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Drawing of the Hand

Drawing of the Hand

by Joseph M. Henninger


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According to expert instructor Joseph M. Henninger, the hand is not difficult to draw when its construction is well understood. In this guide for intermediate and advanced art students, Henninger devotes the first section to the anatomy of the hand and forearm. He also shares basic but seldom observed facts concerning comparative measurements. A helpful glossary provides Latin terms, English translations, and descriptions of the hand muscles' functions.
Drawings of the hand constitute the major portion of this volume, consisting mostly of adult male and female hands, followed by children's and babies' hands. The final section comprises a portfolio of drawings by Old Masters and contemporary artists, many accompanied by the author's insightful comments.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486493022
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 12/18/2013
Series: Dover Art Instruction Series
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 448,018
Product dimensions: 8.04(w) x 10.84(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Joseph M. Henninger taught for decades at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and was its Department of Illustration's chairman for 18 years. His many awards include several Citations of Merit from the New York Society of Illustrators for his teaching skills.

Read an Excerpt

Drawing of the Hand

By Joseph M. Henninger

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1973 Joseph M. Henninger
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-77995-9



Many students react to the word "anatomy" with the repugnance that the word "cancer" or "snake" engenders. It is my belief that this is due greatly to the Greek and Latin nomenclature of the muscles and bones. The Germans, French, Russians and the Spanish have all translated these Latin terms into their respective languages. Only the English speaking people have left them untranslated. No one, who speaks English, finds difficulty in referring to the major muscle of the upper arm as the "biceps" — this word comes from the Latin "bicaput," pronounced bee kahput, which means "two heads." Those students who have a good background in Latin do not seem to recoil so much from the study of anatomy. The Latin terminology used is highly descriptive of either shape or action. I have composed an index giving the Latin and its English translation. I hope this shall overcome much of the mystery which seems to surround the study of anatomy. It is not necessary to be conversant with anatomical nomenclature to draw the body and its various parts, however, it is helpful if one is compelled to talk about it knowledgeably.

The hand contains twenty seven bones; eight in the wrist, four in the palm, three in the thumb and twelve in the fingers. The number of muscles in the hand proper are twenty: six for the thumb, three for the little finger and eleven between the bones in the palm and back of the hand. The muscles which control the bending and straightening of the fingers and thumb are located in the forearm as are those which control the movement of the wrist. These muscles communicate their action via a group of long tendons. The mass of the six muscles of the thumb, which originate in the hand, is called the "Thenar Eminence", while the mass composed of the three muscles on the little finger side is called the "Hypothenar Eminence." Both of these masses are found on the palmarside. There are two fleshy pads on the inside of the thumb and three fleshy pads on each finger on the palm side. Due to the fact that the palm is longer than the back of the hand (see drawing on page 25) there are four fleshy pads visible on the index finger and the little finger when the hand is closed into a fist. This often unobserved change makes a tremendous difference in the feeling of the strength in the drawing of the fist (see drawing on page 30).

The mass that is formed by the eight bones of the wrist makes a universal-joint-like hinge between the forearm and the hand. This mass cannot be seen on the palm side and is only slightly evident in the back of the hand when it is fully flexed, namely, bent sharply toward the palm. However, these bones make a delicate change in the line from the forearm into the hand that gives conviction to its drawing. (See drawings on page 18).


THE FOLLOWING portfolio of drawings has been done with various dry and wet mediums. The postures chosen have been the most commonplace of gestures. Some have been drawn from photographs taken by me, while others have been drawn directly from the model. Several have been drawn from the mirrored reflection of my own hand. One need not protest that there are no models to draw from since our news magazines and newspapers are full of pictures of hands in action. There are also members of the family as well as friends who will gladly pose for the serious student.

Drawing is an empirical art. One may read constantly from books dealing with drawing, yet never learn to draw unless one actively engages in the act. Competence can be gained solely from actual drawing — manual dexterity is achieved only by the actual doing. Through constant observation and physically drawing, one gains the ability to draw with conviction. Study of the drawings, or at least the reproductions, of the masters of drawing, old and contemporary, can be most rewarding.

Drawing is the foundation of all graphic efforts. Even writing by hand is drawing — it is, or should be, the clear drawing of an abstract symbol, denoting a sound or meaning. Unreadable writing is akin to mumbled speech. Unintelligible drawing is in the same category. That which is well drawn is clear to all. Drawing is a universal language, understood even by the aborigines. Drawing is the graphic statement of things observed and understood. This does not mean that a drawing must contain all the details of an object, stated down to the most miniscule observation. Individual character develops in drawing, in the same manner that we develop an accent in speech, unconsciously. A conscious effort to develop a technique in drawing always results in a thin gimmicky group of tricks that become tiresome to the observer.

Drawing and painting are synonymous — only the mediums are different. We have a tendency to separate drawing and painting. Charles W. Hawthorne, a great painter and a great teacher, said this about painting, 'Tainting is really quite easy — all it is, is to get the right color and the right value and put it in the right place." That, of course, is true, but an oversimplified statement. We could paraphrase his statement by saying, "Drawing is quite easy, all one has to do is put the line and the tonal value in the right place." The latter statement can be achieved only through constant practice.

I suggest, no, I urge you, to initiate a program of drawing and to maintain it on a daily basis. A program of this nature, I can assure you, shall have you achieving goals beyond your fondest hopes.

Full tonal value studies of this type are often made as reference material when one is painting a portrait. I am sure that photos of the sitter's hands might serve just as well — however, for me, it seems that studies made from the sitter have more character. One seems to edit the points which impress one most by drawing from the sitter instead of using photos.

The basic shape of a baby's fingers can be characterized as conical; the tips are rounded and the fingernails are very small. The flexibility of a baby's hand and fingers is due to the fact that the bones are cartilaginous. Ossification starts between the first and second years. The wrist bones (carpal bones) do not begin to form until the second year and do not develop fully until the ninth year. Note, however, in the drawings on this page that the area that these bones shall ultimately occupy is clearly defined. The fatty tissue that covers the fingers and hand of a baby causes a deep dimpling at all the knuckles.


THE FOLLOWING thirty pages of drawings have been included at the suggestion of the publisher. Over fourteen hundred drawings of hands along with several hundred studies of the anatomy were made by the author prior to the execution of the final plates. Obviously, there were many drawings that were made of the same action before one of them was chosen for inclusion in the book.

These following plates were the "thinking paper" of the author and were done simply as plans for finished drawings for the book. They were, in the author's mind, never intended to be published. The author has ambivalent feelings about their being a part of this book — however, he would never question the sagacity of his publisher — heaven forbid.

Some of the plates have written upon them reminders to the author that were hastily jotted down while he was making the drawings. On one of the plates the reader shall note, "1.26 shake 3 seconds 1:30 2nd shake 5 seconds" and then lower on the page, "1:39 real jolt". These cryptic notes could be read several ways if one did not know what they meant; for instance, one might take them as directions for the mixing of some exotic cocktail that demanded highly controlled shaking. They are, however, the recording of the time of the after-tremblors of the tragic Sylmar earthquake. As can be seen by the drawing above the notation, "1:39 real jolt", the author ceased work and did mix himself a drink. This business of earthquakes is one of the hazards one faces as a resident of Southern California.

The author reluctantly admits that some of these preliminary drawings are better than his finished drawings — but then again whose sketches are not often better than his finished works? It is something like our speech — in front of those we don't know we often make rather stilted statements while among friends we are less on guard and, therefore, speak in a freer manner — sketches have the latter quality. Gentle reader, look upon these plates as having been drawn before friends — for you are friends; after all you did buy the book. For this latter act, the author thanks you, his family thanks you and most assuredly his publisher thanks you.


SOMETIME during the years between 30,000 B.C. and 12,000 B.C. man made his first attempts to record the shape of his hand. According to the findings of Professor Hugo Obermaier, a world authority on the drawings of Ice Age man, these were the first graphic efforts of that period, preceding man's drawings of the animals which cover the walls and ceilings of the Ice Age caves of France and Spain, (see Art in the Ice Age by Johannes Maringer and Hans-Georg Bandi, published by Fredrick A. Praeger, Inc. Library of Congress Catalogue card number: 52-13999).

By placing his hand or the hand of a friend against the dampened stone wall of the cave and then blowing a powder of iron oxide over it he left a negative silhouette or pattern of the hand on the wall. Two of the imprints show hands that have lost the two end phalanges of the fingers and the end phalange of the thumb. This could be, possibly, the first record of leprosy or ritualistic mutilation or maybe even the execution of early legal penalty.

The next recorded efforts to draw the hand, that remain to us, occur in the low relief decorations of the Assyrians and the paintings in the Egyptian tombs. Both the Assyrians and the Egyptians employed a stylistic approach in depicting the figure, namely, the head was shown in profile with the torso shown in front view and the legs again in profile. The hands and arms were always shown in actions that did not necessitate their being drawn in foreshortened views. The treatment of the hands was always a formalized formula, fingers were depicted as long and curvacious forms.

The Greeks were primarily devoted to sculpture in both the round and high relief. In the decoration of their magnificent vases and bowls they resorted to friezes of figures in various activities such as dancing, fighting and sports events coupled with running border designs of geometric pattern. In the drawings of the hands on these pieces of pottery the Greeks resorted to a stylized approach somewhat similar to that used by the Assyrians and the Egyptians.

In the mural paintings of India, done during the Gupta Period, 300 A.D., one finds drawings of hands that show considerable knowledge of physical structure and closely studied gesture. Hands are shown in foreshortened views and drawn most convincingly. There seem to be no actions of the hands that were avoided by their artists. Their painters took some liberties in drawing the figures, exaggerating the smallness of the waist, broadening the hips, enlarging the breasts and lengthening the eyes to conform with the Indian ideas of the ideal body. The hands, however, were drawn in normal proportion and with great grace. These paintings of the Gupta Period far surpassed in sophisticated draughtsmanship the works of artists working in Europe during the same era.

During the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages in Europe there was little or no effort by man to learn more about himself or the world in which he lived. The Church dominated his thinking and decreed that his thoughts should be devoted to the hereafter. It was more important to devote one's thinking toward the reward of Heaven or the torture of everlasting damnation than to spend one's efforts learning more about oneself and one's world. In this atmosphere the arts stagnated. This curious era continued for about 800 years.

With the revival of learning there came into being that age which we refer to as "The Renaissance". This well-known but loosely dated period was the strong hyphen between the Middle Ages and the era we call "Modern Civilization". It was the spawning ground for emancipated humanistic thought. It is not the province of this book nor the desire of the author to delve deeply into the history or reasons why the Renaissance came into being — however, there are a few significant advances in thinking and achievement that are worthy of mention. Paper was introduced into Europe, a Chinese invention, that replaced parchment as a common working surface for both the authors and the artists. Moveable type and the printing press came into being to replace the hand copied books made by monks in abbeys. The mariner's compass expanded navigation — gunpowder, another Chinese invention, revolutionized the "art" of war. The Ptolemaic concept of astronomy was replaced by the Copernican theory. The writings of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio were original, monumental, works of art. It was in fact the works of these authors that did most to free the graphic artist of the day.

In this rich soil of intellectual inquiry all the arts flourished, none more so than the art of painting and drawing. By some peculiar fortuitous circumstance there appeared, virtually simultaneously, a group of artistic giants, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Bellini, del Sarto, Giorgione and on and on. The geometry of sight, which we call perspective, was discovered and perfected. The popes and cardinals of the church, coming from the ruling houses of Rome and Florence, were champions of the new humanist thought. Artists could now study the anatomy of man without fear of suffering the wrath of the Church. Men began to draw from the posture of knowledge instead of simple visual observation of surface. Drawings showed a new vigorous authority. The seed of man's inquisitiveness broke into bloom during this period and bore the fruit that produced Modern Man. The author suggests that those students who have not been exposed to the history of the Renaissance would profit greatly by devoting time to its study.


Allston was born in South Carolina in 1779, was educated at Harvard and spent most of his life in Boston. He traveled abroad during 1803 and 1806 to London and Paris. Living two years in London and a year in Paris, he attempted to broaden his education and training as an artist. From Paris, in 1806, he went to Italy, where he became enamored of Venetian painting. Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto were among those he especially admired. Before his return to America, Allston's paintings were large, subjective canvases, romantic visions of nature and life. Through it all, however, the influence of classical art can be observed. In his work, Allston reveals the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature, and he was one of the first American artists to be so influenced. It was after 1818 that his work began to reveal a lyrical dreamlike quality. Also, at this time, his work took on a much smaller scale. Allston, it can be said, set new standards for American painting, and thus he stands out in the history of its development.

It will be noted that Allston in his development of the form in this drawing used modeling that went across the form. Note the strokes of the crayon at (1) which give the feeling of the volume of the form.


Alma-Tadema was born in the Netherlands. He entered the Antwerp Academy at the age of sixteen and studied under Gustav Wappers and Baron Henri Leys. He was a precocious student and became Baron Leys' assistant in painting the murals in the Antwerp City Hall in 1859. He won the Gold Medal for painting in Amsterdam at the age of twenty six. His most characteristic work was in the area of scenes from Greek and Roman subject matter. In 1870 he went to live in England, where he enjoyed great success. In 1876 he was elected associate of the Royal Academecian. Queen Victoria knighted him in 1899. His works were remarkable for the realistic rendering of naturalistic textures. He died in London in June, 1912.


Excerpted from Drawing of the Hand by Joseph M. Henninger. Copyright © 1973 Joseph M. Henninger. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents


Author's Notes,
Action Studies of the Hand,
Preliminary Drawings & Sketches,
Portfolio of Drawings of the Old and Modern Masters,

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