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How to Draw Cartoon Hands (Comic, Cartoon, and Mickey Mouse)

July 18, 20174 Comments

In this video, I’ll show you how to draw 3 styles of cartoon hands. There’s the super simple Mickey Mouse Hands, the less simple yet highly stylized Cartoon Hands, and the less simple and less stylized Comic Book Hands.

In my previous hands lessons, I went over the anatomy of hands, a bunch of detail for realistic hands, like fingernails, skin creases, fat pads, veins and I gave you guys a general process for drawing and inventing hands from imagination. Watching those will definitely help you fully understand how to draw hands, even cartoon hands. Cartoons are just exaggerations of reality. To exaggerate the hand, it helps to know the hand.

Let me remind you of the procedure and the forms of the hand we already learned. We start with the box of the palm. Add the gesture and cylinders of the fingers. The triangular base of the thumb. The rest of the thumb. And then any details. This process will be the same no matter what style you’re drawing in.

Mickey Mouse Hands

Let’s start with Mickey Mouse Hands. The 3-fingered glove with sausage fingers. Mickey isn’t the only one with this hand. But he is the most famous.

The animators at Disney wanted to create a hand that was super expressive (and easy to draw thousands of times). Animation is all about movement and telling a story. To design a hand that is all about movement and telling a story, it makes sense to remove a lot of the structure and detail and keep mostly the gesture. Remember, gesture is what tells the story. The hand still has structure, but the forms are soft and simple. They could be bent, stretched, squashed, twisted and basically distorted in any way, in favor of the gesture.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that Mickey Mouse has three fingers and a thumb. They chopped a finger to save time and money while drawing thousands and thousands of frames. The lack of the fourth finger doesn’t hurt the ability to tell a story or to be expressive. In fact Walt Disney thought it looked better that way.

Five digits are too many for a mouse, it would look like a bunch of bananas. During WWII, Mickey even lost his tail as the result of an executive decision to save even more time and money.” – Walt Disney

The fingers and palm are round and puffy. The hands are generally bigger and easier to see. The white glove helps with that too. In a cartoon the parts of the body that are most expressive are generally bigger. In a pose where we see the whole body, it’s hard to see the hands because they’re so small. So we make the body smaller, the head and hands bigger, and voila! The more expressive parts of the body have more real estate.

Mickey Mouse has circle palms. If you’re drawing more of a side view, you want to squish that circle into an oval. But you can use a square or even a triangle for your character. It doesn’t matter much. Remember, with cartoon hands, it’s the gesture we’re mostly concerned with. You have much more room to play with the structure.

Generally the fingers and palm follow a 1:1 ratio. Start with a mitten shape for the group of fingers to identify the overall shape and then split up that shape into the individual sausages. Sometimes one of the fingers might be separate from the group. That makes it look a little more interesting.

Keep the forms simple and think of the gesture. Don’t show all the knuckles. Most of the knuckles are softened to continue the gesture. Sometimes you’ll want to show a sharp bend if the bend is an important part of the expression. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of curvy sausages. In a fist or other poses that need to have some tension, an indication of a knuckle helps.

The thumb is similar, but it’s just a little more complicated. Remember that trowel shape at the end of the thumb. Mickey’s hand has some of that, but much more bubbly. Skinny along the shaft and then fat at the end. Don’t make the end symmetrical. That’ll just look like it got smashed by a door. Straighter on one side, curvier on the other makes for more dynamic shape.

Old versions of Mickey had the palm as a simple circle. Later on, he got upgraded with the addition of hand butts.

Hand butts are from the two round masses on the palm of the hand. The drumstick muscle of the thumb, and another flatter one along the pinky side. Not all poses will need a really obvious butt crack. It depends on the angle and the position of the thumb. If the thumb and pinky are getting squeezed together, the butt crack will be obvious. And if we’re looking at it from ¾ or almost side view, the butt crack overlap helps to show the depth. If the thumb is stretching away, a smaller more subtle line might be a better option.

Steamboat Willie and Modern Mickey – Disney Animation

Now, to put a glove on that hand, add the rubber hose arm and a bracelet around the wrist where the end of the glove is. If you’re drawing the back of the hand, don’t forget the 3 decorative lines, or “points”. When you’re happy with the rough sketch, clean it up in another layer.

Cartoon Hands

What separates a cartoon hand from a real hand is that the characteristics and expression are drawn in a humorously exaggerated way. Exaggeration is the key word here.

Not all cartoon characters have the 3 fingered glove. Many are more complex, and highly stylized. For example there’s the brilliant Glen Keane with movies like Tarzan, Tangled, and Beauty and the Beast. To draw these types of cartoon hands, anatomy becomes a little more important because the exaggerations are designed based on the anatomy.

Glen Keane Drawing

Out of the 3 styles I’m showing in this video, I think this one is the hardest, and personally I think it looks the best. It’s hardest because you have the most artistic freedom to push things how you like. You have to really feel the gesture and make exaggeration decisions that help support the story.

The shapes are more complex and are designed based on the specific pose. Masterful exaggeration in the right areas is what makes these cartoon hands look so dynamic and awesome. The forms and proportions can be changed a lot to fit the character. For beefy hands, think of meatballs instead of sausages. For slender hands, think of worms, or pencils or… I dunno anything skinny.

Look at hands from your favorite cartoons. They’re a goldmine of reference. Pause the movie and study the way the artist drew that hand. Why did they push the exaggeration this way? How did they change the forms to make the hand fit the character?

Alright, let’s draw a cartoon hand! I’ll work from a photo so that you guys can see what I’m basing my exaggerations from.

I’m gonna start with a square shaped palm. But I’m not drawing a perfect square. I want it to be moving. I’m using subtle curves and tapering the square thinner at the bottom. It’s a square, but a more interesting square.

I really like how I can see that step down to the hand at the wrist. So, I’ll exaggerate the way those forms lock together.

The thumb is already pretty dynamic in the photo, but I want to take it 10 steps further. Go as far as I can with a crazy dynamic shape without breaking the form. It should still look like a thumb. With cartoons, you can go pretty far though.

I’m designing these shapes based on my knowledge of anatomy though. There’s the thenar eminence muscle mass peeking out here. Then a strong straight through the metacarpal bone, a fold in the skin to exaggerate the bend, and the big trowel shaped top of the thumb.

Don’t be afraid to push and pull the shapes. Experiment and try out various options. If you’re too timid and stick to the reference too much, it’ll probably end up boring. Try to design dynamic and interesting shapes. Have fun!

For the fingers, I’m going with a design that’s skinny at the base and fat at the tips. And large squared nails.

In this pose, the tendons on the back of the hand are important to show the tension. A few strokes is enough to show that.

I’ll also add some width at the knuckles to make the finger shapes more interesting.

Ok, the sketch is done. I’ll create a new layer, choose my “Sexy Sumi-E” brush by Kyle Webster, and ink on top of it. I love his brushes. The blue pencil I used for the sketch is also his. It’s called the “Animator’s Pencil” and it’s supposed to mimic the Blackwing pencil that a lot of artists loved.

Comic Hands

And then there’s the comic books. Marvel, DC, and Japanese Manga hands don’t usually take much liberty with exaggeration. The proportions and forms are very close to what you’d see in real hands. So, all you guys that want to learn how to draw really awesome Anime or Comic Book hands, you’re just gonna have to learn how to draw hands. And I taught that already. So, check out my previous hand lessons: Hand Anatomy, Realistic Hands, and Hands from Imagination.

Since, anime hands are pretty much just real hands as silhouettes with flat shading, I’m gonna take one of my previous hand drawings and make it into an anime style. The details are usually removed, so imagine drawing one of those mannikins at the mall. Realistic proportions without details. I got the silhouette, now I’ll fill the background with a color and fill the hand with another color. If I want to be fancy I can give it a subtle gradation and rim light. Let’s be even more fancy and give the rim light a glow. Change the color of the outline in that area and the glow feels stronger. Yay! Anime hands.

Of course there’s a wide variety of comic book and anime styles. Not all are simple silhouettes with flat shading. Some are highly rendered, especially the cover art. What I showed here is just a typical anime style hand.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Bill LaRocque says:

    Wonderful content presented in an upbeat style. Great for folks with short attention spans. Bravo, Proko!

  2. Mitch says:

    Love the drawings to accompany the article – very nicely done and really appreciate how they flow with the design of the site. Great job Stan and team!

  3. Bill Tobo says:

    Is there a book on how to draw cartoon hands? If there is, can you tell me how to purchase them?

  4. Feher says:

    Im from Brazil. I don’t speak Inglesh but, congratulations on the drawings

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