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".

  • 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
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    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

10 Answers 10

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

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.

  • 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
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    When I was studying, we used Burne Hogarth books as reference for anatomy. – John Jul 15 '13 at 18:29

An oldie question. But I hope new resources.

It is fundamental to understand some basic anatomy, not only muscles but skeleton first of all.

My aproach for this question is:

1) Understanding the basic "hero" proportion of 8 heads:

https://www.google.com.mx/search?q=stick+figure+human+proportion Just draw stick figures. There are a lot of "drawing comic tutorials" But stick to the stick part for a while.

2) Drawing from real life.

A good exercise is to draw someone in just a minute. Practice just half an hour every day and you will have 900 drawings in just one month... Draw from real life, go to a park and draw!

Draw in big sizes. At least a letter sized paper.

3) In this digital era we have some nice resources:



The application itself is free. And those packs are quite good enough and not expensive. Far better than the classic wooden figure.

Do not spend too much time learning the application, just use some of the free poses and rotate the camera... Draw, draw and draw.

If you want special proportions you can change them, or buy special modifications, for example for anime proportions.

Use it to draw just close-ups, for example, a shoulder, a close up of a hip, etc. Or you will get intimidated by all the muscles.

If you do not want to see the internal muscles or skeleton, there are some other applications. Take a look at this other post.

4) Shading

This anatomy is basic to understand shading.

The good thing about a 3d program is that you can play with the light to see the volume.

Draw tin can people. People made of cylinders and balls but shade it.

5) There are some interesting youtube resources

Look for "1-minute posing" add the words "nude" and "artists" to find different results.

6) Live classes

Do not underestimate a live class. Somethings can be learned in a cold internet page, but these artistic skills are a good excuse to go out and interact with people and get constructive critiques.

7) Dummies

There are several types of dummies. Some are just rough wooden ones, but there are some with special features, like "anime" proportions, special articulations, more poseable features, bigger scale. The best dolls I am aware of are called smartdoll.

8) Methodology

A book that really nails it is "Dynamic Anatomy" by Burne Hogarth.

I've found out that to properly learn anatomy slightly depends on what you want to do. For example, anyone can figure out (eventually) how to draw a model from a photograph in full detail with the correct values and also get their anatomy right while at it. A bit harder to do with a model in real life however (cus they move, and they won't just stand there forever) however you will face a problem, for many years you will never be able to draw proper anatomy without a reference. This may be perfectly fine for some (besides, drawing from reference instead of imagination enhances quality by quite a lot anyways), but for others like those who want to eventually be capable of drawing from imagination, this won't do at all.

Drawing from reference is absolutely vital for studying anatomy and understanding how the muscles move (be it photographic reference or life drawing) make no mistake about that, but the approach that makes most sense to me is this:

Pre-Requisite: You have to have a basic understanding of perspective, to test this see if you can (without reference) draw a 3/4 cube as seen from below and from above, if you can do this on first try you're almost good to go, if not, practice perspective with cubes and cylinders before you move on. If you cleared the 3/4 cubes on first try, next try to draw 2 cubes, one directly above the other so that the bottom side of the top cube is convincingly pointing down at the top of the other cube, this way you can be sure whether or not you have this basic understanding of perspective.

  1. Draw gesture drawings from references (photographic or life) until you manage to get the scale and proportions roughly under control. (Train your eye first before you start following books) really take your time with this one, it is not so weird to need to devote an entire sketchbook just to picking this one up, it can be really hard for those who don't know it. If you do not know how to do gesture drawing, look it up (watch Proko's youtube video about it) and then go to a website or an app (like quickposes.com) to automate the process a little bit. (Seriously though, Line of action is where it's at, just remember that and eventually it'll all make sense.)
  2. Get an anatomy book (Figure drawing for all it's worth by andrew loomis is a classic, it's available for free too) and study the skeleton first learn how the bones look from front, rear, side and 3/4 (and draw them) skull included. You do not have to be too precise, you want to capture the overall form of the skeleton and not the intricate details of the bones, your focus is especially on how it can and can't bend and what would show on the surface of the body. (You can learn the details later when there comes a time where you want to draw an army of undead or something)
  3. Learn about every muscle that may sometimes be seen through the flesh in the human body and draw them as they look attached to a body and from the various angles/orientations available.
  4. Finally, learn to put it all together and draw it on a body, don't forget about the flesh that's sitting on top of muscles (most people aren't gonna be toned like Schwarzenegger you know), so go and do a long series of figure drawings (from reference!!) and pour all your anatomy knowledge into it, draw as many figures as you can from as many angles as you can until you feel satisfied.

This is what I believe to be the fastest logical way to learn anatomy by heart and yes, learning it by heart is necessary, because whether you always draw from reference or from imagination, for references, your anatomy knowledge will make the human body and pose much more readable, you can see every muscle, and every muscle you don't see you know it's still there, so your deepened understanding of the human anatomy will allow you to copy it more accurately and perhaps more importantly, compensate for error more accurately (for example if you draw an arm in a slightly different location than in the original pose you will know how that affects the body.

Similarly if you want to draw from imagination, the more you know the more easily you can draw it right, and after hours (read: months) of hammering it in from step 4, you will be able to do this without even thinking about it. You will put the muscles where they belong out of habit and that is what those who want to draw from imagination should really be aiming for.

After this it doesn't get any easier though as you will have to find new techniques and tricks to draw the musculature better/more convincingly, not to mention shade them correctly.

No matter which type of artist you are, if you're in a hurry to learn anatomy, don't just use a book, don't just draw from reference till you get it. Combine both to get the best of both. But others have been saying, at some point you need to draw from life and not just from photographic references, you'll learn a lot more this way. The camera turns the 3D to 2D on a flat plane, whereas our eyes see 3D in unfiltered 3D. It's just not the same thing at all. Do memorize all the muscles and bones, do study from photographic references while doing it, but your next step after all the aforementioned steps I mentioned should indeed be to take life drawing classes to further your understanding of the human figure even more.

My final tips are

  1. Don't forget the anatomy of the head/face, it's just as important as the rest of the body.
  2. You're going to forget some muscles (maybe even some bones) so every once in a while revisit your anatomy books and look for things you may have been forgetting or just don't remember well enough. The less you draw, the more you'll forget.
  3. It's not gonna be perfect on first try, over the years you'll develop new techniques to draw the muscles better, and you may even have to revisit anatomy studies at some point and repeat all the steps again to complete your understanding of the human body after a few years.

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.

I dont have the ability to fiy figure sessions in right now, so I use instagram pretty heavily to practice drawing people. Specifically I follow some strippers and pole dancers, as theyre about as nude as you can get and they also include dynamic poses. I should also note I follow both male and female.

  • Have any suggestions for good IG accounts to look at? Would be good if you could also include a little about how you then use the images to improve. – Ryan Sep 28 '15 at 19:52

To add to what's above:

  • check your drawings in a mirror. You can catch a surprising amount of simple mistakes this way.
  • Focus on gesture, basic shape relationships and proportions and balance before looking at details.
  • Practice actually measuring relationships between parts. In life drawing you can use your mahl stick, a pencil -- at home use a ruler or the edge of a scrap of paper. Check distances between parts from actual source [ statue, nude, picture ...etc. ] and try to transfer to your drawing. There are instructions online as to how to do this in practice. Measure angles as well.
  • How does each part flow into the next? If no flow you've probably jumped too fast into the details. Avoid details as long as possible. Get the shapes and scaffolding right. Worst and most blatant beginners' mistake of all time!
  • In case it was missed above: Don't focus on details like muscles and shadows until you have captured the basic shapes and structure/gesture of the figure. Delay the instant gratification of a well-turned ankle or bicep until you have seen the relationship between the angle of the collar bones to the angle of the pelvis. Set the eyes in proper relationship to each other before indicating the cornea, reflections ...etc.

There is only one resource that has ever made sense to me- the old Art Students League videos by Robert Beverly Hale. There is a balance between abstracting the figure in order to understand it, and having it really look “right”. I have done hundreds of hours of live drawing and was stunned at how on point Hale’s figures (drawn from memory) turn out. He teaches construction of the figure on skeletal landmarks, which also makes sense. You can find the vidoes online or in libraries. Good luck in your work!

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.

This tutorial I found works wonders. I used a lot more actual, real life anatomy references though because a lot of the ones provided on this to help you are drawings from artists and i feel the real deal always works better for me. http://sirwendigo.deviantart.com/journal/Anatomy-Lessons-How-to-improve-faster-in-6-steps-352477228

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    Hi Reina, could you please explain a bit more what we'll find behind the link you provide and why it answers the question? That way, your answer is still of value in case the link breaks at a later time. Link rot is the main reason we really dislike link-only answers here. Thanks – Cai May 28 '16 at 17:17

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