The Importance of Working With Your Hands

Updated: Mar 15


Sculpting in clay, perhaps more than any other art form, involves using your hands in the creation of art. From early childhood, most of us have had some experience molding something with clay, sand, snow, mud, play-dough, or plasticine. There is an expressive language inside us that is allowed to speak when we use our hands to depict a visual idea or form.


The hands are an extension of the mind and what they make reveals something of the maker. Handwriting analysis by experts is a phenomenally accurate window into a person's personality and character. These experts are often drawn in by justice officials as testimony in criminal cases. To these experts there is no way a person can disguise his true nature in his handwriting. We always give ourselves away, no matter how hard we try to disguise a trait that we are not proud of. Even if we succeed in one way, we will let it slip in another place.


I listened to medical doctor recently talk about dissecting human hands, which he had found to be a more profoundly moving experience than dissecting the face. There are an exceptional number of nerve endings in the hands and this reflects their important function in our life.


Our hands are used very much in communication: we wave a greeting or farewell, we shake hands, we gesture as we speak to accentuate a point. We give a loving caress, we slap a face, we make a fist: all communicate feelings. Social dance patterns usually have hand movements that add flair and style to the dance routines and make them beautiful. Deaf people depend on sign language of the hands to communicate..


Sometimes when I teach sculpting classes, beginners claim they do not have talent. I always respond by saying that we can all run. However, by running a lot an athlete improves. We too can improve in sculpting; the harder we try and the more we do it, the further we go. Art teachers always tell their students just to continue drawing, painting, or sculpting and the skill will grow. Of course, if you merely repeat one style over and over, you may not evolve very much, but if you keep trying to improve yourself, you can evolve and maybe become very good at it.


The hands are an extension of the mind, a very powerful intelligence that can delve into the unconscious mind and make profoundly moving art. Here is a great example of this. When I began sculpting, I had a friend in his forties who claimed to have no artistic talent, but who was envious of me because I was enjoying myself so much with my art. I invited him to make some pieces in clay, something which he had never done before. What he came up with amazed us both. While it was obvious he was not accomplished in sculpting having so little experience, his pieces had a raw visceral expressiveness which needed no titles or explanation. The feelings they evoked were unmistakable. This man was not always very articulate in his speech, but his hands had expressed his feelings beautifully.


There is something very satisfying when you create something with your hands whether by knitting, quilting, carving, painting etc. You can conceive a great idea in your mind, but when you make it tangible, it is now something to behold and to hold. It can touch a heart, a mind, a life. It is the hands through which that idea is turned into an image and is given a greater life.


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