Illustrations via CakeSpy
Few things are more frightening to beginning illustrators than drawing hands on their characters. Even seasoned artists can find drawing digits a daunting prospect. When well done, illustrated hands can help your illustration sparkle with personality, while poorly rendered hands can be a distraction to the finished piece.
Drawing hands might seem to be an anxiety-laden part of making illustrations, but it doesn’t have to be so hard. Actually, it can even be a fun part of developing characters, whether you’re interested in creating a picture book or exploring different ways to draw people.
In this post, you’ll enjoy an extremely handy tutorial about how to draw illustrated cartoon hands in an easy and accessible way. This is a fantastic way to help develop your personal style and refine your illustration.
For more awesome illustration tips, check out our free illustration basics e-guide!
Why is drawing hands important?
Hands convey so much in illustration artwork. Here are some of their key functions:
You can relay practical information in your art with the use of hands: for instance, a character pointing or holding an object can further a story.
You can show emotion with hands in your artwork through gestures, both dramatic and subtle. A pointing finger paired with downward slanting eyebrows can imply a character indicating blame. Hands holding one another and smiling faces can show friendship or love.
Your grip on anatomy will be evident in how you draw hands, no matter how realistic or figurative. Put it this way: a well-drawn hand might not be actively noticed, but an anatomically incorrect one looks zombie-like and distracting.
Now that you have an idea of why drawing hands is so important, let’s talk about an easy way to get started.
How to draw illustrated cartoon hands
This is an extremely easy and effective method.
Step 1. Mittens
Nope, not kidding. Start with mittens.
While capturing the shape and personality of five separate digits on each hand might seem extremely daunting, capturing them as a two-part shape is far easier.
You can put your own hand in a mitten and take reference photos of different gestures: a mitten holding something, a mitten pointing, a mitten reaching out, two mittened hands holding one another. You’ll be amazed at how this “mitten” method breaks it down into manageable shapes, which can help you get ahold of the “big picture” of drawing hands.
Note: You may realize it pretty quickly while you are drawing in simple shapes, but it’s helpful to observe that in general, hands will form a mirror image. So, for instance, if two hands are cupped, the two hands will form mirror images of one another. Even when hands are each making different gestures, retaining this knowledge can help you remember, for instance, that if the hands are facing in the same direction, the thumbs will always face toward one another.
Step 2. Shape shift
Now that you’ve mastered the “mitten” method, begin adding some complexity to your hands. You don’t have to graduate to full digits quite yet. You can simply taper the shape of the hands to mimic how the digits diminish in size from middle finger to pinkie, or you can even start adding little bumps to accommodate the shape of your developing digits. Or, you can simply make those “mittens” make more complex shapes, like so:
Need reference pictures? Upgrade them to references through fingerless gloves. They’ll still have manageable shapes, but will help inform where the fingers go for your reference.
Step 3. Refine
From here, all you have to do is refine the hands to your own personal liking and comfort level. Maybe you’ll always need reference pictures for hands or maybe you’ll reach a point where you can draw hands with your eyes closed. You don’t ever have to become a photo-realistic artist. After all, think of some of the most memorable illustrated characters in our culture. Mickey Mouse had fat cartoon hands with only four fingers which were always encased in gloves.
Note: I learned to draw hands via this very method: mitten to digit. However, when I started to learn how to draw hands, I used Mickey Mouse as my model. Have you ever noticed that he has just four fingers? As a result, I have always drawn my characters with just four fingers.
Create a guide for yourself of common hand gestures: pointing, reaching and holding. This will be a helpful reference guide that you are bound to refer to on a frequent basis.
Illustration for beginners
Ready, Set Draw! Illustration Basics for Beginners is a PDF guide available exclusively on Bluprint, featuring 33 pages of illustration tutorials, tips and tricks from published illustrators.