By Robert Auberon
Figurative artists often say that hands are the hardest to draw or paint.
When I visited the Sistine Chapel my eye was drawn emphatically towards the famous point where the two hands meet. I also found myself absorbed seeing the Leonardo Cartoon at the National Gallery in London. St Anne’s hand points towards heaven in an enigmatic gesture which is thought of as quintessentially Leonardo Da Vinci, appearing similarly in several other paintings, but here it is the unfinished/ negative space which makes it so striking.
There is such a rich vein of art history on the representation of hands. But with the art world being dominated by conceptual-ism and abstraction there is of course less emphasis on traditional draftsmanship. However for artists who still practice figurative art hands can still pose a challenge especially when drawn or painted from life.
Several times I have heard people respond to portraits or similar works by saying, nice painting shame about the hands. The biggest challenge being not just the skill necessary to capture the complexity of the fingers but also for the hands to work in relation to the figure, so as not to be a separate entity, often it seems artists concentrate on paying more attention to other parts of the body and lazily skip the area of the hands.
Life drawing is usually a good way to achieve the best results as anyone who draws regularly from life discovers. There are several techniques but the best method I‘ve seen from close observation of other artists at work is from their life drawings. The more you observe from life, the more accurate the results usually are (if accuracy is what you are hoping to achieve of course). Perhaps the most important aspect is that using hands connects directly with the expressive side of art. The opposite of the esoteric nature of much modern art in the representation of the physical form is a more immediate reflection of thoughts or feelings. And for some artists this is more important than commodified conceptualism.