Understanding the Hand
Many beginners fool themselves into believing that they need not bother with learning the anatomy of the hand. After all, a quick glance at your newspaper's comics section will reveal myriad abstracted appendages — from loose loops dangling from the ends of forearms to characters with only three fingers. How can anatomy possibly be important?
The “three-finger phenomenon” in cartooning stems from animation. Early animators found it much easier to animate hands with three fingers. It saved time and effort — and, therefore, money. The style was quickly adopted by other cartoonists, and it remains in use today — especially in the case of anthropomorphic (also known as “funny animal” or “furry”) comics.
However, just as the case was in learning to draw a head, it's important to start from a realistic standing and work toward a more and more abstract image. Even the most abstract hands are drawn with an understanding of basic human anatomy.
Drawing is a one-handed process, so you can use your nondrawing hand as a model while you sketch. Grab your sketchbook and make some notes. The time you spend studying one hand counts double because the front of one hand has exactly the same proportions as the back of the other hand.
The Front View
Hold your nondrawing hand, palm toward your face, with your fingers and thumb straight up. Notice the shape. It's a simple wedge, with a thumb that hangs on the outside. The index and ring finger are about the same length. The middle finger is longer and the pinky finger is shorter. Along the edges of the hand, the palm bows outward a little on the pinky side and a lot on the thumb side. Notice the round muscle at the base of the thumb.
Finally, notice the thumb itself, hinged to the outside edge of the palm, and turned almost 90° in comparison to the other fingers (allowing you to see the thumbnail).
If using your nondrawing hand as a model is unmanageable, you can buy a wooden hand model. It can be an excellent reference, mimicking several realistic hand positions.
The Side View
Now look at your nondrawing hand from the side. Again, the overall shape is that of a wedge — wide at the palm and narrow at the fingertips. Notice the muscle at the base of the thumb. It protrudes from the overall structure of the hand, giving it a natural “cup” — even when relaxed.
Front, side, and back views of a hand
Basic Hand Structure
Hands are larger than beginning artists tend to draw them. In a realistic drawing, the hand is about the same length as the head — from forehead to chin. Also, pay close attention to the wrist. The hand flares out from the wrist, becoming wider than the end of the forearm. Even at rest, the wrist flexes the palm at an angle to the forearm. The wrist connects the forearm to the base of the palm. A common error is to connect hand to arm via some point in the middle of the back of the hand.