Hand Job

Recently I was in the presence of two artists having a conversation. One of them was expressing the difficulty and frustration she has when painting hands. The other artist immediately chimed in, “I always charge extra for hands. Always”. She was referring to her steady work doing commissioned portraits. Now I’m not an artist but am well aware that hands are tough. I hear it all the time. However, that remark didn’t sit right with me for some reason. She charges extra for hands? Really? Is that a common practice among artists doing commissioned work?

Robert’s Hands, by the wonderful Jean Marcellino:

Given the context of the conversation, the artist was presumably charging extra for hands because they are difficult, time-consuming, and require exacting skill to get them just right. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to sell their services at the fee of their choosing. That’s the nature of the free market and it’s perfectly fine. But is it wrong to assume that some things fall within the normal expectations that come with the job? Is it unreasonable to expect that a professional artist CAN paint hands? I don’t think so. And if they can’t, or if they struggle with it, then isn’t that a deficiency on their part? Why should a client be charged extra because the artist is – sorry to put it this way – lacking skill? Or perhaps lazy? As I see it, we freelancers should be grateful to have any and all clients, especially in this economy. It doesn’t seem right to nickel and dime the people who are giving us work.

The stunning realism of Daniel Maidman‘s Hands #1:

I of course thought about this from an art model’s point of view. For example, we do not get paid more for doing standing poses. It would be nice, but it doesn’t happen. If an art school pays models, say, $20 per hour, we are expected to perform whatever modeling is asked of us, and that $20 is not increased according to the physical exertion of the poses. But it’s ok, because there is nothing unreasonable in asking a professional art model to stand for long poses. Sure it can be tiring, but that’s the job. One of the hardest poses I ever did was this one at the New York Academy of Art. I would literally limp out of the building after that class. But I never went upstairs to the model coordinator’s office to demand extra pay for my throbbing hip. Even in a private assignment, where the model sets his or her pay rate, I would still never charge extra for “difficulty”. It just wouldn’t feel right to me. But then again, maybe the extra charge hand artist is right and I’m wrong? Maybe I undercharge my art modeling services in terms of fee/effort ratio. I don’t know, I’m terrible at that stuff.

Here are some beautifully expressive hands by Artemisia Gentileschi in Penitent Magdalene:

Whether the “extra charge” artist is justified in her commission fees, the fact remains that hands for artists are a challenge indeed. There is often foreshortening involved when the fingers are curled or bent in any way, and the complex anatomical structure, proportions, and joints demand a well-honed technique to look right. We’ve all seen badly painted hands. They can, unfortunately, ruin an otherwise good painting.

Drawing Hands, lithograph by MC Escher. The detail here is amazing, right down to the folds of skin on the knuckles:

Ok, maybe these hands would justify an extra charge. They look like they were tricky to paint. This is Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you advertise yourself or market yourself as a “professional” in a given field, your ability- and willingness- to perform your services should be implicit, shouldn’t it? An unusual request that is out of the ordinary might be a different story, and special rates would be agreed upon in those cases. But I don’t think this hand extra charge falls into that category. Maybe the artists out there can shed light on this issue because this could be standard practice in the commissioned art scene for all I know. Ah, whatever. Maybe I’m just being a pain in the ass and making a mountain out of a molehill. So I’ll conclude this post with a guy who clearly wasn’t intimidated by hands. I wonder if he charged extra? 😆

Leonardo da Vinci, Study of Hands:


17 thoughts on “Hand Job

  1. Claudia, I am so honored to be on your blog! And among such fantastic hands… I think Rosetti did the hands better than the face, actually. I did read one time about weird artist surcharges for paintings during the Renaissance and Baroque – which included extra figures, the color blue, and hands. So it may be jive, but it’s long-standing jive! I guess I can see how, if it’s going to take an extra day to do hands, you might want to charge for hands. But then again, you make a good point about your flat modeling rate. Anyways, hands are awesome, and thanks for including mine.

    • artmodel says:

      Daniel,

      Thanks for that info about surcharges during the Renaissance. The one for the color blue was because the cobalt pigment was super expensive, right?

      I agree with you about the Rossetti. Most of his female faces have that same vacant look.

      Thanks for your comments and thanks for your incredible hands painting. It looks amazing!

      Claudia

  2. Very interesting post! Your discussion about hands reminds me of the Renaissance artist Lippi, who used to paint hands extensively (so much that he was criticized for it). Perhaps Lippi felt like he was showing off his skill as an artist by including so many hands. Here’s a post that I wrote on the topic a while back:

    http://albertis-window.blogspot.com/2009/11/fra-filippo-lippis-handy-work.html

    Cheers!
    “M” from Alberti’s Window

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’ll be interested to hear the response to this, whether charging extra for hands in the norm. I feel I used to be better at drawing hands/feet than I am nowadays. Perhaps it’s down to practice, and I used to practise it more when I was younger. A lovely selection of hand paintings!

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      I’m going ask around about this. I’m curious as to how commonplace it is. Glad you liked the images. Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  4. Fred says:

    I normally paint everyone as a pirate. That way I can save myself some trouble by replacing the hands with hooks, plus put a patch over one eye which saves me having to get the eyes to match. I don’t know why all artists don’t do that!

    Beautiful sample images!

    • artmodel says:

      Fred,

      Hook hands sound good to me. Just don’t do it when I’m the model, ok? 😆

      There were many more images I could have used for this post. I left out Durer, somewhat on purpose. But I’m glad you liked my selections.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Claudia

  5. Claudia, I’m thoroughly flattered to see my drawing included among such illustrious pieces. Thanks for that, and for the post. I agree with you, but have heard about this “hands” surcharge, and always thought it absurd. I’ve always felt that simple observation pretty much renders any subject equally hard (or easy). Whether or not the end result is convincing is another matter, and applies to trees, noses, abstract forms or anything else.

    • artmodel says:

      Jean,

      Thank YOU for sending me those beautiful hands! They look great in the post. So you have heard of this hands surcharge thing. I agree that it seems a bit silly. You explained it very well, and even though hands are generally regarded as difficult by most artists, I’m sure there are some who still find them easier than, say, noses. It’s all relative.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  6. Bob Hicks says:

    This brought to mind a joke I heard on the George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show when I was a kid.

    Gracie was talking about her cousin who was a sculptor: “He couldn’t do hands, so he put both of Napoleon’s hands inside his coat.”

  7. Kimberly Adams says:

    Hi, I like your blog! I’m a model in Pennsylvania. Personally the artists who I’ve worked for, even the very good ones, seem to booger up the feet more so than the hands. Or, more specifically, the ankles – maybe I’m vain, but my ankles aren’t nearly as stumpy as they are often depicted. Regarding hands, my only thought is maybe they take a lot of extra time for a relatively small part of the painting, so for a flat-rate piece, it makes sense to add a surcharge. Anyway, once I get more used to this blog thing, is it okay if I link to you? I love the variety of art you bring into your posts.

    • artmodel says:

      Kimberly,

      Of course you can link to me. Let me know when you’re up and running. Great to have a fellow model reading this blog.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Claudia

  8. Lance Tooks says:

    Enjoyed your post a lot! My favorite quote about drawing hands came from my own artist Pops, who said in response to my teenaged remark that I couldn’t draw hands, “Why not? You’ve got hands, haven’t you? Draw YOUR hands!” Since then hands have been among my favorite things to draw.
    (And I’m in favor of an artist charging whatever he or she wants whenever and for whatever reason… after all, who can force a client to meet their price?)
    Lance

    • artmodel says:

      Lance,

      Pops gave you great advice. I posed for an undergraduate art class recently and the students had to show their homework. The assignment was to draw their own hand. And they were all really good too! I was impressed.

      Thanks for posting a comment. Glad you enjoyed this post, and welcome to Museworthy!

      Claudia

  9. violinhunter says:

    In the music world, one gets the same fee whether one plays Britten’s Simple Symphony or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. However, in many fields – construction comes to mind – the contractor can charge extra if the job is more complex or the circumstances are unusual. It’s like working overtime or working the third shift at a factory. Hands are hard to paint or draw. I know from experience. The hands I have painted have turned out badly.

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