Hands in Context

I am still interested in creating an atlas of hand gestures as related to my older brother and me. If you are visiting my blog for the first time, my older brother is autistic, very low functioning and has never spoken.  Images of hands have figured noticeably in my photographs of him.  Using a short lens (28mm) I even put my own hand into the frame on occasion. Perhaps this was a way to make contact with him, since he was so remote that I never even knew if he knew who I was.


One of my goals is to create my own visual imagery in the form of icons as a shorthand way to express my feelings. However, I don’t want to use them as pictograms or a substitute alphabet in my painting. If I were to do that, there would be no difference between painting and writing. As I create icons that are meaningful to me, combining them as visual (and not linguistic) elements another layer of meaning would arise that would not require the viewer to understand what the icons mean to me.

Hands in context

Some hand gestures stand by themselves. The hand thrust forward, palm facing out, usually means ‘stop’, for example. However some only make sense in context.

The icon below was extracted from the Progress – Hand Atlas post. It is the icon in the far right column, second from the bottom.

Reverse silhouettes of hand icon

This image makes sense to me, but I’d wager that it doesn’t mean much to anyone else.

The image below probably makes a little bit more sense.

Jack's hand holding back his brother's as he tries to bite himself

Mike Biting Hand with Jack’s Hand Holding Him Back
4″x10″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

This image itself was extracted from the photograph below, which I took of Mike biting his own hand. I was trying to restrain him.

Photo of Mike Hitting Himself

Reverse abstracting

The order of the images I presented here are from the most abstracted to the object of abstraction. You might notice that the icon presented first includes Mike’s open mouth, something that no one would have or could have guessed.

My process of abstracting from the photograph to the icon was not very difficult. I did not have to alter anything significantly. However there are many pictures in which the relevant images of hands are separated spatially. In those cases, I will have to re-arrange the hand images while keeping the entire image relevant to the feeling which I want to portray, if I want to make it a relatively self-contained icon.

There may be one more step in abstracting, that I have not yet explored: representing the relevant gesture with a line drawing. Perhaps some abstract squiggle would have as much impact as the original photograph.

I’m working on it.

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