Archive for March, 2011

Hand Drawing Tutorial #11: Zen and the Art of Racquetball

Monday, March 28th, 2011

This is an advanced tutorial.  If you’re just beginning, please start with earlier lessons such as A Simple Drawing of the Hand and work your way forward.

I played racquetball last weekend for the first time in many months. I was surprised to find that my playing level hadn’t fallen off despite my lack of court-time. If anything, I’d improved.

Here’s what I think helped me: I hadn’t been hitting racquet balls in months, but I had been drawing constantly.

Hand pose, Tutorial #11

When I’m drawing, my utter focus on each “jigsaw piece” is a lot like the utter focus on the ball in racket sports. In both, you need to get into a zen-like state of total concentration on one small bit of your visual environment.  Your hand/arms/legs then know automatically what to do to sketch that bit or smack that ball.

I don’t want to make grandiose claims here. But I suspect that learning to see in order to draw may improve your sports skills as well – at least in sports that involve connecting with a fast-moving ball.

And maybe this underlines the fact that learning to draw is all about learning to see. To me, the most important part of learning to draw isn’t acquiring knowledge about proportions, perspective, or how to draw this or that.  It’s about training yourself to focus on and see what’s right in front of you.

Hand pose with shiny tube

Tutorial #11 hand pose with shiny tube

The object I chose for this hand pose is a metal tube.  It’s actually a lipstick, but I chose it because one end of it is very shiny, and the other end dull.  I think this combination – a simple shape with a very shiny surface – may help you learn to see in the highly focused way you need to draw (and maybe to play sports).

I could have just drawn the tube without the hand for this tutorial.  But for whatever reason, I’m not happy drawing only inanimate objects.  For me to enjoy what I’m doing, I need a person (or part thereof) connected with the object.

But if you’re able to find some kind of shiny tube, you might try first drawing just that, without your hand.

If you can’t find a shiny tube, experiment with drawing from the image of my hand on your computer screen.  Or try just the close-ups of the lipstick tube, below.  (See relevant sections of this post for materials and work setup.)

How does an artist make a shiny surface look shiny?

Ahh, here’s where seeing comes in.  What do you see when you look at that tube not as a “shiny tube,” but as a piece of a 2-D jigsaw puzzle?  Can you see that it’s made up largely of a series of stripes of white, gray, dull green, beige, and other colors?

There’s also the reflection of my thumb in one spot just above my real thumb.  And toward the sides of the tube, the stripes aren’t absolutely parallel the way they are in its front/center.

If you replicate these and other details in your drawing, your tube will look shiny.

By the way, I’m always tempted to photoshop out my smashed blue fingernail, but I don’t because I want you to be able to see the natural texture of the nail.  Nails are also shiny, though less so than the tube – you can see it most clearly on my thumb.  If you draw that semi-shininess, it will make your drawing look realistic.

Look at the contrast between the shiny end of the tube and the other, duller end (right).

Dull end of tube - notice how the shading here is gradual from left to right, not in distinct stripes as with the shiny end of the tube.

Here, the shading fades very gradually from dark on the left side to light on the right.  If you replicate that gradual shading – along with the bit of white highlight that begins right beneath my thumb – this end of your tube will look like dull metal and will not look shiny.

Why does my jigsaw approach to drawing work?

When you’re drawing, you are representing the 3-dimensional world on a flat surface.  So you need to learn to perceive the 3-D world in two dimensions.  Imagining this process as building a jigsaw puzzle can help you because puzzles are exactly this: representations of the 3-D world on flat cardboard.

Video demo #11

The video below shows how I drew my hand pose holding a lipstick tube. Part 2 of the video, showing the shading that creates the shiny look of the tube, will be in my next post.

For now, watch how I built the jigsaw puzzle of this hand pose.  (If you haven’t already watched my jigsaw videos here and here, please do it now in order to understand what’s going on in my mind as I draw.)

In this lipstick-tube pose, I kept refining each jigsaw piece as I went along.  I often didn’t get the size and shape perfectly on the first try.  But as always, the more shapes I drew, the more reference points I had to judge how to correct ones I’d already drawn.  Even after I began shading (see video next post), I continued to improve basic shapes and sizes of fingers, joints, and nails.

Notice how wrinkles and finger joints make great sub-units that help you judge and measure your shapes.  Periodically, I drew guidelines (later erased) from an already-sketched jigsaw piece to help me decide where and how to draw another piece.

The nails of the middle and ring fingers were especially difficult to place and draw properly because of their angle.  I just kept at it, though, correcting it little by little.  Sometimes things got worse before they got better!  But eventually I got it right.  If you persist in this way, you’ll get good results, too!

Note that the thumb in this pose appears wider than the right half of the hand because of the angle and position of each..  This is an example of why learning standard body proportions isn’t always that helpful.  When you’re drawing a body part from a direction other than simple and straight on, proportions appear distorted by the perspective you’re viewing it from.

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Come back next post for more on how to create the tube’s shiny surface.

Hand Drawing Tutorial #10 Part 2: Jigsaw Video of Hand with Paper Clip

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Hand Drawing Tutorial #10 hand pose

It’s always easier to see and draw a small simple shape than a large, complex one.

This is Part 2 of Tutorial #10: Help from a Paper Clip. Part 1 is here.

See the end of this post for a video of this sketch’s “jigsaw puzzle,” which will help you draw this pose – or anything else.


This paper clip pose brings to mind echoes of a teacher – in my early days of drawing lessons – pointing out the need to capture the way the paper clip tucks lightly into thumb and forefinger.  To make this drawing convincing, the teacher would explain, parts of the paper clip must seem to disappear into the fingers holding it.  If you drew every bit of the paper clip, the teacher would tell us, it wouldn’t look like it’s being held.  It would look like the paper clip had been plopped down on top of your drawing of a hand.

What’s distinct about holding a paper clip?

The teacher would also have explained that a hand looks different when holding a light, delicate paper clip than gripping something heavy.  In a hand with a paper clip, muscles don’t bulge, veins don’t pop, nothing is under strain.  Only one finger plus the thumb are needed to support the light weight, so the other three fingers just float into resting positions.

In contrast, see the photo below of my hand with a tape measure.  Here my fingers are working differently to bear the greater weight than when I’m holding the paper clip.  Can you spot some of the differences?

Can you spot the differences in hand and finger position holding a paper clip vs holding a tape measure? How many fingers are needed to support the weight of each object? Is the hand relaxed or tense?

My three largest fingers are all needed to handle the weight of the tape measure.  And the pinky is balancing it from behind.  My thumb is straining awkwardly to do its part.

Meanwhile the hand with the paper clip looks as relaxed as a hand model in an ad for some product.

How do we convincingly draw a hand grasping a paper clip vs a small heavy item?

It can be entertaining and instructive to puzzle through how a hand looks different holding a nearly weightless object vs a heavy one.  I encourage you to constantly observe this kind of visual distinctions in the world around you.  That way you’ll build up your store of visual knowledge, which will unconsciously help improve your drawing.

But when you begin to draw, you need to put those observations on your mind’s back burner in order to focus only on what you’re seeing in your model.  You need to engage your “right-brain” mode function, which apprehends spacial relationships, shapes, colors, and shadows with lightning speed and good accuracy.

Thinking consciously about your knowledge store while you draw instead  engages “left brain” function – the comparatively lumbering, verbal mode of brain work.  Avoid debating knowledge when you’re drawing.

Simply look at the jigsaw puzzle of shapes in front of you.  Figure out their sizes, shapes, and how they fit together – because drawing small, simple shapes is always easier than drawing large or complex ones.  So you need to learn to see your model in small, simple pieces.

Drawing via “right-mode” vision is an easier, more all-purpose way to draw from life than is over-thinking.  With this method, you can draw accurately from life regardless of your subject – whether your hand is gripping a feather or a 100-lb. weight.

How can you reliably engage your right-mode vision?

Earlier posts have described my jigsaw puzzle metaphor for “right-brain” drawing.  My jigsaw metaphor seems to be the most helpful way I’ve found so far of explaining this technique (elsewhere I’ve described it as e. g. an “angle abstraction game.”)  I’ve found myself using game metaphors because when you get into this mode, drawing becomes like a game or puzzle.  You’re making decisions about what to draw with split-second speed, completely non-verbally.  You’re in the zone.

So to me, teaching some one to draw above all means teaching them how to see in right-mode.  Shifting to seeing via this non-standard brain-mode is easy once you “get it,” but sometimes hard before that.  To try another way of helping you make that shift, in this post I’m doing something slightly different for the video.  I’ve started with a photograph of my hand in the Tutorial 10 Paper Clip pose which I drew in my last post‘s video (scroll down that post to watch the video of that drawing, with written commentary keyed to specific frames).

Jigsaw video of this hand pose

Below, on top of the photo of my hand, I’ve superimposed what I was envisioning in my mind’s eye as I was drawing. 

  1. Each black line represents a line I actually drew.
  2. Each colored shape represents a “jigsaw” piece as I saw it in my mind’s eye.
  3. Each chartreuse line is an imaginary or actual guideline for a relationship to other pieces that I was using to check the size and shape of pieces I was drawing.
  4. Each pale gray shape is one that I pictured in my mind’s eye to help me draw something next to it.

Note that I put my puzzle pieces together in an order that made sense to my right-mode vision – that is, shapes that fit together visually regardless of which object they were part of.  I did not focus on completing all the fingers at once for example, or the entire paper clip at one time.  In fact I finished the final shape of the paper clip at almost the end of the drawing.

Does this type of video help you with your drawing?  Email or leave a comment below to let me know what works best for you.

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Learning to draw requires effort and practice.  But it’s also like a game, with potentially satisfying and fun results.

Hand Drawing Tutorial #10: Help from a Paper Clip

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Hand pose with paper clip: Tutorial #10

This is an advanced hand pose.  If you’re just beginning these hand drawing tutorials, please start with earlier lessons such as #1 and move forward from there.  Tutorial #3 has images portraying negative spaces; #6 covers left brain/right brain in drawing.  Tutorial #7 introduces my concept of right-brain drawing as  a jigsaw puzzle. Tutorial #9 was the first that incorporated an object into a hand pose.

The jigsaw puzzle of fingers and paper clip

I chose a paper clip as this tutorial’s object.  It turned out to be an ideal case of “right-brain drawing as jigsaw puzzle” (see Tutorial #6).  That’s because this kind of paper clip encloses a whole gaggle of interlocked pieces, so it’s already practically a jigsaw puzzle in itself.

And in this hand pose, the clip abuts and intersects a series of finger bits.  One example is the dark diamond-shape lying on its side between the paper clip, the pointer, and the ring finger (it’s indicated in red in the photo series below).  Getting the shape of this diamond sketched accurately helped me draw the fingers around it.

Another example is the small triangle of the middle finger visible through the paper clip’s bottom left (in blue in the photos below).  Again, drawing this tiny triangle precisely helps you draw all the other shapes around it.

Left: hand pose for Tutorial #10. Middle: Representation of some of the "jigsaw pieces" in and near the paper clip. Right: Enlargment of "jigsaw pieces."

So this “puzzle” was complex.  As I was drawing, each “jigsaw piece” I added made me recheck pieces I had already sketched, adjusting them to fit more accurately together.  This pose required a whole series of modifications to its component bits to get them to fit together properly.

When you look at the time lapse video of my drawing at the end of this post, can you identify my first sketches of the puzzle pieces in the graphic above?  Can you spot my ongoing fine-tuning of all these pieces?  I’ve added commentary below to help you see any tweaks you might miss.

Drawing small shapes is always easier than drawing big ones

A small reminder of why my jigsaw approach to drawing works: it’s always easier to mentally grasp and draw small shapes than big or complex ones.  If you accurately perceive and draw all the small shapes in your subject, fitting them together precisely, you’ll end up with a very good sketch of your entire “puzzle.”

Setting up for your own drawing of your hand with a paper clip

For materials and work space setup, see the relevant sections of Tutorial #1.

Hopefully you’ll be able to find the type of paper clip I used – apparently it’s called an “Ideal Clamp.”  If you can’t find it, use a regular paper clip or any kind you can find.  Hold it in your fingers in a similar pose to mine, and work through your sketch as in the video below, or in any order that makes sense to your eyes and right-mode perception.

Time-lapse video of my drawing

Beneath the video is my written commentary keyed to some of the frames.  You may want to open this post in two windows at once, so you can follow commentary in one as you watch the video in the other.

I’ve been debating whether it’s helpful to readers if I take the time to create a parallel video of the jigsaw pieces I envision as I draw each bit of the hand, as I did in the Tutorial 7 video.  I may do this in my next post.  If it would be helpful to you, please leave a comment below so I’ll know for sure it will be worth my time to do it.

Technical note: The blurry frames are not part of my drawing process – they are bad focus in my photography (as I’ve often said, I’m an artist but not a photographer).

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Frame 1 – As with many of my hand drawings, I began sketching the edge of part of my hand by envisioning imaginary triangles to help me get the angles right (see the Tutorial 7 video for colored diagrams of this type of triangle).  I had already sketched in a horizontal line above the hand which helped me picture the triangles.

Frame 2 – I drew the side of the pointer finger as an undulating line almost paralleling the first edge I’d drawn in Frame 1.  I judged the placement of this line by envisioning it forming more or less a long, thin rectangle with the first edge.

Frame 4 – I completed the pointer, picturing it as a long rectangular shape made up of 3 smaller rectangular segments.  Judging size and shape is always easier for smaller objects, so the smaller rectangles are helpful as measuring devices for the entire finger.

Frame 5 – I adjusted the bottom segment of the pointer when I realized it needed to end closer to the top of the knuckle.  I drew in a horizontal guideline (later erased) to help me judge this.

Frame 7 – I sketched in the first line of the paper clip: the top, which visually bisects the pointer’s tip (green and lavender puzzle pieces in the photos above).  I also drew the roughly-triangular shape which forms the top edge of the ring finger.  I drew a vertical guideline to help me judge where this triangle should end.

Frame 8 – I decided where more paper clip lines should go by picturing them as triangles intersecting the guideline I drew in Frame 7.

Frame 9 – More paper clip lines.  I assessed their placement by their intersection with the ring finger and by the shapes formed with the other clip lines.

Frame 10 – I adjusted the paper clip lines as described in my intro above.

I also drew in the odd little bit of the palm visible in this hand pose.  This palm-shape is a great example of why learning standard proportions doesn’t help much in drawing the myriad positions the hand can fall into.  A general rule of the size of your palm would tell you the palm should be bigger than the fingers.  But not in this pose!

Frame 11 – With so many other lines in this area sketched in, it was easy to figure out roughly where the inside of the thumb should go: it connected the lines I’d already drawn for the ring finger and palm.

Frame 14-16 – I knew that getting that seemingly-dark central puzzle piece set down accurately would help me with everything around it (it forms the pinky and fits into the thumb and palm).  So I fiddled with it in these frames, making a series of tweaks.

Frame 17 – I modified the shape of the thumb.  I also colored in the dark central puzzle piece, which helped ground me in the whole drawing.

Frame 18 – I fine-tuned the lines of the thumb tip and ring finger where they appear to intersect, adding another paper clip line.

Frame 19 – I adjusted two paper clip lines, measuring them in my mind’s eye against everything around them – e. g. I could see the paper clip line shouldn’t touch the thumb-tip, as I’d drawn it, but had to be at a little distance from it.  And I added joint-wrinkles in the fingers, which I always use as measuring devices.

Frame 20 – I drew the thumb nail.  By this time, I was also able to judge where the curved end of the paper clip should fall, so I drew that.

Frame 21 – Here my photography unfortunately got blurry.  Still, I can see that I was firming up the lines of the pointer and middle finger nails.

Frame 22 – I tweaked the lines of the paper clip yet again, now better able to assess their positions compared to all the other shapes around them.

Frame 23 – More paper clip modification!

Frame 24 – Thumb joint wrinkles helped me improve my placement of the edge of the thumb.  Wrinkles are such great measuring devices!

Frame 25 – I began to shade the tips of some fingers.  At this point, I was aware the outside long line of the paper clip was still out of whack, but decided to wait till later to fix it.

Frame 26 – More shading and a slight paper clip adjustment, using the diamond shape (discussed above).

Frame 27 – Began to shade the large expanse between thumb and hand, measuring and judging size and shape the same way as when I was drawing lines.

Frame 28 – I darkened the diamond shape that formed one side of the paper clip.  I had placed my hand against a dark background so the delicate paper clip would be clearly visible.  Now I realized that I was going to have to recreate that dark background in my drawing for the same reason: to make the very thin lines of the paper clip visible.

Frame 29-30 – I darkened more of the negative spaces inside the paper clip, using the darkness to help me check once again whether I had the shapes formed properly.

Frame 31 – I adjusted the shape of the ring finger as noted in intro above.

Frame 32 – I began darkening the background behind the hand.  As I came around to the paper clip, again I fine-tuned it.

Frame 33-36 – more darkening of the background and shading of the hand.

Frame 37 – Corrected the size and shape of the thumb nail and thumb tip.

Frame 38-40 – Continued darkening the background.  Wherever it bordered the hand, I used the darkness to double-check whether I had the line of the hand drawn true to life.

Frame 42 – I used a bit of white acrylic paint to clarify the lines of the paper clip because its delicate shape made it impossible to erase sufficiently.  By now I was pretty confident I had all the clip lines drawn properly.

I continued darkening the background and shading the hand for quite a while beyond this point.  At the very end, I did a tiny bit of very delicate shading to the paper clip, which gave it a more 3-dimensional look.

TECHNICAL NOTE: I worked a bit differently this tutorial, for the first time drawing from a photo of my hand rather than from life.  I did this because I’ve been frustrated in past tutorials that I haven’t been able to publish a photo taken from the exact angle from which I see my hand when drawing from life.  Since I took the photo first this time, I drew it from the exact angle you see it from in the tutorial, enabling me to point out shapes such as the diamond noted periodically.

The downside of drawing from the photo is that drawing from life provides more visual information than my low-res photo.  As a result, the shading of this drawing is less detailed than in some other recent tutorials.

Hand Drawing Tutorial #9: Drawing the Hand – Or Anything Else (Part 2)

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Sketch of my hand holding a bottle opener for Tutorial #9

This is the first of a series of drawing tutorials in which I’ll add an assortment of inanimate objects to each hand pose.  I decided to introduce inanimate objects because in my kind of right-brained drawing technique, there’s actually no difference between sketching a hand or sketching anything else (as long as you’re drawing some kind of model).

This is part two of tutorial #9.  The first part is here.  The end of that post describes the type of object you’ll need for this lesson.

Materials needed and setting up your work space

See the relevant sections of this post for what you’ll need and how to arrange your space.

Then hold your object in your non-drawing hand in a position as close to the one I’ve used as you can.  As always in my tutorials, you don’t have to be exact because I’m teaching a general drawing method, not how to draw specific poses.


Approximate position of my hand holding a bottle opener for Hand drawing tutorial #9

As you watch the video at the end of this post, notice that I didn’t treat the bottle opener as something different from the hand.  I didn’t draw the hand first and the opener second or vice versa.  I drew the opener as I went along, interspersed with drawing parts of the hand.  The opener and the hand were both pieces of the whole jigsaw puzzle of shapes I was assembling.

You should try the same approach as you draw your own hand.  You can either follow a similar sequence in choosing shapes to sketch as I did, or choose a different sequence.  You should move ahead sketching shapes that you notice or that make sense to you in relation to other pieces of your puzzle.  Remember that your jigsaw pieces need to fit into each other and into the whole.

(It may be helpful for you to review the jigsaw metaphor for right-brained drawing in Tutorial #7, about right-brain drawing as jigsaw puzzle.  The technique I use here is exactly the same.)

Drawing the hand holding an object

The first line I made for the bottle opener happened in Frame 4, when I noticed that its black handle ran roughly parallel and close to a vertical line I had drawn in Frame 3 to help me locate the correct place for the bottom of the wrist.

I then drew a few more lines for the handle, but I didn’t complete the top of the bottle opener till later (beginning in Frame 15).  Instead, I moved to where my fingers held the handle.  I drew the juncture between the lines of my fingers and those of the handle.

Draw the first few lines depicting your hand to one side of your object.  Then focus your right-brain seeing to observe where some of the lines of your object are in relation to the hand-shapes you’ve already sketched in.  Draw them; then move on to shapes that intersect them, whether part of your hand or your object.

My shading of the opener (beginning in Frame 30) was also interspersed with shading the hand.  The shapes of the opener’s light and dark areas were jigsaw pieces that fit into the light and dark bits of the hand.

The most helpful shape in this drawing

The most helpful shape in this hand pose is the dark space between thumb and fingertips, where the opener handle rests in the palm.  It’s the very center of the drawing.  I used this space repeatedly, beginning in Frame 11, to measure and judge what I was drawing all around it.  I used the darkness of its shading as a benchmark for all the other tones.

Your drawing is likely to have a similar dark space where your fingertips meet your thumb/palm.  Focus on drawing and shading this space accurately, and it will help you draw everything around it.

You may want to do one run-through of the video below focusing just on the changes in form and shading of this “negative space” between my fingertips and palm, as they evolved in during the course of my drawing.

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Sometimes the hardest thing about adding an object to a hand drawing is the fact that the object interrupts the the jigsaw hand pieces you’re used to fitting together into a single whole.  It happened to me in this drawing.  I had a lot of difficulty accurately assessing the shapes of the fingers and palm around the bottle opener.  So a lot of this video is taken up not with sketching the opener, which was simple, but with endless revisions of parts of the hand.

This drawing was like the proverbial sausage, not pretty in the making.  But as always, I recommend forging ahead.  The more you practice, the better your drawing ability will become.

Note: The lightened image Frames 42-45, and the sudden darkening beginning Frame 47, are accidental lighting artifacts.  They were not part of my drawing process.