Artists have long enjoyed the addition of hands to any portrait and
suffered over the consequences! You’ve often heard that many
people judge the quality of the portrait by the quality of the hands.
Adding expression and personality, the addition of hands can greatly
increase interest and likeness to any portrait. The most important
factor in painting hands is capturing the gesture. Hands are as
characteristic of the sitter as their face, but usually the way a person
uses their hands expressively in the pose is more valuable than
the detail added to them. Clasping the hands together in a prayerful
pose creates a distinctly different feeling than does a fist with the
thumb hooked on a man’s belt. An artists wants to create hands in
a composition that are characteristic of the personality and pose of
the sitter. The study of hands should remain a lifelong pursuit. Take
time to do studies of hands whenever you can. This may be for a
commissioned portrait or for your own growth as an artist. John C.
Johnasen, one of Mr. Kinstler’s amazing teachers, had a passion for
painting hands. In his lifetime he completed hundreds of studies,
placing the hands of both men and women in most any pose and
lighting condition he could think of. He kept these as references for
future portraits. If he had a pose he was having difficulty with, he
would search back through old sketches for inspiration.
When painting the hands after understanding the gesture, structure
the hand in simple planes. See the top portion of the hand as one
plane, from the knuckles to the first bend of the fingers as the
second plane, and the first bend to the tip of the fingers as the third
plane. Keep in mind that the hand is structured very much like
a box. It has a top and sides. The fingers are structured similarly
in a planed, box-like fashion. Simplify hands where you can, but
you may find that the suggestion of veins in the top of the hand orfingernails a valuable addition.