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Learning how to draw bodies and anatomy is a fun and exciting prospect for a student of art. It means being able to capture the human element in all its forms and movements. And if you are taking your art seriously with a capital ‘S’ it is essential.
For painting and drawing, nude figures to clothed, full figures to cropped portraits, you have to know a bit about how to draw bodies to get realism in your artwork. But best of all, it doesn’t have to be confusing. That is where artist Lea Colie Wight, author of Foundations of Classical Oil Painting (which we excerpt here) comes in. She gives us a rundown of the body landmarks we should take note of along with planes we want to focus our eye on anatomically speaking.
Let’s Start at the Top
The anatomy and planes of the head are a great place to start because with an understanding of them comes the ability to capture the power and expression found in the human face.
As you study them, you come to see that the neck is part of the spine and the importance of correctly outlining the shoulder girdle. Also keep in mind that what happens on one side of the body affects the other. When a person bends to the side, that side is compressed and you will see folds. The other side is extended and stretched. The body works in unison. When a neck is turned, the muscle running from the base of the skull to the clavicle stretches and shows clearly, while the same muscle on the compressed side is hidden.
SKELETAL LANDMARKS OF THE SKULL
1. Peak of convexity; 2. Brow ridge; 3. Glabella (keystone); 4. Nasal bone; 5. Zygomatic arch; 6. Base of the nose; 7. Maxilla; 8. Angle of the jaw; 9. Mandible; 10. Occipital Notch; 11. Mental protuberance or Tubercle
PLANES OF THE HEAD AND NECK
1. Occipital notch; 11. Sternocleidomastoid muscle; 12. Trapezius muscle; 13. Sternal notch; 14: Mental protuberance or Tubercle
Learning how to draw bodies is all about troubleshooting. No one gets it right the first time and when you get it wrong, you know. That means you can adjust immediately and keep progressing. And more importantly, the fixes are straightforward. All you have to do is bring it back to the body. Lea points out that one of your best resources is your own body! Feel your bones and joints to see how they work. Move, stretch and bend to identify your muscles. Then use this knowledge to relate to what you’re seeing when you are with a model.
SKELETAL LANDMARKS and PLANES OF THE BODY, FRONT VIEW
SKELETAL LANDMARKS 1. Skull; 2. Clavicle; 3. Coracoid process; 4. Acromion process; 5. Greater tubercle of the humerus; 6. Sternum; 7. Rib cage; 8. Humerus; 9. Medial epicondyle of the humerus; 10. Lateral epicondyle of the humerus; 11. Radius; 12. Ulna; 13. 10th rib; 14. Iliac crest; 15. ASIS; 16. Pubic bone; 17. Great trochanter; 18. Medial epicondyle of the femur; 19. Lateral epicondyle of the femur; 20. Femur; 21. Patella; 22. Medial epicondyle of the tibia; 23. Lateral epicondyle of the tibia; 24. Tibia; 25. Fibula; 26. Curve of the tibia (shin bone); 27. Medial malleolus; 28. Lateral malleolus; 29. Phalanges (toes)
PLANES OF THE BODY 1. Sternum; 3. Sternal notch; 4. Clavicle; 5. Acromion process (top of the scapula); 6. Coracoid process (end of the clavicle); 7. Greater tubercle of the humerus; 8. Rib cage; 9. Iliac crest; 12. ASIS; 13. Great trochanter; 14. Medial epicondyle of the femur; 15. Lateral epcondyle of the femur; 16. Patella; 17. Curve of the tibia (shin bone); 18. Medial epicondyle of the tibia (inner ankle bone); 19. Lateral epicondyle of the tibia (outer ankle bone); 20. Phalanges (toes)
SKELETAL LANDMARKS OF THE BODY, SIDE VIEW
1. Coracoid process of the clavicle; 4. Head of the humerus; 6. 7th cervical vertebrae; 7. Spine of the scapula; 8. Scapula (wing bone); 9. Spine; 10. Rib cage; 11. ASIS; 12. Iliac crest; 13. PSIS; 14. Coccyx (tail bone); 15. Pubic bone; 16. Great trochanter; 17. Femur; 18. Lateral epicondyle of the femur; 19. Patella head of the ﬁbula; 20. Lateral epicondyle of the tibia; 21. Fibula; 22. Fibia; 23. Tibial tuberosity; 24. Curve of the tibia·(shin bone); 25. Lateral malleolus; 26. Calcaneus (heel); 27. Phalanges (toes)
PLANES OF THE BODY, SIDE VIEW
1. 7th cervical vertebrae; 3. Clavicle; 4. Spine of the scapula; 7. Medial border of the scapula; 8. Medical epicondyle of the humerus; 10. PSIS; 13. Lateral epicondyle of the femur; 15. Patella; 16. Tibia; 17. Lateral malleolus; 18. Calcaneus (heel); 19. Phalanges (toes)
All Those Muscles
If you’re worried about remembering the technical names of each landmark or muscle, don’t! The most important thing is to recognize them for what they are and how they work—to know a muscle from a fatty area, and to know the difference between what a ﬂexed muscle looks like compared to one at rest.
MUSCLES, FRONT VIEW
1. Temporalis; 2. Zygomaticus; 3. Masseter; 4. Sternocleidomastoid; 5. Trapezius; 6. Deltoid; 7. Pectoralis; 8. Biceps; 9. Triceps; 10. Rectus abdominis; 11. Gluteus maximus; 12. Quadriceps; 13. Gastrocnemius; 14. External obliques; 15. Tensor fasciae latae; 16. Sartorius
MUSCLES, SIDE VIEW
1. Hamstrings; 14. Gastrocnemius; 15. External obliques; 16. Tensor fasciae latae; 17. Sartorius; 18. Great trochanter (landmark)
As an artist, you want to be able to understand what you’re seeing and to be able to simplify the complex form into clear structure. There is a lot of important information hidden under the skin, and there are universal landmarks on each human body. These landmarks occur at ﬁxed skeletal points where bone is close to the surface. Keep these in mind and learning how to draw bodies becomes that much more doable!
Identifying Bony Landmarks
Bony landmarks are spots where the bone comes closest to the surface, which let you know the structure underneath the form. Comparing your painting or drawing with these allows you to zero in on accuracy.
Then you will start to be able to distinguish the parts of the body. For example, look at number 14. See that it is not a bony landmark but simply a fat pad that appears when the arm is bent. Forms can be tricky but use these bony and not-so bony landmarks to guide your way.
1: Zygomatic Bone; 2: Glabella; 3: Angle of the ramus or mandible; 4: Tubercle; 5: Sternocleidomastoid muscle (muscle running from the clavicle and sternum to the skull); 6: Clavicle (collar bone); 6A: Clavicle (sternal head); 6B: Clavicle (sternal head hidden by shoulder position); 6C: Clavicle (acromial end); Scapula (acromion); Humerus (greater tubercle, hidden in this position); 9: Pit of the neck (sternal notch); 10: Ulna (olecranon); 11: Humerus (medial epicondyle); 12: Humerus (lateral epicondyle); 13: Radius (styloid process); 14: Compressed fat mass (not a bony landmark!). Note that 6B, 7 and 8 make up the acromion process.
If this has only whetted your appetite for how to draw bodies, don’t freak out but we’ve only scratched the surface here. There’s so much more to learn! Getting Lea Coli Wight’s book, Foundations of Classical Oil Painting, is a good next step as it will guide you along every part of your development in one of the most historied art mediums ever — oil painting. Lea also recommends looking into an écorché sculpture workshop, where you’ll be able to put your love of human anatomy into play even further. Enjoy!