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I am painfully aware that nearly all my paintings and drawings seriously lack in terms of proper anatomy. The figures ofen look unnatural, twisted, deformed etc. More advanced colleagues told me I need to work on my anatomy.

But here's the problem: how do I do that?

What can I be doing to help my practical understanding of anatomy and the ability to apply it? Cause I studied some anatomy textbooks and I have an idea of the bones and muscles of the human body, and I can tell the difference between the lats and traps. Still, I cant apply it to have realistic looking figures and heads.

What should I be doing? Drawing skulls and then faces on them? Painting over skulls on faces? Same for figures - should I be drawing bones on photos / well drawn figures? Should I be drawing the pics from anatomy books? Are there any others I should be doing, that I cant even think of right now?

I want to have a practical understanding of anatomy, I even bought some books (like Tom Flints & Peter Stayners anatomy for the artist), but I dont really know how to use them! There are just some cool drawings of people in different poses, but no actual advice on how to practice it and learn it!


Also, besides advice on what I should be drawing, I would welcome advice on how I should be drawing. I mean the things i should have in mind while studying. Should I be trying to envision the form? Should I try to imagine the muscles beneath the skin while i draw nude figutres? Or maybe I should be trying to simplify the forms? These are just examples of the type of advice I would like to recieve.

Please note, I want to study anatomy in order to be able to draw anatomically correct figures from my imagination later, when Im more advanced. This will probably affect the way I should be studying anatomy. Making an analogy to studying rendering forms and lighting, I was once told: "mindlessly drawing just what you see wont help you improve your rendering skills for imaginative objects. Try to think about why a shadow is placed where it is and why is it shaped so, why os it soft or hard, where the reflected light comes from etc".

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Anatomy for art is really about general size, proportion, and placement. You need to know the angle a muscle is at to render flesh believably. Imagine drawing the shadow for a bicep across the arm rather than along the arm. It simply wouldn't work. –  Scott Feb 26 '13 at 22:53
I haven't seen either one of these, but I have seen quite a few gnomon videos and wouldgenerally recommend them, so: thegnomonworkshop.com/store/product/999/… and thegnomonworkshop.com/store/product/1001/… the specifications tab you can find the duration || You might want to check this out as well: idrawgirls.com/tutorials –  Joonas Feb 26 '13 at 23:11
Conversely, embrace your unnatural bodies and develop your own style, like Dr. Seuss or MAD magazine's Don Martin. Anyone looking at your work will know it's yours without hunting for a signature. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 27 '13 at 3:39
i think the two answers given really cover it. i would say use both of them. specifically: study anatomy (in books), draw from life. –  brnnnrsmssn Feb 27 '13 at 16:46
The answers provided below are good, but it is ironic that the biggest problem with untrained artists is that they draw what they know rather than what they see. Knowing about anatomy is a good way to help you understand what it is you are looking at, but any deviation from what you see is going to chip away at the possibility of a photo-realistic outcome. Indeed: David is a prime example of deviation: the actual scale of certain portions of the anatomy are unrealistic. Drawing from sculpture is a good tool, but reinforces misconceptions as well. –  horatio Mar 5 '13 at 16:45

4 Answers 4

No book you can buy or advice you can get will replace the experience of drawing from real pyhsical models.

The thing is, drawing from references like books or other drawings can help you understand how the drawing has to look. For example, looking at a drawing you might realize how incredibly weird lines can run with a certain perspective distortion and how they look drawn.

But that is not the real knowledge you use when trying to capture or imagine an anatomically correct figure. Only looking at something physical and transforming it to lines on paper will really train this skill. Things that I can personally recommend:

  • croquis drawing sessions; that means, one posture from a model every 1-5 minutes, so you train your ability for fast perception and naturally inforces drawing from big to detail, not the other way around
  • ask friends, family to pose or draw them while they watch TV, draw strangers on the bus, in the coffee shop, at the mall, anything and anyone that is in a place for more than 20 seconds can be your model
  • drawing other real life objects and situation
  • in drawing sessions, make a point to try out different approaches and pay attention to different things(books might recommend some more) for example: figure - ground, light - shadow, weight and tension, draw with your left hand, draw without looking at the paper, draw with materials that you don't normally use, draw with a single line only
  • take a look at what you have drawn a week after you've drawn it to identify what is off and what is spot on; you might redraw from your drawings
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I'd recommend you start with what most potential (if such a thing exists) start with: Naked people :)

This sounds quite simplistic, but it does work. Instead of a book on human anatomy, I'd recommend you go to your local library and grab everything you can find that has people with few clothes in it.

Sculpture books are great for this, because the lights and shadows are usually more obvious. Just look at these two, you can see every single muscle:

enter image description here

Renaissance and even religious paintings are also good, angels and saints with great poses in them. Even the faces are interesting (and a challenge):

enter image description here

Photography books are great too (again, nudes). Once you get all these different variations the body can have, you can try with real people and real poses. This is something that works for me, it doesn't have to apply to you too, but I'd recommend you give it a try.

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There are also quite a few 'anatomy for artists' books that could be worth investing in. Personally can't recommend any. –  Joonas Feb 27 '13 at 8:32
When I was studying, we used Burne Hogarth books as reference for anatomy. –  John Jul 15 '13 at 18:29

Not sure if this would be doable for you, but consider this: start with a drawing class (intro, advanced, or both in sequence, or as a refresher if you've done that already) Find out if in your area there are any 'open studio' type live drawing sessions you can attend and practice at. For quite a wile I attended them where I live and they great. found 3 of them them to participate in. One on Sat. morning, Wend. and Thurs. in the evenings. One on Thursday was a good 45 mile drive. Sometimes they're hosted by museums or local art centers, colleges also. It's a really, really great experience and great atmosphere.

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Should I try to imagine the muscles beneath the skin while i draw nude figures?


That is a key part of figure drawing. Understanding the framework that everything is built upon.

As for how to get better, the many suggestions for technique books are great. Beyond that, it's practice, practice, practice, practice.

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