How To Paint Dynamic Hands With The Structural Method

How to paint hands and how to draw hands realisticallyPainting a realistic hand is made easy by understanding the basic structure of the hand’s anatomy and rhythms of hand operation.

Don’t worry – this is not going to be a lesson in Metacarpophalangeal Joints and Lumbrical Muscles.  I don’t really know what those are and I don’t need to.  What matters is to have a sense for the rhythms of structure within how the hand operates.  I go into this more on my previous post How To Draw Hands With The Structural Method (opens in a new tab so you can switch back and forth if you like, or if you’re an obsessive multi-tasker like me).

Painting is not just coloring in your drawing.  Painting consists of building up an image with tonal values, color and edges.
Learning how to paint hands will teach you much, much more.

The anatomy of the hand, as far as we artists are concerned, is made up of the Wrist Joint, the Knuckles and the straight sections between them all.

how to draw hands understanding hand anatomy for art lessonsThe Wrist Joint is the most important to understand because this is a section from where the entire hand fans out.   As for the Knuckles, just remember that there is always an invisible thread unifying each respective knuckle, and this will help keep your own drawn and painted hands having a sense of natural rhythm and structure.

It’s important to frame in your mind the entirety whatever it is you’re about to paint.  Painting is not just coloring in your drawing.  Painting consists of building up an image with tonal values, color and edges.  Learning how to paint hands will teach you much, much more.

So let’s get into it.  It’s actually not that difficult.  I’m working off the same image from my previous post.  The video for this can be seen on the post or on YouTube: How To Draw Hands (again, it opens in a new window).

How to Paint a Hand with Tonal Value

How to paint hands realisticallyThe first step in painting is to consider the Tonal Value.  Tonal Value means the difference between dark and light.  There are some techniques where you would paint entirely in grayscale or monochromatic (“one color” for the Latin illiterate) and from there you would then introduce color based on the Tonal Value.

I prefer to introduce some of the color immediately, but mostly the neutral color.  To establish the Neutral Color, squint your eyes down and determine what is it you’re seeing.  For example, in the image I’m referring to, the neutral color is a muddy reddish brownish sort-of hue.  More to the point, I’m estimating a mix of Transparent Oxide Red with a bit of Viridian Green and a dash of Ultramarine Blue Deep.

You may come to a similar color with different paints and that’s fine.  What matters is that you come to a color that is true to what you are seeing.  Mix and mix again until you get it right.  And squint so you don’t get distracted by the numerous subtle nuances.

So this is my base and from here I darken down or lighten up as needed.  Don’t just add black or white please.  When looking at your darker values and lighter values, consider the color in the same way.  Squint your eyes way down.

*A rule with Squinting.  Squint to determine value, not color.  In this case, you are determining the Tonal Value with a very muted sense of color.  So, squint to see the basic color value, but never for the many subtle nuances of color.  That requires your eyes wide open.

In terms of dark and light, it is helpful to establish your darkest dark at the beginning in order to compare this to all of your subsequent value ranges.  Sometimes, however, I go immediately into the mid-range tones and work from there.

How to Paint Hands by Matt Abraxas

Follow Along Fast

Laying in these values, don’t concern yourself yet with drawing.  You have a drawing there already (if you followed along with the previous post) and that will serve as a map.  Lay in the paint like tiles for a mosaic.  Don’t dab the paint.  Cut it in.  Chisel it in.  Look at the shape of the mid-tone or the dark or the light.  Look at that shape and lay it in with paint.  Use your brush like a chisel, like a craftsman’s tool, like a knife.  Lay in the paint and build it all up as if you’re putting together a puzzle.

Structural drawing is determined by comprehending the anatomy of the subject.  In painting this way, lay in these initial brushstrokes with the same comprehension.  The tonal value of that section of whatever you’re looking at has that value because of it’s basic shape and how the light is defining it.  The initial paint strokes tend to result in a patchwork of a few colors, but if you’re refraining from drawing as you go and blending as you go, you will have a strong sense of Form.  You are chiseling away like the rough choppy beginning of a marble rock being formed into a statue.  The rest will come together soon, and beautifully.

With the tonal value established, you have a dark, a mid-tone and a light.  If you have strictly painted only three exact values, then build up in the same chiseling (cut and shape) manner sub-divided Tonal Values (dark mid-tone, light mid-tone, light dark, dark light).

The painting should continue look like it’s a being cut into shape.

How to Paint Hands with Color Value

how to paint hands color valueNow, begin with color.  There are areas that will be more red because of blood near the skin and areas that will have blue tints or yellowish tints because of thicker skin, skin tones, and many other variables.  There are areas that will be warmer in color temperature because of the lighting and shadows.  In this image, which of course is a photograph and photographs do tend to flatten the color temperature of every image, I can tell that the shadows have more warmth.

Look at the colors with your eyes wide open.  Determine the red, blue, and yellow tints, and mix them according to the tonal value.  You don’t have to completely paint over the tonal value paint, but rather mix into it and add where necessary and let the tonal value paint show through wherever it can.

Building up colors, you will begin to get into finer details if you choose.  The way the light switches from cool opaques into warm transitions over the knuckles, for example, offers wonderful little areas to delve into.  My main suggestion here, or warning rather, is to keep stepping back to take the painting as a whole into account, so that you don’t run off on a derailed tangent in one small area.

As you see in my picture, I at first laid in bright color shapes.  As I refined the area, these colors muted considerably.  This was not a plan from the beginning.  I thought at first that I would go with that saturated color, but changed my mind once I put it down.  I didn’t have to fix it though, as it worked easily into the paint already there.  This again is where stepping back and taking in the painting is helpful.

As always, while working in color values, remember that warm lights create cool shadows and vice versa.  This doesn’t mean that if you paint in a cadmium yellow highlight, that the shadow will be blue.  Reds can be both warm and cool, as well as every color.  It’s about how the colors relate to each other.

I will get more into that in a whole post unto itself, I suppose.

How to Paint Hands with Edges

how to paint hands with edgesFinally, we come to the edges, the icing on the cake that packs the punch for the whole image.  This is where you can really direct the viewers attention, as long as you do it right.

While still considering his Structural Method I was referring to earlier, the edges are the areas that express how the object you’re painting relates to the environment surrounding it.  Not just looking at your image, but envisioning how the curve of particular area turns away from your sight, how you handle the edges will determine your sense of the structure.

First of all, rule of thumb is to be a cheapskate with your sharp or hard edges.  These are the areas that will grab the attention, and if you have too many, the attention is like a kid in a toy store.

My favorite are the lost edges.  This is the area that fades into the surrounding environment because it matches in color and tonal value.  It always makes for an interesting effect and it makes those couple hard edges all the more popping.

The edges are the only part of drawing in the painting process, and it’s one of those things where less is more.

I hope this is helpful.  If you have questions or suggestions or just want to complain, feel free in the comment section below.


Matt Abraxas Fine Art Studio-Matt

Matt Abraxas Fine Art and Illustration Studio

~Matt Abraxas