Learn Anatomy to Improve Drawing the Human Body
Learn about bones, muscles, and how to draw and connect different parts of the male/female body to improve your character illustrations with this anatomy tutorial by Eridey!
The key to improving your drawings is to do your best and put your heart into your art. Anatomy is a challenging 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 and also allows motion in the torso. Its vertical shape differentiates humans from other species. It is not a straight line, but a curve. Its form 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 an extremely 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, but I like to give it an oblong shape resembling 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 this as a guide when you draw!
The clavicles (3) are like a bicycle handlebar. You can think of them as 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 the pubis (3) in the front.
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 body shape differences.
Limbs can move in many ways, but knowing their anatomy and limitations will save us from drawing unrealistic positions (or bone-breaking poses, ouch!).
The humerus is in the upper part of the arm (A), 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 your drawings.
In Fig. A we have the leg bones as follows:
- The femur (1) in the thigh
- The knee (2) in the middle of the leg
- The fibula (3)
- 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 are not a completely vertical line. To achieve a balance in your drawings, be sure to have 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).
Another interesting detail about the leg:
Between the hip bone and the femur, a space can be seen as an indentation in the skin, mainly in men with less muscle mass in that area.
In Figure C, we have the ankle. Its bones are 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 a human adult. However, each person has different proportions according to their physical body 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, let’s divide her body 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 measurements are a little undefined. This one is about 5 heads high.
Aside from this, artists change their characters’ proportions to be different from these “ideal” ones. This is to emphasize their unique characteristics or to enhance their drawing styles. (But this is not an excuse to ignore the anatomy fundamentals!)
Here’s 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 that, if you extend your arms, they are side to side the same length as your height!
Finally, here are four points that will help us to get better at drawing day by day.
- Observation: Study anatomy, 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, it is best 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 the parts of anatomy which affect the shapes and movements of the body.
- Draw, draw, draw! Practice drawing the whole figure and conduct detailed studies of some tough parts.
Thank you very much for reading!
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