject: something [a person or object or scene] selected by an writer, journalist, artist, photographer, etc. for representation.) The way the hands are portrayed is important. If they are to be gently placed on the lap of a child, then the hands probably won’t need as much detail. If it’s a painting of hands, holding something significant or the hands themselves are the subject, then the detail should be more distinct.

Anatomy is another thing that is extremely important to remember. What happens under the skin is what determines what happens on top of the skin. There’s no need to remember all the ligaments, muscles and bones by name, but it’s important to realize they do exist, underneath and are the form and volume of the hand. It helps you understand why a wrinkle or a shadows happens “there” as opposed to “there”.

“Gray’s Anatomy” is an excellent book that lists the entire body, including the hand. Here are a couple of images, from the book. The wording is small in the images I’ve posted, but you have the idea of what is being shown.

After looking at the anatomy of a hand, you must sketch! it’s a good way to practice hands and you are always with a model! Waiting for the bus? Draw your hand! Someone’s late for an appointment, another good time to pose your built-in model! You know when you’ve got the free moment! With something to draw and a drawing surfacce, you are never bored and staying in condition!

Before you go any further, it’s promise time... It’s very important to keep in practice. Sketch books are a great journal and a way to not only keep in condition, but it’s also a good reference book for future ideas! So, please promise to keep a book and sketch often! Also, exercise the brain... look at something and draw it, with one continuous line AND without looking at your paper! Now, that’s a brain-twister and also a good way to learn to “trust” what you see. Eventually, you will be surprised at how accurate it can be!


It’s time to address palette (colors). Here’s where I break your heart. There’s no such thing as a skin tone recipe! There are so many factors to consider, lighting, reflected color, skin tone, etc. A good example would be to take a white ceramic or porcelain cup (dish, bowl, whatever on hand) and walk around the room, holding it up to different objects; you will see colors actually reflected onto the white surface.

So, if you read this article (or scan to my palette) and try the colors on your painting and it doesn't work, it’s probably because the colors in my palette are different from the colors, you are using. You have to find the colors that are actually on your subject, which you are painting, to obtain the “accurate” skin tone, for you.


I think that’s about all the information that is worth mentioning, before we begin. Now it’s time to pick a subject! There are MANY great subjects in the reference library, from which to chose. I have even upload a few images of a child’s hands and an adult’s hands. So, please (!) go through the reference library, and sketch, draw, scratch or paint away! For my image, I have selected from the collection I recently uploaded; photo of my daughters’ hands.

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 07:39 PM
For my very first layer, I apply lots of layers of gesso. My painting tends to be quite thin therefore the canvas texture shows through a bit too much. Once the gesso is completely dry, I start the sketch. In this case, I didn’t appy the layers of gesso, because of time restrictions. You can really see the bite of the canvas, in the last photos...

I've selected an 8x10" canvas board and decided to paint the hands, “portrait style” (the canvas standing up), instead of “landscape” (canvas on it’s side), because the image is so powerful; the gentle touch of sisters hands. Because there is such weight of love between those gentle fingers, I wanted a lot of space above them. Also compositionally, it’s better not to cut the composition in “half”, so placing the hands below the halfway point keeps the painting’s composition strong. Also nice, is the way the left hand flows into the hand on the right, where the flow is stopped by the open hand. Equally as fun is the weight the brightness gives to the right hand; the area where the subject of the painting is centralized.

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 07:50 PM

After the sketch is completed, gently “pounce” an eraser over the canvas, to eliminate heavy pencil lines and lose graphite. Don’t work on the sketch, too much. The graphite from the pencil does muddy in the first layers, if you aren’t careful.

Here is where I disappoint you, again. Everyone goes about a painting, differently. Some load the paint on and all over the canvas, first layer out. Others paint from the top or bottom of the canvas, working towards the opposite end, completing the image, as they go along. Some work on an area of the painting, until that area is completed, before moving on, while other painters work in thin layers, all over the canvas. My style falls in the later group; I paint in very thinned layers, all over the canvas. As one section dries, another is addressed.

Another separation of artistic style is the actual palette. Everyone has a different colors with which they feel comfortable. My palette is very limited and usually never changes. Although my paintings usually look as though just a few colors have been used, eight or nine colors are my usual palette. Keeping the palette relatively small is deliberate, for several reasons. When I first started painting (few years ago), PAINTING was hard enough, confusing things with many colors really overwhelmed me. Another reason, my favorite art movement is the Rococco and Baroque period(s). The masters successfully created depth and their subjects are so beautifully illuminated by the light source while still keeping the colors simple. Lastly, a limited palette helps the painting relate and flow well, unifying the painting.

Although my demonstration can be attempted with any medium, mine’s acrylic (Liquitex) and my palette consists of:

Titanium White
Burnt Sienna
Raw Sienna
Cadmium Yellow Light
Cadmium Red Light
Cadmium Red Medium
Ultramarine Blue
Hookers Green
Yellow Oxide

My brushes usually range from new and in good shape to old and really ragged. The brushes are usually very inexpensive ones; the craft style, multi-pack brushes works well for me. I rarely throw them away, as they make great brushes to really scrub on the paint or to use for soft wispy like strokes. Of course, for a clean, crisp line, I will use a brand new or fairly new brush.

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 07:51 PM

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 07:59 PM

I like to immediately create the extreme contrasts, between the dark and lights. Some cases, it might be as small as the tip of a dog’s nose. In this case, it’s the entire background. Making it easier to see the form of the hand, I started the painting as a monochromatic; showing darkest areas and depth.


In this layer, I have begun to really darken the background and parts of the fingers. My mixture of colors are Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, with a small bit of Cadmium Red Dark (pulling the color of the hands, into the background). Some of the light areas in the background are intensional and some are as a result of applying the paint while the layer beneath was still wet. The areas mostly around the left side of the painting and the bottom right, are the aresa where I tried to keep the background light.

When you apply a wet layer on a layer that hasn’t completely dried, the layer beneath tends to left or rub off the canvas. This is something to keep in mind, when painting all layers (although it tends to be a problem, only with the first couple of layers; subsequent layers tend to not show the lifting, as badly.

To create depth, I tried to avoid “out-lining” the hands by using the the shadows and the reflected light to define the hands. Although the painting appears to be blotchy, that’s not a worry, at this time. As more layers of color are added, things smooth out, better.

In the next set of images, you will see as the layers are added, there are subtle differences. It may be difficult to see where the changes have been made but you can see the hands become more defined, with each layer. This takes me time, because each value must be just the right lightness or it will “pop out” or ”receede”, too much.

In the next few photos, you will see where I’ve started to add the light flesh tone. For this, I used Cadmium Red Light, White and a touch of Cadmium Yellow Medium. You will also see the size of the brushes I use. Large ones, because I am not concerning myself with the small details, yet.

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 08:05 PM
While still working the entire painting, all at once, I have lightented areas and darkened others. continuing to define the mass of the hands. If you look at your own hands, you will see that the curves and lines are defined by the shadow and highlights. In both the below images, you can see the subtle adjustments, here and there. After many hours, those subtle “adjustments” eventually accumulate to a finished piece.

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 08:10 PM
This demonstration’s painting is still in need of a bit more work and will continue to post the progress, (as weather permits the photo taking). Honestly however, you can see the basic technique and how I paint hands. To wait to post this thread until the painting is done, would be a pointless delay.

Between computer crashes, software glitches and cable related problems, I have REALLY enjoyed sharing my technique and thank everyone who has taken the time to read this article. I sincerely hope it has been helpful. If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts privately, please feel free to email me, private message me or more openly, feel free to add to this thread.

Thank you for reading my demonstration.
Leslie Anne Pease! (Leslie Mclaughlin)

05-21-2005, 08:31 PM

Thank you so much for doing this demo! Your painting is beautiful! Your explanation of your approach is very clear, and the accompanying photos illustrate the process well.

I know I am probably not the only one who hesitates at the thought of painting hands in a portrait. I have a photo reference that I would love to paint, but it has the dreaded hands in it :p ! After reading your demo, I feel more confident about approaching it.

Thank you for this terrific demo!

05-21-2005, 08:59 PM
Thank you so much for this demo, I learned from this tute very much. And thanks for sharing your palette. :clap: :clap: :clap:

05-21-2005, 09:16 PM
Terrific classroom, Leslie. If you're in the eye of the storm, I can image you losing power (it's here loud and clear).

I am wondering about hand positions. I've bought a book or three recently nearly devoted to hands because I tighten up each time I think "draw a hand to look like one and not a claw" :evil:

If you have time I'd love to see hands facing toward us, one of the exercises I've been struggling with for months and put aside. The only solution I've found but haven't yet employed is photographing my own hands in that position and trying to work out the details.

Again, many, many thanks for all this shared knowledge. It is both welcomed and sincerely appreciated.

Leslie Pz
05-21-2005, 09:38 PM
Thank you ALL for your kind comments! I really appreciate the quick response and the wonderful comments!!!

Zoe When I am finished with this demo, I'd be more than happy to sketch out hands “coming at you”... maybe if you could give me a reference photo, sort of along the lines of what you are looking for, I’d love to try to help you. While waiting for the sketch (added to this demo, for it is thread related and a GREAT question), may I suggest looking at some reference photos, in black and white? Viewing things in such a way is very helpful in seeing the soft curves, depth and highlights.

Never think something is too difficult. Some things may take “more attempts” and time than others. With effort, practice (sketch!!!) and commitment, you will be more than satisfied. I KNOW!!! Painting didn’t come easy to me, at first. After many years, it started to click.

Good luck to you Zoe and all! YOU CAN DO IT!!!

05-23-2005, 10:08 AM
Thanks Leslie - This was very informative and also very encouraging!

05-23-2005, 02:19 PM
Hi Leslie,

here's the photograph I was working with and seemed to get stuck on the upturned hands. Any hints later on in the classroom will be greatly appreciated. I already feel I can do better than the last time.

Thanks again!


05-24-2005, 01:29 AM
:wave: Thank you for a thorough training about hands! I want to paint a picture of hands holding a rose and have not done it satisfactorily. This article provided what I needed. Again, Thank you!

05-27-2005, 10:34 AM
Just thought I'd pass on that the Spring Issue of American Artist's Drawing, a quarterly magazine, features an article on hands.

05-29-2005, 08:28 AM
I will definitely check it out! Thanks for the extra info!

Anita Murphy
06-02-2005, 10:43 AM
Not sure how I missed the start of this, but what a super lesson.
I think I am going to have to do a hands study just to see if I can produce something that doesn't look like a bunch of alien bananas!
Thank you so much for a super class!

Leslie Pz
06-07-2005, 11:49 AM
Thank you all (!) for the wonderful comments! So glad the demonstration was clear and helpful!

Finally had a chance to photograph the final piece! Hope you like!

Thank you again, for reading my demonstration. Hope it's been helpful.

Leslie Pz
06-07-2005, 12:15 PM
thanks again!

06-08-2005, 12:35 PM
What lovely, rich colors you have achieved in the background and shadows of your painting, Leslie. This is just beautiful!

Thank you so much for sharing your final painting, and for presenting this wonderful demo on painting hands!

Lucky Lola
06-09-2005, 01:54 AM
Hey Les I found this to be very informative and helpful. Hands seem to be such a challenge. Thank you for sharing. :clap:

Vivian :wave:

06-17-2005, 02:34 AM
your demo is very helpful :clap: ; to me..!!! seem to be hiding :eek: from doing hands almost everything ive very do or have done is either with the hand(s) not showing or just barle visible if none the less.. so i will definetly give you demo a chance and see how i do . thanks for being so thorough :) and free :clap: :clap: ...(gotta love WETCANVAS FOR ALL THE TALENTS Here!!! :clap: :clap: :clap: ).. i will post what i have done .. son

kim :wave:

08-20-2005, 07:33 AM
Hands, hands, hands...they look great, and the way you paint them too..:)

I don't paint, and.. doing hands has been a struggle for quite some time; I've been told not to worry, because 'everybody' traces or projects hands anyway...
Thanks, but NO thanks, I need to be able to draw a likeable portrait in a freehand, aidless fashion before I vanish from earth, or die in the process, so can't waste my learning time, disguising my lack of skills by relying on tools; I've had enough of external aides in 30 years as a photographer, and 3 doing Architectural design & technical drafting, plus 4 years of doing all types of digital photomanipulations...pant, pant!! I need to be able to draw ANYWHERE with just a pencil, an eraser and a piece of paper...only then I will feel like an artist...quite a fixation , eh?....LOL...
Meanwhile ...I'll keep practicing....

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/tn_digihand-1.jpg (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/digihand-1.jpg)...http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/tn_Kwik-Practice.jpg (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/Kwik-Practice.jpg)...http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/tn_Self-Portrait.jpg (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/Self-Portrait.jpg)...http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/tn_my-right-hand.jpg (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/my-right-hand.jpg)...http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/tn_hand03.jpg (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/hand03.jpg)...http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/tn_hand.jpg (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/hand.jpg)...http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/tn_Handgrip.jpg (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/Projects/lib/779/completed/27782/Handgrip.jpg)


11-28-2005, 12:01 AM
This is the latest hand done in graphite , strictly freehand style...


Comments and suggestions are welcome

Dana Design
01-02-2006, 10:53 PM
Leslie, just finished a painting with hands again and your demo helped immeasurably. Thanks so much!

02-18-2006, 12:07 AM
Thank you for taking your precious time to prepare this demo. Great!