How To Practice Drawing Anatomy: The Essential Guide

If you want to grow as an artist when your subject of choice is the human form, then you need to learn how to practice drawing anatomy. 

There’s no getting around this. Unless you have a solid understanding of how the human body is put together and how the muscles and bones move, you won’t be able to draw realistic human figures. 

Drawing the human form is not without its challenges, and one of the chief amongst them is being able to draw figures that appear life-like. Without a solid understanding of anatomy, your figures will come out looking stiff and lifeless.

Anatomy Drawing Practice
Anatomy Drawing Practice

If you look back at some of the old masters, you can see that they had a good understanding of anatomy. Leonard da Vinci, one of the greatest and most influential artists in history, was renowned for his study of anatomy. 

The old masters studied anatomy because they understood the importance of knowing how the body worked so that they could reproduce the body in their artwork.

If you hope to be able to create drawings, paintings, or sculptures that look life-like, then you need to learn how to practice drawing anatomy.

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    Drawing the Proportions of the Human Form

    The human form is complex. When drawing it, you have to draw a head, neck, torso, arms, legs, and hands. That’s a lot of different areas you have to focus on, and you have to make sure that they are all drawn proportionately. 

    When you are drawing a portrait or a figure, if the proportions are not correct, the drawing will not look right. How do you get better at drawing the human figure proportionately? You practice. A lot.

    • When starting out a new drawing, you should always start with a light sketch. 
    • Trying to draw in detail too soon will almost always cause problems down the road. 
    • You need to start out with a light sketch to establish proportions when you are drawing. 
    • Make sure that you keep your arm loose and draw with your arm, not your wrist. You want light strokes that will help to convey a sense of motion to the piece when it’s finished.
    • If you want to draw realistically, then you need to use a model for reference.
    • The model can be a live model or a photo. Live models are preferable, but photos are more convenient to work from. When sketching out your model, pay attention to how different parts of the body relate to one another. 
    • The size and shape of various body parts and facial features are similar in all people, but there are slight differences. 
    • These differences are what make us all unique. When trying to capture a good likeness of a model, getting everything in the right proportions essential.

    Drawing the Head and Neck

    When drawing the human figure, getting everything in proportion is essential, but it’s even more important when you are dealing with the head and neck. The human face is the most recognizable thing in the world to all of us, and a mistake made when drawing the face, head, or neck will be easily recognizable. 

    So, how do you avoid making mistakes when drawing the head and neck?

    Drawing The Human Body with Shapes

    Drawing The Human Body with Shapes

    First, always start out your drawing with a light sketch made with loose strokes. Any drawing you ever create should start out with a solid foundation, and the first step in creating that foundation is with a light and loose sketch. 

    Don’t focus on details with this sketch that will come later. Instead, just get the basic shape of your figure down, along with the posture you want your figure in.

    It helps to break down the different parts of a person into simpler forms when you are drawing the figure. When drawing the neck, it’s basically a cylinder, and the head is shaped like an oval. 

    These are oversimplified explanations, but these are the basic shapes. They are going to differ from person to person, so look at your reference and adjust your sketch accordingly.

    • After you have your basic shapes for the head and neck laid out, you can start to add additional basic shapes to begin to turn your sketch into something that resembles a person. 
    • Start by drawing a very light line down the center of the face. This is where you are going to draw the nose of your model. 
    • Take care to place this line in the right place based upon the angle of the face. 
    • Next, draw a light line indicating where the eyes will be on your drawing. Look at your reference and see where they sit on your model’s face, then draw the line there. 
    • Then draw a third line under the eyes indicating where the bottom of the nose will be, then a fourth one for the mouth. In each case, make sure that you are measuring your model and placing the lines where their features are. 
    • The last part of your basic sketch is the ear. For most people, the top of the ear is right around the eyes in terms of location on the face, so sketch in an oval shape indicating where your ear will be placed.
    • After you have your foundation in place, you can start to add some features and details. 
    • Start to sketch in the basic shapes of the face and neck using the guidelines you have already laid out. 
    • Make sure to keep your sketch light, you are still mapping out features, so going too dark too soon would be a mistake. 
    • This is the planning stage, so plan things out and build a solid foundation for the rest of your drawing.
    • Now that you have your basic sketch down go ahead and start adding darker lines and finalizing your features. 
    • Once they are done, it’s time to add shading and highlights. Shading and highlights are extremely important when drawing the head and neck. 
    • If done correctly, they can give your drawing a three-dimensional look. If not done correctly, they will make your drawing look artificial.
    • To draw shadows realistically, you need to understand where the light source in your drawing is, and how that light source is going to affect the head and neck of your model. 
    • The nose is the highest point on the face, and light will cause shadows to cast from it. For the sake of this example, let’s say that the light source for your drawing is directly above your model. 

    What will the shadows look like?

    First, the eyes of your model will be in a shadow. Light will be blocked by the forehead and brow, casting a shadow on the eyes. 

    There will also be a shadow under the nose since the nose will block light. The upper lip will be slightly darkened when the light source is directly above, as well. 

    The last significant shadow will be on the neck, which is under the head, and will be in a shadow as a result.

    What about highlights?

    In this example, the light would strike the bridge of the nose. As well as the forehead, cheeks, and chin. There will also be a highlight on the lower lip. 

    • When drawing shadows, make sure that your account for your light source. 
    • For example, if the light source if above and to the right, then the shadows on the head and neck will be cast down and to the left. 
    • Always pay attention to the way that light affects the face and body of your subject. When done well, lighting can turn a flat image into a work of art that appears three dimensional.

    The next component for drawing the head and neck is adding hair. 

    Many artists struggle when drawing hair, so if this is something you have trouble with, don’t let that bother you. Just keep practicing, and you will get better at it. 

    • When drawing hair, you don’t have to draw every single strand. 
    • You also don’t want to just shade in the hair since that will look flat. What you need to do is find a happy medium here.
    • First, remember that hair, like everything else, is affected by light and shadow. 
    • When drawing hair, including eyebrows or facial hair, make sure that you account for the light source. 
    • One of the more straightforward methods for drawing hair is to add a base color, then work from there. 
    • If you are drawing with graphite, then blend in a gray layer of graphite. Then go through and add darker areas and use an eraser to remove areas for highlights. 
    • Then, after you have the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows established, you can go in and start to render the hair. 
    • Add some indications of strands of hair, but don’t go overboard. 
    • The eye of the viewer of your drawing will not pick up on all of the minute details anyway, so just give an indication that there is hair there, and that should be enough.

    One of the most challenging aspects of drawing the head is drawing eyes that look real and life-like. Let’s start with the basics here. 

    • Eyes are roughly almond-shaped and have an upper and lower lid. 
    • So sketch in the basic shape. Next, draw in the inner corner the tear duct, then add the iris and pupil. 
    • Now the trick is to look at how light affects the eyes. Eyes will typically be in shadows, but they are highly reflective, so you need to render those reflections as well. 
    • Much like you do when drawing hair, you don’t have to draw every last detail. 
    • Just giving an indication of shadows and highlights is enough to get the viewer of your work to recognize that you have drawn an eye.

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      Drawing the Torso

      When drawing the torso, it helps to think of the basic shapes involved. The human torso is roughly rectangularly shaped, with the top being wider than the bottom for most people. 

      So, start by sketching in this basic shape. Having a solid knowledge of anatomy is essential here. 

      Understanding how bones and muscles move can mean the difference between drawing something that looks flat and drawing something that looks like a three-dimensional human body.

      When drawing in the major muscle groups, you mustn’t outline them. Unless you are drawing a comic book, you should never outline your figures. 

      Just sketch in the shape, look at your light source, and allow light and shadow to indicate the placement of muscle and fat.

      Drawing the Arm

      • When drawing the arm, try to picture an elongated cylinder. Arms have a generally round shape, with some sharp angles around the wrist and elbow. 
      • There are also a lot of muscles and veins to contend with when drawing an arm, so understanding anatomy is essential. 
      • The main muscles to be concerned with are the biceps, triceps, and shoulder. These are major muscle groups whose shape changes depending on the angle of the arm. 
      • When rendering an arm, make sure that you account for the light source, and add appropriate shading and highlights.

      Drawing The Legs

      • Legs are similar in arms to their primary shape but are more substantial. 
      • The thigh also tends to be quite a bit larger than the lower leg. 
      • When drawing, the muscles in the leg focus on drawing the general shape of the quadriceps, the calves, and the knee cap. 
      • Remember to look for how light creates shadows and highlights, as well.

      Drawing and Sketching the Hands and Feet

      Drawings hands and feet is a challenge for many artists, even artists that have been training and practicing for years. Hands, in particular, are challenging to draw. There’s the hand, four fingers with three joints each, and then a thumb with two joints. 

      That’s a lot of moving parts. Don’t forget veins either. They are present in most hands and have to be drawn in as well.

      As with every other part of the human body, when drawing hands and feet start out by drawing their basic forms, then move forward with more details from there. 

      The best way to think of fingers and toes is to picture tubes that have joints. 

      These joints move to change the shape of the fingers and toes. But each segment of these tubes remains the shape size regardless of how the joint bends.

      So, when drawing hands or feet. Focus on the position of each segment of finger or toe concerning the angle that you are viewing your subject at. 

      Just draw each segment and focus on each section at a time, then make sure they line up with one another. While this approach to drawing fingers and toes simplifies things, it’s still going to take you a good deal of practice before you can master drawing them well.

      Learning to Draw the Human Skeleton

      If you want to learn how to practice drawing anatomy, you need to learn how to draw the human skeleton. Why? 

      Because the skeleton is the framework that the rest of the human body is built on. You need to understand how the joints connect, and how they move so you can realistically depict human figures in your artwork.

      When drawing the skeleton, you don’t need to focus on creating detailed shadows and highlights. Unless, of course, you are planning to draw a skeleton as a finished piece of art. 

      Instead, focus on getting the basic shapes down. Does this mean you can ignore shadows and highlights? You could, but anytime you can practice accounting for a light source when drawing, you should take it. 

      When drawing a skeleton, you could try drawing it in ink. If you are drawing just to study anatomy, and not to create finished artwork, drawing with a pen can be a lot of fun. Ink lets you get shapes down quickly, and facilitates quick sketching. 

      No matter what medium you choose to draw your skeleton in, make sure that you pay attention to the size and shape of the bones, and how they all connect to each other.

      How to Draw the Ecorche

      Have you ever wondered how to draw the Ecorche? Have you ever wondered what an Ecorche even is? Ecorche is a term used to describe an anatomical depiction of a body, minus the skin. 

      Before you allow yourself to feel disgusted, keep in mind that artists have drawn the Ecorche for centuries.

      Why is Drawing the Ecorche so Important? 

      Because it helps you to get familiar with anatomy. The best thing you can do as a figure artist is to draw the Ecorche in as many different positions as possible. 

      You don’t just want to draw it standing there, you want to draw it in motion. This will help you to see how the muscles move, which is essential when you are trying to depict a realistic looking person.

      Drawing the Facial Expressions

      Facial expressions are a challenge even for seasoned artists. Why is that? Because facial expressions are so intricate. 

      Facial expression depicts emotions, so getting them right is essential if you are trying to create a certain mood in a drawing. 

      For example, if you are drawing a somber scene, the last thing you want is to draw a face on your figure that appears joyful.

      How do you get better at drawing facial expressions? By practicing. Before you start drawing facial expressions, make sure that you can draw facial features in proper proportion to each other. 

      There’s no sense in trying to run here before you can walk. Practice drawing different faces over and over again. Then do anatomical studies, and do a lot of them.

      Then, look at photos of people making different faces. Or, better yet, look at a live model making different faces. Then you will have a decent foundation to build on, giving you the insight you need to create realistic expressions. 

      You should also spend time people watching. Just watching how people act in daily life can help provide you with understanding how different facial expressions convey different emotions.

      Anatomy Drawing Tips: Draw From A Real Physical Model Or Body

      Have you ever seen an artist mannequin? Of course, you have. If you are an artist, you have undoubtedly seen an artist mannequin. 

      They are fantastic tools for giving an artist a visual reference to see how limbs look at different angles, and also how light interacts with those limbs at different angles.

      But is an artist mannequin a substitute for a live model, or even a photograph? No. Not at all. A mannequin is pieces of wood that have joints in them so you can pose them in different positions. 

      A live model, or a photo, is a real human figure that you can look at for reference. There really is no comparison.

      Why would you use an artist mannequin? 

      If you lack access to a model or a photo for reference, then an artist mannequin can be used as a stand-in. It won’t be as good as a model or photo, but it beats having nothing. 

      Another possible use would be for shadow reference for a figure you have a photo of. Let’s say that you have a picture of a model in a pose that is perfect for the drawing you are doing. But, the light source isn’t quite right? What do you do? You get out your trust artist mannequin and use it to visual where the shadows should be. This saves you the effort of having to mentally picture where shadows should be, giving you a visual reference that can help you to create a more realistic drawing.

      ‘Drawing Figures On The Hoof’

      The human body is constantly in motion. Even as we sit in an idle position, our chest moves with each breath, or eyes blink, our stomach moves in and out, etc. 

      The point here is that since the human body is always in motion, even when it appears to be at a state of rest, you need to learn how to draw figures that convey a sense of movement. How do you do that?

      You do it by drawing figures on the hoof. What does that mean? It merely means that you are drawing quickly and instinctively. 

      You aren’t worried about getting everything perfect, you are just trying to get your ideas down on paper as quickly as possible. 

      When drawing like this, don’t draw with your wrist. I’ll repeat that, don’t draw with your wrist. Draw with your entire arm. Make big strokes, and don’t worry about the details!

      Drawing figures on the hoof will allow you to draw a figure quickly. That means you can draw another one more quickly, then another. When you master the skill of drawing of the hoof, you’ll be able to draw dozens of figures an hour. 

      Why is that important? Because it lets you get in much-needed practice. How do you get better at drawing the human form? By drawing it as much as possible.

      When drawing of the hoof, you can be doing this as practice, or as a precursor to a finished drawing. If you are doing this as a precursor to a final drawing, make sure that you keep your sketch quick and light.

       When you draw in this manner, your final artwork will often have more life and convey a greater sense of motion.

      So, how should the process of drawing on the hoof be used to create a finished drawing? 

      First, either choose a photo for reference or find your model. Next, start a light sketch of your figure using quick strokes. No details are necessary at this point. Sketch your figure quickly, paying attention to the pose and posture. 

      Then, after you have this quick sketch done, go ahead and finish the drawing; however, you usually would.

      The Efficiency of Line: Drawing Figures With A Few Simple Lines

      Are incredibly intricate drawings of the human form that have tight details and correctly rendered shadows and highlights amazing to look at? 

      Absolutely. Is this the only way to draw a human figure? Absolutely not. However, you choose to develop your own style, don’t discount the possibility of drawing simpler figures using fewer lines.

      Many artists have mastered the ability to not only draw with minimal lines but to do so while still capturing the essence of their subject. 

      When you draw in this manner, you have to use great care. With a more sophisticated line drawing, a few mistakes may be overlooked. With a simpler line drawing, any mistakes you make will be magnified. You can draw figures using fewer lines and a simpler approach as a sketch, or as a finished piece.

      Drawing The Human Form Is Very Challenging And Rewarding

      For many artists, the ultimate achievement is being able to draw a human form realistically. Many of use first discovered our love for art by looking at paintings by the old masters. 

      We wondered how did they do that? How did they create something so amazing and so life-like? It was this sense of wonder that drove many of us into exploring our own artistic talents.

      The human form is complex, but it can be mastered if you are willing to work to do it. There’s no quick solution here, you either put in the time, or you fail. Try to break down the human form into simpler shapes to build the foundation of your artwork. 

      Use light, gestural drawings to help establish the composition and convey a sense of movement. Always pay attention to the light source and how it casts shadows and creates highlights. 

      You also need to develop a style of your own. You could draw in a highly rendered manner, with a simple line approach, or some mix of the two. Above all else, have fun, don’t get discouraged, and keep working so that you can master drawing the human form. 

      It takes time to master the human form, so be patient with yourself as you progress along your artistic journey.

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        Create Art With My Favourite Drawing Resources

        General Drawing Courses. I really like Udemy if you are looking to develop your knowledge of drawing techniques Udemy is an excellent choice due to its wide range of creative courses and excellent refund policy. They often have monthly discounted deals for new customers, which you can check here. Use my link.

        Sketching and Collage. Take a look at this sketching resource I have created. Use this link.

        Proko. Is one of my favorite teachers who surpasses in the teaching of Anatomy and Figure drawing. Prokos course breaks down the drawing of the human body into easy-to-follow components aiding the beginner to make rapid progress. For this, I really like Proko.

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        To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.


        Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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