How to Find (Or Become) a Hand Model

Look for perfect hands, healthy nails, and, most of all, someone who can sit absolutely still.

Just because you weren’t born with Cindy Crawford’s curvaceous figure or Christi Turlington’s dramatic cheekbones doesn’t mean a career in modelling is out of the question. Today, a top hand model can earn up to $500 a day simply by exhibiting her 10 fingers.

But before you quit your job to begin a hand modeling career, understand that your hands must be nearly flawless and that steady work can be difficult to find. If you want to become a hand model or you have a client whose hands are suitable for a Vogue cover, follow these suggestions from several of today’s leading hand models and ad agency executives.

“When Joan Lunden is talking [in the commercial for Vaseline Intensive Care Hand and Nail Lotion], it’s my hand that is shown breaking a nail on a soda can, “ says Lisa Kenny, a professional hand model with the Ford Modeling Agency in New York City, who credits much of her success to being a good listener.

“You have to be able to do what the photographer or director tells you. With television, it’s all about timing and how well you work with the action,” says Kenny.

But, in fact, being completely in active is a crucial aspect of her job. “Being still is the biggest thing for a hand model,” says Kenny. She warns models to stay away from coffee, cola, and anything else with caffeine in it that might cause their hands to tremble.

For the hand model, practicing holding her hand still is akin to the runway model rehearsing her walk. Kenny says that holding her hands still is the only thing she has to practice for a shoot. “Being a good hand model is such a bizarre skill because it’s not something you can obtain; it’s given. You can’t work toward becoming better. The only thing you can improve is how well and how long you hold a pose. If you hold a pose and the photographer walks away, he expects that pose to be in the same position when he walks back,” she says.

“I was working as a graphic artist and a photographer we hired happened to notice my hands. I have great nails and skin with no veins or freckles. That’s the best way to break into the industry---find a photographer you know and get him to shoot a variety of shots of your hands. Then start sending them out,” says Kenny.

Where should you send your photos? Cherie Butler, another top Ford hand model, says, “Contact anyone you know in the nail industry, particularly those on the advertising end. Manicurists who work on the set of a photo shoot also have a lot of contacts.”

Butler agrees with Kenny that the first and most important step in launching a hand modeling career is having your hands professionally photographed.

“You want to hire someone who knows how to direct you in the positioning of your hands. That way you’ll have a variety of different poses in your portfolio. From there, you begin making the rounds to all the agencies,” says Butler.

Butler recommends starting at smaller agencies because they will be more willing to look at test shots of hands. Larger agencies generally want to see published work.

“You can’t just shoot to the top without having a certain amount of experience. When big accounts are paying a lot of money, they want to make sure you’re satisfactory for the job and that you know what you’re doing.”

Butler paid her dues to reach her current lofty status. While working in a creative capacity for a major cosmetics company’s in-house advertising agency, Butler was taken away from her normal duties whenever a low-budget modeling job came up.

“That’s how I got my portfolio together,” says Butler. “I have well-proportioned hands with tapered fingers and very smooth-looking skin.” That refined look has garnered Butler assignments with big-name advertisers, such as Citizen Watch and Revlon. She always keeps her hands in pristine condition.

“Not everyone has beautiful hands and not everybody is willing to take care of her hands. You have to be very careful what you do to them. You have to be careful what you put on them and you have to stay out of the sun. Normally, advertisers don’t want your hands to be tan. You may have to give up certain things, such as gardening and some sports, to keep your hands in beautiful condition,” says Butler.

But what if you don’t live in Manhattan or have connections in the advertising industry? Can you really expect to make it big?

Sheril Bailey, a highly regarded New York City nail technician whose clients have included Madonna, Susan Lucci, Glenn Close, and Morgan Fairchild, says, “It’s very difficult to break in. The field is dominated by Ford, who has the top five girls. They wrap up all the major jobs for Revlon, L’Oreal, and Cover Girl. Their hands are perfect.”

Don’t get discouraged, though. The Big Apple isn’t the only place to find action. Cindy Loeb, a school teacher in Cleveland, is enjoying a second career as a hand model without leaving town.

“My great aunt always told me I had nice hands,” says Loeb. “ I was working at a fitness center a couple of nights a week and I asked club member Robert Williams, president of Taxi Models in Cleveland, what he thought of my hands and if he ever used hand models. He looked at my hands and said, ‘Let’s get some pictures.’ The rest, as they say, is history. We got some pictures and I started getting bookings.”

Loeb has landed some choice assignments since being discovered three years ago. She’s worked for Matrix Essentials, Moen (a faucet manufacturer), and Genie(a garage door opener company).

Williams uses this informal approach to finding much of his talent. “ I tell people to groom their hands nicely, have somebody take snapshots, and send the snapshots to us with their glove size and ring size. We’ll take a look at them and if we feel there is a market out there, we’ll contact them.

“Most of our clients, Royal (the vacuum maker), for example, prefer small hands. We look for a medium-size hand with well-proportioned, straight fingers. Nails and cuticles have to be perfect. The nails don’t have to be extremely long, but they should have some length and the skin should be in good condition with no large pores,” says Williams.

To what does Loeb credit her success? “ I think to be a hand model you can’t have spots, moles, or freckles. Because the camera is so close, your hands have to be nearly perfect, but I have long, slim fingers with no veins. My skin tone is even and I don’t have big knuckles.”

Today, however, thanks to computer technology, a flawless hand may not be a necessity. High-tech computers now have the ability to retouch photos, magically turning a so-so hand into a work of art. While this may sound like good news for potential models with less than perfect hands, it has its draw backs for someone trying to break into hand modeling.

Says T Zazzera, director of special markets for Ford, “I would discourage anyone who wants to become a parts model. The reason is that advances in computer retouching have cut down on the amount of work that’s available. In the print media, particularly, the work has dropped by 70%. There are probably more opportunities in television.”

Jennifer Broughton can certainly tell you about the world of television from a hand model’s viewpoint. Five years ago, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Loretta Howard, she began her career. “My grandmother was a hand model and she got me to go on an audition. My first job was a Pillsbury commercial. For two years I was the one who poked the Pillsbury doughboy’s tummy and rolled out the pizza dough,” says Broughton.

Since her early debut she’s gone on to do a Mattel Barbie Doll commercial and a spot for Red Lobster restaurants. Her hand was joined with Wesley Snipes’ in a movie poster for Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.”

“The best thing to do is get with a good agent. I’m with Capital Artists in Los Angeles. They’ll submit your photos and try to get you work. Get good pictures and pose holding a glass or something glamorous such as pearls. Try to be creative,” says Broughton.

Now, by a show of hands, how many of you are ready to break into the exciting world of hand modeling?  You’ll never know unless you put your best foot, er... hand, forward!


What do modeling agencies look for when choosing a hand model?

  • Very smooth skin
  • Skin that is void of wrinkles, veins, moles, large pores, freckles, scars, and blemishes of any kind
  • Hands that have not been overexposed to the sun (not too tan)
  • Hands that are small-to medium size
  • Well-proportioned hands that have slim, tapered fingers
  • Long nail beds and normal nail growth(avoid sloped or flat nails)

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