Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rendering Hands

Last time when I was working on Beauty with a Veil II, I spent about 5 hours working on her hand.  I had already been aware that artists charge significantly more to paint hands in a portrait, and this experience made it very clear to me why.    They are very hard to do.  It's difficult to paint all of the nuances - the knuckles and their wrinkles; the veins that stand out; the accurate bend of the fingers; the position of the hands; the light on each element.  I don't think I've captured it yet after all those hours.

That made me realize it would probably be wise for me to learn more about the anatomy of the hand so I spent several hours yesterday studying two anatomy books for artists:  An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists  by Fritz Schider and Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck.  The first one was particularly helpful because it showed first the bones of the hand in great detail then the muscles and tendons and ligaments that cover the bones.  I had always thought that if I just copy what I see in a picture or in front of me that I would end up with an accurate representation of the object and that it wasn't very important to know about what was underneath.  Several teachers lately have talked about how helpful it is to them personally to know anatomy, so I decided to give it a try.  After doing the study, I drew a picture of my own hand in my sketchbook.  It's so much easier to draw in pencil than paint in oils, it's amazing!  I can get completely detailed and fanatical in a way I can't do (yet!) in oils.  I simply don't yet know how to finesse the details, and I don't have the skills with the brush (or is it that I don't have small enough brushes?) to get all the details.  I'm also not convinced that I want the hand in the painting to be as detailed as my drawing.  The rest of the painting doesn't have that much detail unless I paint every single square of the tulle, and I have no intention whatsoever of doing that!  I'd rather walk across roasted marshmallows!  I'd rather be able to give the indication of fingers and hands and do it detailed enough that it all feels right, but I have no need for the viewer to be able to count the hairs on her knuckles.  The piece would suffer from so much detail.

So a learning process is happening, and it's fun!  After teaching math and Spanish and English, etc. all day, it's nice to come home and use my brain and hands together to discover new things about art.  It's good to exercise a different side of my brain.


  1. I'd say your hands are coming along pretty damn well. My Dad, who is a painter, sucks at hands and feet and gets really mad whenever anyone says anything about them. He needs to pick up the books you mentioned. Do you think he knows the persepctive is off on his hands and feet or does he just not see it? I imagine you know your own week spots as an artist don't you?

  2. I don't know about that perspective thing... my mom is also an artist and isn't able to paint buildings in perspective even if she uses a grid. She's outstanding at organic shapes, though, so maybe it's a tradeoff. Maybe your dad gives up before he completely nails it. I have a fabulous teacher who taught me, "Don't stop until it's right. You know when it's right. Don't be lazy. Keep going until you nail it!" His voice is in my head at the most frustated moments. It's very helpful!

    Do I know my own weak spots? Interesting question... well, sometimes! Usually not when I'm in the middle of a piece. When people ask me what my favorite piece it, it's almost invariably the one I'm working on at the moment. It takes months of letting it sit on the sidelines before I can see how I could have improved it more. It definitely helps to have the gentle critics I live with point out what's not quite working. But only at the right time - if someone makes a comment at the wrong time when I'm in the middle of my process, it can throw me off so much that I give up on the piece right away. I have learned to let people know if I'm open to comments or not. And they've learned to respect that! (Or I invite them to shows, not my studio!) I find it's very important to be careful about who comes to my studio!