Resting Hands Revisited

Yesterday’s watercolor study did not portray the emotion or feeling that I wanted. Although each hand position was fairly accurate, I think their relative positions contributed to my unhappiness. Today I was thinking about how to remedy the situation: Perhaps I could include more context. If the forearms or torso were presented, would that help?

Brief recap of resting hands

Yesterday I related my visit to my brother’s Day Program. Mike is my older brother who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. I met one of his classmates, M___, who is just as low functioning as Mike, if not more so.  He seemed to be very gentle, however. Once, I took his hand to guide him and he seemed to have so much pent up energy. He was vibrating. Perhaps he had too much medication.

Today’s study

In today’s study, I did expand the scope of the sketch to include forearms and torso. I altered the spacing of the hands to make it more accurate. Now perhaps one can imagine a game of cat’s cradle between them, as I mentioned yesterday. I added a background to surround the left hand.

M___'s hands at rest in situ

Resting Position In Situ
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


Indeed, with the modifications I made, the above study conveys more of the flavor that I intended than yesterday’s (see below). I believe I know some of the reasons. For instance, the arms and the torso were necessary to indicate overall posture; the spacing between the hands needed to be accurate. Yesterday, I tried to abbreviate the gesture by altering the spacing between hands. That is like changing the  spacing between the feet of a sketch of a crouching person. One can do that, but the balance would be off and he or she would topple over. The background, highlighting the area around the left hand enhances the mood of the sketch.

The notion that someone would be at rest in this posture, is a little odd. It doesn’t seem that restful. It must have seemed so for M___, as he lingered in this posture for quite a while. However, it could be that it actually wasn’t restful for him at all.

Yesterday’s study – for comparison

M___'s hands at rest

Resting Positon
7″x10″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block



8 thoughts on “Resting Hands Revisited

  1. Oh yes – this one communicates so much more to me. Your analysis of the difference is very interesting. It is amazing, I think, how much work the inclusion of the torso does. It is more than a reference point for the hands isn’t it? – it makes me think that some gestures are perhaps beyond the hands in that they involve the whole body. I wonder if the hands (specifically in autism) are ever the still point, or the pivot on which the gesture of the body turns? I’m thinking about how Dylan will sometimes make embodied gesture when his hands seem not to be involved.


    • I agree that more context can give more useful information, especially in cases where the hand gestures by themselves are vague. Interesting point about hand gestures working together with whole body. I think that you are correct in thinking that they work together to enhance the meaning. I’m wondering, and don’t have the answer at the moment, but it would make sense if physical comedy makes use of a hand gesture expressing one thing while the body gesture expresses an opposite sentiment. Somewhat like shaking one’s head ‘yes’ and saying ‘no’. Interesting food for thought, Liz. Thank you.


  2. There are a lot of Renaissance paintings where gestures are very important, aren’t there? I’m thinking of Leonardo da Vinci for example. Often the hands in these paintings are involved in gestures whose meaning is no longer obvious to us (pointing at the heavens is popular.). Now I’ve been looking at your pictures, and reading your analysis, I wonder if I’ll look at these paintings in quite the same way again! I’m really enjoying this insight into what you’re thinking as you work.


    • Probably gestures in older paintings were codified. Whatever meanings they hold could probably be divined from art history essays and theses, since everyday gestures of ‘common people’ were not the usual subject when painting was the only visual art. There was probably more room for that kind of expressive gestures in drawing. Da Vinci’s ‘grotesques’ capture facial features of the common person and I’m sure there are gestures as well, although they are probably more apt to be anatomic studies than gestural ones.

      Thank you for your kind words about my sketches.



  3. A number of scholars and authors discuss the minutiae of symbolic forms and gestures. For example, “Symbolic Goldfinch: Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art,” Friedman. These are interesting studies. As a healing garden gardener, the watercoloring images of these hands are in the context of a series. Illustrating for us, here in our garden, syntax and vocabulary of a distinct culture.

    In American society there is a vast, and quantifiable, sub culture whose survival is on the margin of what is considered our mainstream society. Every culture develops its own artifacts. Where there are artifacts there are words. And where there are words, there are stories. We presume these words are verbal. And this language fits fit neatly into our weltanschung of nouns, verbs, adverbs &c.

    For most non-mobility compromised persons, the center of gravity is in the hips. In Western & Eastern medicine and mysticism the gravity is here. PT therapists, coaches and biomechanics look at the expression of the body as it aligns from the hips. In the mainstream of society.

    Here in the Healing Garden, we admire your self honesty. There is good plain and simple courage revisiting our own studies. This is a powerful form of expression that speaks for itself. Your studies involve your memory, eye and hand coordination, and all those cognitive functions contributing to our nonverbal expression. You are possessed of great bounty to maneuver the craft of watercolorings and written verbal communications to explore…

    We are convinced you are only poised over the deep in these and other studies. M’s arms and hands do say it all. I suspect his hands are expressing a familiar and repetitive routine of thought. This is a comforting retreat from the over stimulation. We also suspect this cognitive routine must contain new ‘dialogue’ to continue being of psychological use. The hands are a specific individual image within a cultural context. Was there more sinew in the person with the arms and hands? M’s hands speak most clearly to me in your first watercoloring. The first image says everything to us and is healing, too. — THGg


    • I’m glad that the first iteration of M___’s hand speak to you. However, I myself, hesitate to apply a meaning (message, might be a better word) to his gestures in either of the two portraits of M___’s hands. Perhaps there is a message contained in a resting gesture. The message to the doctor who taps one’s knee with a little hammer contains information about an involuntary reflex that is either present or absent depending on the response of the leg. In someone without a means of communicating his or her inner state of mind, it is impossible to know what thoughts exist, if any exist at all. The best a person can do is monitor the non communicative individual and catalog actions with events. It is a tedious process that may or may not yield results. The idea that thought might not exist is difficult to imagine, as it is difficult to imagine what it is like to be someone else, even with very detailed communication about thoughts.
      As always, THGg, I appreciate knowing your thoughts. Thanks


      • This to us in the Garden, is the great meaning of Brotherly Love, Healing and Truth Seeking: the differing gradient of everything, light and the other senses colliding, the expression of cognition, but also the individual apprehension of cognition into different gradients of conceptualization – we are all bound to be the proud (or not so) owners of differing opinions. It does not seem to this gardener that many of the institutions, social and familial norms of the 1950’s contributed overwhelmingly to much dialog. Albeit Socratic, but a good learning tool, too. Thank you for disagreeing with me sufficiently to encourage dialog. — THGg


        • Indeed much has been learned from 1950s era mental health ‘treatment’ (thankfully). In that era, the doctor was king, end of discussion. It is not so much that way now, although there are some medical systems that do not recognize when they do a crummy job and blame the patient who does not respond to their treatment plan – but that’s another story. The recognition of autism as a different way of sensing and reacting to the world is one area where major progress has occurred.
          Thank you for your comment THGg. I appreciate your input.


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