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Cartoon Fundamentals: How to Draw Cartoon Hands

This post is part of a series called How to Draw Cartoons.
Cartoon Fundamentals: How to Create Movement and Action
Cartoon Fundamentals: How to Draw the Female Form

The human hand is probably one of the hardest things to learn how to draw, since it can take many forms and, thus, express varied emotions. In cartoon it is no different. You need to be able to draw hands in different angles, which are dynamic and attractive in the eyes of the viewer. Don't underestimate the power of a well drawn cartoon hand - it can save your art from the monotony!

What You Need to Know

Several times I have been asked by some people in the comments of my tutorials how do I draw characters in many poses and different expressions. The case is that, with practice, you begin to develop your own drawing style and without that other people know it, you begin to use some shortcuts in your art. These shortcuts are poses or expressions you usually draw more often, as well as a type of hair or clothing in which you feel more comfortable in drawing. This is much more common than you think and professional artists do this all the time!


The fact is that doing this with hands is very difficult! On the head, for example, the only flexible portion is the jaw. We could change our facial expressions but our eyes, nose and mouth always remain in the same place (at least in real life!). This doesn't occur with the hand. For any direction in which you move, things change completely. In fact, it's likely that in a dialogue scene you change very few of your character's facial expressions and moves their hands excessively at various different angles.

Since the focus of this lesson is to convert a real hand to the cartoon style, let's not spend our time trying to learn names of bones and muscle structures - here at Tuts+ you will have the opportunity to study these topics soon - instead, we'll try to find a simplified way to draw the hand in a practical and effective way.

1. The Hand in its Most Simplified Form


"Hey, Mom! I'm on the Internet!"

The hand consists of several different bones, particularly the fingers, which means that they have different sizes and could bend in different directions. For this reason it's important that you learn how to make a hand in the simplest possible way and learn to see it as a small puzzle divided into a few main parts. So let's start dividing it into blocks:

Step 1

Starting from the back of the hands, let's draw the following simple semi circle:


Step 2

Now, draw a triangle in a way that it fits on the side of it, like this:


Stay calm: We're not drawing a cup of tea!

Step 3

Above the triangle we design something like the tip of a knife.


Step 4

It's time for fingers. We will replicate our first shape at the top, but in reverse. Thus we conclude our "hand puzzle":


Step 5

Excellent! Now just fill in the remaining details with soft contours:


The thumb's outline is the most subtle and should be gently merged into the center of the hand.

Notice above that format of fingers isn't uniform, due to difference in sizes.

2. As The Palm of Your Hand

The palm of the hand has a few more details we should know. Let's check them out:

Step 1

Once again, all the above procedure repeated using our basic template:


Step 2

Now we have a novelty - The palm of the hand is slightly more complex and its form contains some variations that we must take into consideration. Luckily, we can also represent it through simplified shapes in order to help us:


Step 3

Finally, we can add the outlines and conclude with the final details.


Notice that we finished the sketch with soft, curved lines. Think in the palm of your hand like a delicate sculpture.

Profile View

When the hand is in profile view, we could see the rise of the thumb muscle.


The more childish your drawing style, the more your lines and forms are smoother and simpler. These are just some shortcuts that helped me to understand that hands can also be drawn starting from simplified shapes. The important thing is always to seek a style that print personality and dynamism to the final result of your drawings.

3. More Shapes and 3D Hand

Well, you can not draw a flat hand for the rest of your life, right? To make a hand with convincing depth, just use the techniques presented above and change the viewing angle of the camera! Try to play with this technique until you feel comfortable with the process.


To form the fingers we should think of them as if they were stacked cylinders. This technique is used to help us design our fingers in several different angles, as it facilitates us to see the hand in perspective.


A hand or a robot?

The formats that the human hand can take are almost endless - when open, the hand has its rule,when closed, has another! The same occurs when we are holding some object, forcing the hand to adapt to that format.

Let's learn how to make a fist. This is a slightly different process, but you'll see that, in the end, it all comes down to simplification based on geometric figures.


Step 1

First, we start simplifying the bend of the little finger, making a format similar the letter "y".


Step 2

We wrapped the finger with the format below. Take note to highlight the curve that goes from little finger to the wrist.


Step 3

We continue drawing the fingers into perspective. We'll do only three fingers this time. I'll explain more about that later.


Step 4

Lastly, we draw the thumb finger and its rising curve below.


Step 5

Good! In a few steps we conclude our simplified drawing of the fist viewed from inside. Notice how its overall shape can be sketched through "boxes" with different sizes.


Notice how we can make the outline of a fist from the use of several boxes in perspective.

Obviously, trying to simplify all of the shapes that hands can have through various different techniques, makes the job a bit tiring. So try to keep in mind that the real secret is to simplify what is seen in real life.


View from the other side: It's all about simplification.

4. The Fab Four

It's a common practice to draw a four fingered hand to certain cartoon characters. This is a technique that, in addition to add some dynamism to the characters, helps to facilitate the artist's life - because it will have fewer details to worry about.


Hands with only four fingers in several different styles and sizes: "Keep it simple!"

Note that by using this technique, all your knowledge in designing a hand with five fingers should be converted to four fingers. You need to adapt the concepts for a satisfying and interesting result.

Another detail is related to the fingertips. In cartoon style, the more round and flexible are your fingertips, more dynamic and interesting they are. When creating your characters, try to develop the hands as if they were also a character!


Can you sense a whole character in this hand?

Another good reason to draw the hands of four fingers is that you can make them larger and, therefore, more expressive! Several famous characters benefit from the use of this technique, like the Simpsons, Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones and Mickey Mouse.

The Secret of the Little Finger

One of the biggest secrets when designing this type of hand is in making the good use of the little finger! If you place it unevenly, you'll prevent a monotonous look to your hands.


Place the little finger unevenly in the scene. Notice how you value the action with this technique, directing the focus of the viewer to the main subject in the scene - and giving more details about the character's personality.

5. Talk to the Hand

When we want to intensify the effect of emotion in cartoon drawing, hands represent a huge role! Note in the images below as hands try to track - and reproduce - the facial and body expressions of the characters.

  1. "I have a great idea!"
  2. "How do I look, darling?"
  3. "I don't believe it... the Oscar is mine!"
  4. "I don't get it... he was right there!"
  5. "Argh! What a headache!"

The hands also have their own personality, oddly enough! Besides serving as a complement to the facial and body expressions, they can also express feelings on their own!


Can you see the magnificence in the gestures above?

However, many times you will come across in a situation where your hands should play a subtle role in the composition. In this case, it should serve as a secondary agent to the main action. Characters in action scenes are more prone to exaggeration than the characters in the quiet ones.


Notice the subtlety of the movements in dramatic scenes. There's no place for exaggerated hands. The hands need to reflect the feeling of the characters - this is the most difficult kind of design to create.

6. Knowledge Test

I prepared a small test to see whether you are truly a good observer. Analyse the drawings below and try to identify the best feeling that approaches them. Can you guess all?...


Can you guess the feeling that each hand is trying to express?

Raise Your Hand!

Now you know all the secrets in the art of drawing cartoon hands, congratulations!


Although the hands are a really fun part of the body to draw, designing them in any style isn't an easy job and only with practice you can ensure a more organic result. Even if your focus is the cartoon style, buy a good anatomy book will also help you to understand how muscles and bones work in the hands, although to known all of them is an unnecessary task. You just need to understand how the hand works while in motion. Remember that character's expression are much more important than what's under its skin.

As a final piece of advice, when you have to draw hands, use a mirror in front of your own; or take a look at your other hand - which usually stands still when you're drawing (unless you've learned how to draw with both!).

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