Arts·Bad at Art

In just a day of focus, this beginner artist got way better at something difficult: drawing hands

Stephen Robinson hadn't drawn with graphite in 13 years, but with a day of patience and attention he improved his skills tremendously.

Stephen Robinson hadn't drawn with graphite in years, but with patience and attention he improved tremendously

Stephen Robinson hadn't drawn with graphite in 13 years, but with a day of patience and attention he improved his skills tremendously. 7:40

This video is part of an ongoing series called "Stephen is Bad at Art," in which the titular Stephen Robinson takes on a variety of art challenges he's set for himself — with the help of a bunch of experts, and sometimes his cat. Check out Stephen's YouTube channel where he makes videos on learning new skills, persistence and tackling boredom.

Have you ever tried to draw a hand? How did it go? Odds are probably not so great on your first attempt: hands are tricky! But Stephen Robinson is determined to learn in the latest episode of his series Stephen is Bad at Art, where he spends a 12+ hour day consistently focused on improving his hand-drawing skills.

"The goal of today is simple: spend as much time as physically and mentally possible trying to draw the most realistic hand," Stephen declares. "It's been about 13 years since I last sat down and seriously tried to draw something in graphite. It never came that naturally to me and hands are notoriously difficult to draw, so I think this is going to be really interesting."

Stephen Robinson (Stephen Robinson/CBC Arts)

Before diving into drawing, Stephen spoke first to realist artist and drawing teacher Melissa Schatzmann for advice. "Drawing hands is notoriously difficult because a lot of students who begin to draw, they don't really study what they're drawing," she tells Stephen. "If you look at your fingers, they can look like cylinder shapes. Or, you know, the palm of the hand to me always looks like a slice of bread."

"What are the main qualities I should focus on when I'm drawing this hand?" Stephen asks.

"Look at the underlying shapes, look at shadows, look at the light source, look at all the components that made up that hand to be able to translate it to your drawing."

(Stephen Robinson/CBC Arts)

Reflecting later in the day, Stephen is struck by how much he really did have to pay attention to the biological details and structure of what he's drawing: "It's amazing how much anatomy is involved in drawing hands...which when I say this sounds like the silliest thought ever, but you have to know anatomy super well to be able to draw anatomy."

"As far as takeaways from this episode, I think the one that sticks out the most is how almost scientific drawing realistic-looking hands is. You have to think about the anatomy of your hand, the tendons, the knuckles, where the different joints are and then in turn it's almost mathematical — figuring out the angles and drawing the shapes. And to me that's really interesting."

In addition to a detailed eye for anatomy the other big lesson of the day for Stephen was patience. "The second big takeaway with this is just the value of patience and spending a ton of time on a project. I think one of the main reasons this looks different is that I just spent an incredible amount of time working on it, and I learned a lot through the process of spending all that time and making the little adjustments."

(Stephen Robinson/CBC Arts)

Follow Stephen Robinson's YouTube channel here.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

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