Including a hand in your portraits adds a major measure of excitement but can quickly destroy an otherwise fine portrait if done incorrectly.
The goal is to incorporate the hand so that it is not only proportionally and gestural right, but is in agreement in personality with the expression of the face.
For instance, an agreeable facial expression juxtaposed with a clenched fist may not yield the effect you want unless you intend to add an ironic twist to your portrait. On the other hand, a hand supporting the head fits very well with a stern scowling expression.
First, absolute beginners should not be attempting to sketch both the hand and portrait together. Things will quickly get muddled. The lesson for the absolute novice here is to get an understanding of the importance of acquiring a solid foundation of your skill.
In a pose where a hand supports the head there exists a subtle forward tilt because the subject is slightly hunched and leaning forward. For the artist, this situation translates into the presence of a subtly foreshortened and reclined portrait. In the hand/skull case this means that the chin is slightly receding relative to the forehead.
As always, you should start with the all encompassing arabesque, which in this situation, includes the hand and the shoulder. If you first sketch the head and then attach the hand to it you are really asking for problems. The hand and the skull will lack harmony and will give the awkward impression that they are two distinct objects that are coincidentally juxtaposed.
When striking the complete arabesque be aware of the negative as well as the positive spaces. Also, do not pre-measure any aspects of the construct. It should be rendered with as much flair as possible without losing your sense of proportion. Strike first then verify.
Further build upon the construct by positioning the face, hand, and shoulder signpost
s and sizes. The internal architecture of the construct is initiated by hatching-in the keydarks and painting out the lights with a putty eraser.
What you are doing is to set the stage for rendering the facial features, the hand, and the shoulder. The hand must be established and sized in accordance with the skull and the facial features. The compression of the jaw into the palm must also be reckoned with.
Employing a sharp pencil you can now further develop the tone and shape with blending, stumping down, and erasing. In this, you will be going back and forth hoping that you know when to quit. Sketching is about making decisions, i.e., knowing what to build up and, just as significant, knowing what to leave out.
In the hand/skull case you have to be extra careful how far you develop the hand. The hand should be seen as an extra element, that is, a supporting element that should not be part of the focus. Do not feel compelled to finish every element in your sketch. Everything in drawing is about equilibrium and communicating your intent directly to the viewer’s eye.
In conclusion, it is critical to see the hand and the shoulder as parts of one whole. Starting your sketch with sketching the complete arabesque will help you greatly with maintaining this unity. Treat the hand and shoulder as props that surround the face. This means that you should draw them in a subordinate role.
Do you want to learn the secrets of pencil portrait sketching? Download my brand new free pencil portrait drawing tutorial here: pencil portrait course.
Remi Engels is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter and skilled sketching teacher. See his work at pencil portraits.
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