Archive for February, 2011

Hand Drawing Tutorial #9: Drawing The Hand – Or Anything Else (Part 1)

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

This is the introduction to a new series of hand poses which include inanimate objects.  The actual tutorial and video demo of pose #9 will appear in my next post.

Meanwhile, you have a bit of homework to prepare for the tutorial:  you need to find a good object to hold in your sketch.  Please see the last section at the bottom of this post to learn what you’re looking for.

Sketch of hand holding bottle opener

In my next few hand drawing tutorials, I’m going to add an assortment of inanimate objects to each hand pose – to begin with, I chose a bottle opener (right).  Over time, we’ll practice sketching the hand from various angles holding items of diverse shapes and sizes.

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 (a live model or a photo).  In my rather Zen approach, you pay no attention to whether you’re drawing a hand or a waterfall.  You do this because you need to empty your mind of everything that gets in the way of your seeing the shapes, shadows, and highlights that are actually in front of you.

In pure right-brained drawing you learn to see what you’re drawing in a very abstract way.  You look only at shapes, angles, darks, lights. 

Parad0xically, this abstract approach can produce hyper-realistic results.

Other types of hand drawing tutorials

My method is almost the opposite of the approach taken in most hand drawing tutorials.  They recommend learning as much as possible about the anatomy of the hand and body proportions, and viewing the hand as made of sub-parts of different volumes.

Illustration from Ron Lemem's hand tutorial. Click on the image to go to this lesson on his website.

For me, learning all that stuff would completely inhibit my drawing, as I wrote in “Me against Da Vinci: What’s the best way to draw?”.

But I encourage you to explore all kinds of approaches to find what works best for you.  A couple of good websites to review for non-me techniques are Ron Lemen’s and odduckoasis.

I suspect that learning about e. g. hand anatomy is important if you’re drawing purely from your imagination.  If you’re drawing a comic book, for example, you probably want to know how to quickly suggest a hand in an appropriate position without having to find a model.

If you’re drawing from life, though, I highly recommend that you do your best to empty your head of all left-brain information about anatomy or the function of the hand, or anything else.  If you hold that information in the front of your mind, it will get in the way of your focusing on what you’re drawing.

This is an intriguing paradox: you fill your brain with technical anatomy in order to draw from memory rather than from life.  But if you want to draw realistically from life, the best approach is the very abstract, right-brained one.  I’ve observed this paradox in another earlier post, about Marie McCann-Barab’s paintings (scroll down to the last section, “Yin and/or Yang”).

I’m very interested in drawing what’s in my imagination, these days in my Playground of the Autocrats triptychs.  But my preferred method of drawing is still always from life because I find its infinite variations thrilling.  So I always look for models that approximate what’s in my imagination, rather than drawing purely from memory.  As I wrote then,

For me, the everyday visual world is full of such surprises that I don’t want to just repeat from memory something I’ve drawn or seen in the past.  Drawing from my memory of “what an X looks like,” by definition means I’ve developed a somewhat standardized way of seeing and drawing X.  For me – and maybe for you – there’s nothing like the magical pleasure of discovering what’s unique about the particular “X” I’m drawing at that moment, and capturing that uniqueness on paper.

Bottle opener I used for Hand tutorial #9 (see next post for demo)

Your scavenger hunt for your object for Hand Tutorial #9

In the next few days, keep your eyes open for an appropriate object for our first pose of the hand holding an object.  The ideal object for your first sketch is something like the bottle opener I chose (right).

Here are the qualities you should look for:

  1. A fairly simple object – don’t choose something with complicated patterns or writing on it, like a food bottle.  In general, an object with some straight lines, rather than entirely curvy, may be easiest for your first drawing.
  2. An opaque object – don’t choose something transparent.
  3. A fairly compact object – don’t choose something long like a knife or dowel that will extend far from your hand.
  4. A mildly interestingly-shaped object – my bottle opener was perfect because of the nice enclosed negative space and the nice, small number of distinctive details.
  5. If you’re able to find a bottle opener like mine, or an object with a similar size and shape, it may be most helpful.  However, if you can’t find that, rest assured the technique will be the same no matter what your object is.

Have fun with your hunt, and see you next post!

Hand Drawing Tutorial #8: Foreshortened Pointer via Right-brain Drawing

Monday, February 7th, 2011

The much-feared foreshortened finger may actually be the most helpful tool to shift you to right-brained seeing.  Its shape is so alien to our standardized image of “finger” that we have no other choice but to abstract how we see it.

Tutorial #8 hand pose with foreshortened pointer

In this tutorial, we’ll take on the dreaded foreshortened finger (in this case, the pointer).  The hand is often considered the most difficult of all subjects to draw, partly because we so often see the fingers from angles that conflict with our mental shorthand of them as tube-shaped.

Through the magic of right-brained seeing, though, the foreshortened finger becomes fairly easy to draw because it’s seen as a shape like any other shape.

In fact, it occurs to me that the much-feared foreshortened finger may actually be the best tool to help shift you  to right-brained seeing.  Its shape is so alien to our standardized image of “finger” that we have no other choice than to abstract how we see it.  Look at the schematic below to illustrate this (with continuing apologies for my blue smashed fingernail).

In the left column is a series of photos of my hand in slightly different positions.

In the middle column, I’ve traced over the shape of the pointer fingertip in red, and the fingernail in pale yellow.

In the right column, I’ve enlarged this shape so you can really see a few of the variety of shapes a foreshortened fingertip can appear to take on.  The fingernail also has very different shapes.

The more accurately you draw these shapes, the more realistic your drawing will look.

Seeing the foreshortened pointer as a simple shape. Left column: My hand. Middle column: My hand with the shape of the foreshortened pointer outlined in red (the fingernail is pale yellow). Right: Abstracted pointer tip shape, enlarged.

This week’s foreshortened finger pose

This hand pose is identical the one in tutorial #7, with the single exception that the pointer is raised so we see its tip head-on.

The most difficult part of drawing a dramatically foreshortened finger is actually not the drawing itself.  It’s keeping your hand completely still so you see it from exactly the same angle throughout your sketch.  A slight change in hand position will make you see the finger tip as a dramatically different shape.  Look again at the diagram above to demonstrate this.

To help keep your hand in the same position while you draw, the following can help:

  1. Pay careful attention to how your forefinger looks when you start sketching.  Note its exact shape.  As you draw, adjust its position very slightly to keep it looking that way throughout.
  2. Close one eye while you’re drawing the foreshortened finger (the same eye the entire time) because each eye sees from a slightly different angle.
  3. It’s always important to stand up while you’re drawing so that you’re seeing your work head-on.  If you sit down, you’ll distort your perspective and end up with a distorted drawing.  When you’re drawing something this foreshortened, it’s doubly important to stand up.

Materials you’ll need and setting up your work

Please look back at the relevant sections of the first tutorial for materials and setting up.

The foreshortened finger jigsaw piece

In the 2-part Tutorial #7, I described right-brain drawing as building a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces all need to fit together to form the whole.  You may want to look back on the schematics there, including the video at the end of Part 1 that demonstrates how to create the jigsaw puzzle.  You will approach this #8 pose exactly the same way as that one, building your puzzle from shapes of fingers, nails, and negative spaces around each.

The single change this week is that you’ll need to see and draw different jigsaw pieces to form the pointer and the part of the palm revealed beneath it.  I think the best way to help you see this isn’t to write more verbiage, but to suggest you spend some time carefully studying the diagram above.

Before you begin drawing your entire hand, practice seeing and drawing your own forefinger tip at slightly different angles. Sketch some of the various shapes it can take on a separate piece of paper.  Then add the fingernail shape.  You’ll be able to draw the nail accurately if you also observe the shapes of the skin visible around the nail.

Note the jigsaw-piece shapes immediately surrounding your fingertip when it’s placed in different positions.  Draw these.

Put this entire mini-jigsaw puzzle together right, and you’ll magically have produced a realistic-looking foreshortened fingertip.

Now turn to drawing your entire hand.  Look carefully at the puzzle piece of your own pointer tip.  It will be slightly different from mine in my drawing.  How is yours shaped?

Video demo of my drawing of  Hand pose #7

As you go through video below of my own drawing, you may notice that somewhere around Frame 21, I reshaped my pointer-tip jigsaw piece incorrectly, making it too wide.  I think this was the usual result of having moved my vantage point slightly (so do as I say, not as I do….)  I was very annoyed at myself!  I didn’t notice my mistake for a while, but when I did, I adjusted it.

This kind of error happens all the time.  Once you notice it, you just need to work through it, correcting it and the jigsaw pieces around it.

If your drawing has gotten so out of whack that you can’t salvage it without major erasures, don’t feel you’ve wasted your time!  You’ve learned a lot from this sketch.  Start a new one and see what you can learn from that.

Becoming good at drawing from life is a matter of constant practice.  And it’s fun!

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