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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hands; What's the Point?

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 or

fingernails a valuable addition. 

Portrait Society of America 2010!  I will be demonstrating an approach to painting hands at this years annual conference.  For more information go to www.portraitsociety.org


rahina q.h. said...

Hi Michael, amazing how the obvious is often overlooked. The two portraits of the women and their hands are wonderful! Are these in oils and what size are they? r.

MIchael Shane Neal said...

Hi Rahina,

Thanks for your post. Yes oil on canvas. Both portraits are near life size. They can be seen in larger format on my website: www.michaelshaneneal.com

Candace X. Moore said...

Michael, Great post. Have been studying Anders Zorn lately, and always marvel at how a few simple, well designed brushstrokes can convey the complex structure of a hand. Just found your blog, very informative. Best regards.