Learn from Anatomy to Improve Your Poses
The key to improving is to do our best and put our heart into what we do. Anatomy is not an easy subject, but I hope that this article can be a quick guide for you and get you in the mood to keep learning. Let’s start with the building blocks of the human figure:
The spine is the body’s support, also allowing motion in the torso. Its vertical shape differentiates humans from other species. It is not a straight line, but a curve. Its shape makes the pelvis and the rib cage tilt slightly. Let’s divide it up into three parts to see it better:
- Cervical spine — supports and provides mobility to the head
- Dorsal or thoracic spine — supports the ribs.
- Lumbar spine — a little before the pelvis, connected to the sacrum.
In the neck, the cervical spine (1) is located just behind the jaw (2). There are a variety of muscles that operate the movement of the head. The most visible one has a very, very long name (sternocleidomastoid!), but you can easily recognize it by its V shape, parting from the ear to the center of the clavicles (3). In the center of these muscles is the Adam’s apple, which is more prominent in men (4).
The dorsal spine is the part that connects to the arms. You can draw it in many ways, I like to give it an ovoid shape that resembles the shape of the ribs (1).
The sternum (2) closes this structure in the front, creating, with the spine, an imaginary line that divides the body into two. Use them as a guide!
The clavicles (3) are like a bicycle handlebar, you can think of them as a shoulder support. Every time the arms move, they will change direction.
In the back, you will find the scapulae or shoulder blades. They are triangle shaped and help move the arms. The shape of the back changes following the movements of these bones.
The pelvis is located at the end of the torso, connected to the lumbar spine from the sacrum (1). On both sides you can see the ilium (2); and in the front, the pubis (3).
As these are somewhat irregular bones, I like to simplify them by drawing a pair of discs for the ilium, and the sacrum as an inverted triangle.
The ilium (1) will guide you to draw the angles of the hip. On the back, these two dimples at the end of the spine, before reaching the buttocks, will help us identify the sacrum (2).
Note that female hips are generally wider than male hips — one of the main differences.
Limbs can move in many ways, but knowing their limitations will save us from drawing unrealistic poses (or bone-breaking poses, ouch!).
In the upper part of the arm (A) there is the humerus, a long and strong bone that connects to the elbow and articulates the forearm (B).
In the forearm you will find the radius (1) and the ulna (2). These bones cross to allow the rotation of the wrist. Some artists draw part of the forearm as a box to define its volume (3).
Can you see a tiny lump just behind your wrist? (4) It is part of the ulna. You can use it as a reference point to locate the orientation of the arm.
In Fig. A we have the leg bones:
The femur (1) in the thigh; the knee (2) in the middle of the leg; the fibula (3) and the tibia (4) in the calf area.
The legs should support the body and give it the balance it needs, but there is a detail that sometimes escapes us: the legs do not have completely vertical line. In order to achieve balance, there must be rhythm. Notice the slight inclination in the femur from the hip to the knee, and the curves (fig. B) that create the contour of the leg (side view).
Other interesting details about the leg:
Between the hip bone and the femur, there is a space that can be seen as an indentation in the skin, mainly in men who have less muscle mass in that area.
In figure C, we have the ankle. Its bones are placed at different heights, with the fibula on the outer side (*) being lower.
Figure D is a back view of the knee. On the outer side (*) the muscles do not generate too much change in the contour, but on the inner side a small lump is created (I have also pointed this out in figure A).
According to some academic standards, 7 or 8 heads is the ideal height of an adult. However, each person has different proportions according to their physical characteristics. If you compare people of different heights you will notice that individually they maintain proportions according to their own body.
To prove this, let us look at the following example: two adults, a man and a woman. Although the female figure is shorter, her body is divided into 7 heads (which fits within the standard) and the male figure is only a third of a head taller
In the example I have also included the figure of a child. Take into account that, at early ages, the body has not developed completely, so their measures are a little undefined. This one is about 5 heads high.
Aside from this, artists do change their characters’ proportions totally out of these “ideal” ones, to emphasize their unique characteristics or to enhance their drawing styles. (But this is not an excuse to ignore the fundamentals!)
A trick! I like comparing elements of the same length, just to make sure that everything is well proportioned as I draw. For example, the hands are about the size of the face; the feet are as long as the forearm.
Another piece of data that I find fascinating is the fact that, if you extend your arms, they are side to side the same length as your height!
Finally, four points which will help us to get better at drawing day by day.
- Observation: Study how people walk, their poses, the different types of bodies… Create a reference gallery in your mind and, if possible, take pictures!
- Think in 3D: To understand a figure/shape, the best thing is to analyze it from different perspectives.
- Research: Read about body parts, bones, muscles, functions, etc. From an artist’s point of view is fine, you do not need to become a doctor! We are interested in those anatomy parts which affect the shapes and movements of the body.
- Draw, draw, draw! Practice drawing the whole figure and detailed studies of some especially difficult parts.
Thank you very much for reading!
If you like, you can check out my social networks and my portfolio to see some of my work.
Bring Energy and Life to Your Poses!
Master human anatomy today with these 13+ tips
A collection of the most anatomy tutorials I created. Update: In the form of an anatomy ebook, I wrote a full anatomy masterpost, with great medical and artistic resources curated from around the web.
Anatomy is really important to master. Learning how to to draw people involves understanding what is going on and why the different parts move like they do, and look like they do. It helps you be more flexible and imagine your own poses and positions if you know what lies underneath.
If you like these, please consider sharing this post with your friends! It helps me a lot, thank you!
- I analyzed the proportions of the human body, and created a general diagram for the front and side views. I really think this one is most important ones to look at. I do not really like counting heads, so I try to go off of rough measurements since I draw randomly, and do not lay out 8 equal lines.
Get all of the anatomy quick tips in high res and which helps support the site here.
- A highly requested one, how to draw hands from an understanding anatomy approach.
- In this tutorial, I give tips on how to draw feet, which are pretty tricky in my opinion.
This one was pretty highly requested and includes drawings that cover chins, jaws, necks, and heads.
This one covers facial landmarks
Side vide facial landmarks
Notes & Measurements
- Approximately : bottom of eye to the bottom of the chin = chin to collar bone
- Do not flatten the back of the head, unless your character has a dent in their head.
- It’s easier to draw these angles if you draw a cross that guides the eye line and then the flat vertical ( | )line of the face.
Two older ones that need to be rescanned:
Learn how to draw dynamic poses with these 26 anatomy tutorials
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Best practice advice for capturing human anatomy
Drawing the human body without some knowledge of anatomy is like playing a board game without the rule book and some key pieces missing: It’s frustrating and confusing. After you learn all the rules and get good at the game, you can change the rules. But that’s because you understand the dynamics of the game and you can change things to improve it.
Being confident with anatomy makes drawing easier and more fun! In this workshop, I’ll give you some advice to guide your anatomy studies, so you can learn how to draw people accurately, and with confidence.
01. Think first, then draw
Anatomy is very specific and the difference between a drawing that’s 'right' and a drawing that’s 'wrong' can be subtle. If your drawings are scribble-like and you don’t commit to any one line, your brain is busy just processing the image, so it won’t notice anatomical mistakes. If you’re studying anatomy, you should have a good foundation in basic drawing skills already, and you should use it.
02. Ignore gesture at your peril
Gesture lies at the heart of every figure drawing. Anatomy should be a new layer, and a new way to express gesture… not a replacement for it. The anatomical forms should be designed to follow and reveal the gesture.
03. Memorise the simple forms
The human body is organic. It’s full of curves, bumps and mushy-looking things. But your drawings shouldn’t look mushy. You can try to copy exactly what you see, but if the understanding and accuracy isn’t there, then it will show.
A better approach is to learn to break down the body into simple forms. This is why I teach the simple form for all areas of the body. Simple forms are simple enough that you can actually memorise them, and pull them out of your pocket whenever you need to.
04. Pay attention to the skeleton
It’s easy to tell when an artist doesn’t know the skeleton, even if you’re just looking at their fully fleshed figures. The muscles won’t aim to the right place. The skeleton is complicated, but there’s much less variation in the forms of the skeleton than the forms of the muscles and body fat. Knowing the skeleton makes it easier to construct the body, understand how it works, and put the muscles on top of it correctly. Take the time to learn it and your drawings will benefit for the rest of your career.
05. Review and correct
After you finish a drawing, take a critical look at it to see where you can improve. You can ask a friend, mentor or online community for help. Then, actually follow through on what you notice, and make corrections to your drawings. It’s not enough for your eyes to see what went wrong – your hands have to fix it. You can do this to yesterday’s homework, or even drawings you made months or years ago.
06. Don’t just read about it
Reading or listening to an explanation of anatomy may be enough for you to intellectually understand it, but that doesn’t mean you can draw it. We’re artists. We have a bigger job to do than just understand anatomy. You have to learn to draw it so it’s believable and interesting. And the only way to do that is to draw. Draw a lot!
07. Steer clear of snowmen
Don’t draw symmetrical bulges everywhere. That makes your drawing look stiff and boring. The contours tend to zigzag down the body, creating a dynamic flow. Furthermore, muscles usually work in pairs: when one side flexes the other is resting.
08. Don’t include every detail
Remember: not every bone, tendon and muscle has to be accented in every drawing. Indeed, anatomical details in the wrong spots can make a drawing look stiff and fake. Pick and choose details that support the overall picture, and let those be enough. In general, you’ll probably choose details that are at or near the focal point, and that flow with the gesture or composition.
09. Be patient
Learning anatomy is a slow process. Take your time on every drawing and with every area of the body. You can’t learn everything in your first pass. You’ll have to come back to review and add to your understand of all the parts every few years for the rest of your career. Don’t expect to be a master immediately. Never stop learning.
10. Be goal-oriented in your practice
There’s a lot to anatomy to study and lots of aspects of it to study. For example, if you’re practising gesture, the anatomy needs context. Make the forms work with the pose and focus on making the anatomy dynamic. If you’re studying form, use cross contour lines and shading to add dimension. Focus on constructing the body parts using simple forms and avoid organic forms you don’t understand. Pick a goal and focus on it. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your practice time.
11. Try different exercises
Anatomy tracings, drawing from life, drawing from photos, drawing from your imagination, drawing from other drawings (master copies), sculpture… Not only is this fun, but it helps your brain process information in different ways, and fills in gaps in your knowledge.
12. Get to grips with the language
There’s lots of memorisation with anatomy, and it can be overwhelming if you’re hearing all these terms for the first time. Terms like medial and lateral, abduction and adduction, origin and insertion, subcutaneous and so on. Consider making flashcards or other old-school study methods to help memorise the bulk of the terminology babble.
When you can speak about anatomy fluently, you can think about anatomy fluently, which means you’re going to have an easier time when you’re drawing. This is the least important part of anatomy for artists, but it sure is helpful. You’ll feel a lot better when you know the terms. And of course, you’ll leave your fellow spellers in the dust on Scrabble nights!
This article was originally published in ImagineFX, the world's best-selling magazine for digital artists. Subscribe now.
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