Bones and mus­cles

Stan Prokopenko ex­plains why un­der­stand­ing the hu­man skele­ton and mus­cle struc­ture is the key to mas­ter­ing anatomy… and there­fore great art

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents -

Stan is a fine art painter and on­line art in­struc­tor. He aims to make his tu­to­ri­als en­ter­tain­ing and ed­u­ca­tional and says mak­ing art ed­u­ca­tion en­joy­able is at the core of his teach­ing. You can find out more at

Anatomy is a huge sub­ject and re­quires a blend of sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion and artis­tic prac­ti­cal­ity. For ex­am­ple, you need an engi­neer­ing-like un­der­stand­ing of how the skele­tal joints work to con­struct your fig­ures. But if you can’t draw well enough to get a good ges­ture, no tech­ni­cal un­der­stand­ing of the joints is go­ing to save you from awk­ward-look­ing move­ment.

Too many artists get stuck on one side or the other: ei­ther hav­ing a com­plete un­der­stand­ing of med­i­cal anatomy, but be­ing un­able to draw a con­vinc­ing-look­ing bi­cep. Or hav­ing enough fig­ure-draw­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to be able to fake the form, but not re­ally un­der­stand­ing what they’re do­ing and in­evitably draw­ing some­thing phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble.

Yet when every­thing is in bal­ance, anatomy is magic, and it en­ables you to cre­ate a hu­man fig­ure in any pose you want with­out ref­er­ence. I’ll do my best to get you started in this work­shop, with an in­tro­duc­tion to the skele­ton and mus­cle phys­i­ol­ogy as well as a few spe­cific hints and tips on de­pict­ing the torso mus­cles. And if you want to watch video demon­stra­tions or ob­tain more in-depth in­for­ma­tion on any of this, I have more tu­to­ri­als on my web­site.

1 Study the skele­ton

Bones are the foun­da­tion of the body. Mus­cle and fat, in con­trast, can vary wildly from per­son to per­son and even through­out a life­time. The skele­ton, how­ever, is much more re­li­able. Un­der­stand­ing it is vi­tal for know­ing where to at­tach mus­cles, and also helps with pro­por­tion. For ex­am­ple, the rib cage will al­ways be as deep as the head is tall, no mat­ter how much fat or mus­cle there is on top.

2 Use the bony land­marks

To help iden­tify the place­ment of the skele­ton, look for the bony land­marks. Th­ese are key spots on the body where the bones are su­per­fi­cial, with no mus­cle or fat block­ing them from the sur­face of the skin, and in­clude your col­lar­bones, el­bows and the back of your spine. They’re more trust­wor­thy than skin-based land­marks like the navel, be­cause skin can sag and stretch. Trust me, the bony land­marks are your new best friend.

3 Giv­ing your­self a head start

There are three main masses that de­ter­mine the bal­ance of the hu­man body: the head, the rib cage and the pelvis. The spine con­nects th­ese, and con­nects to the arms and legs. We need a strong un­der­stand­ing of th­ese forms so we can in­vent them from any an­gle, which means sim­pli­fy­ing them down to a man­age­able struc­ture. For the head, that’s a sphere for the cra­nium and a block for the jaw.

4 De­pict­ing the rib cage

Sim­ply speak­ing, the rib cage is egg-like, but we can do bet­ter than that. It has about the same depth as the head, but it’s one-and-a-half head heights tall and one-anda-quar­ter wide. It’s thinnest near the neck and reaches its widest point about two-thirds down. Once you have the ma­jor pro­por­tions es­tab­lished, you can place the end of the ster­num half­way down the rib cage, and con­struct the tho­racic arch be­low it. Don’t for­get to de­fine the edge be­tween the front plane and side plane of the rib cage.

5 How to sim­plify the pelvis

Okay, this one looks com­pli­cated, I know, but that makes sim­pli­fy­ing all the more im­por­tant. On a guy, it’s roughly the same width as the rib cage and about as tall as the head. The fe­male pelvis is wider and shorter. Keep­ing those pro­por­tions in mind, the pelvis is es­sen­tially a bucket. Take out a wedge from the front of the bucket to de­fine the pu­bic sym­ph­ysis and the front of the il­iac crest. You can con­tinue to shave sec­tions off piece by piece to ar­tic­u­late a per­fect pelvis.

6 How to master mus­cles

To master a mus­cle, you should study its ori­gin, in­ser­tion, func­tion, an­tag­o­nist and form. The ori­gin is where the mus­cle at­taches on the more cen­tral or sta­tion­ary part of the body, and the in­ser­tion is the at­tach­ment on the outer or more mov­able part of the body. When the mus­cle con­tracts, it pulls the in­ser­tion closer to the ori­gin. The most im­por­tant as­pect to study is the form. When you un­der­stand mus­cle in three di­men­sions (in­clud­ing its ma­jor planes changes and where it’s the thinnest and thick­est) you’ll be able to draw it from any an­gle, and un­der any light­ing con­di­tions.

7 Learn the func­tions

As you al­ready know, mus­cles con­tract to pull the in­ser­tion closer to the ori­gin. They aren’t ca­pa­ble of re­lax­ing by them­selves, so they need an an­tag­o­nist to pull in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and stretch them back out. The bi­cep bends the arm (flex­ion), and the tri­cep straight­ens the arm (ex­ten­sion). Un­der­stand­ing mus­cles’ func­tions helps you draw a nat­u­ral-look­ing fig­ure by flex­ing and re­lax­ing the mus­cles ap­pro­pri­ately for that pose. Avoid the con­sti­pated body­builder look.

8 How to de­fine the mus­cle groups

Neigh­bour­ing mus­cles with sim­i­lar func­tions can be grouped to­gether. When the mus­cles are flexed they’ll pop out and be in­di­vid­u­ally dis­tinct. But if they’re re­laxed at the same time, they’ll blend into one big, smooth form. For ex­am­ple, the quads of the leg (rec­tus femoris, vas­tus lat­er­alis, vas­tus in­ter­medius and vas­tus me­di­alis) can be grouped to­gether into one form. Use th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties for sim­pli­fy­ing anatomy to cre­ate a bal­ance of ac­tive and pas­sive ar­eas in your draw­ings.

9 Mus­cle fi­bres and ten­dons

Let’s take a step back and look at what makes up a mus­cle. The red mus­cle fi­bre is what short­ens when the mus­cle is flexed. It doesn’t di­rectly at­tach to the bone, but rather, it at­taches to a mid­dle­man ma­te­rial called a ten­don. Ten­dons can’t shorten or stretch like mus­cles can. They sim­ply tape mus­cle to bone. When the mus­cle fi­bres are con­tracted and bulging, the ten­don will of­ten ap­pear as a flat de­pres­sion or fur­row.

Know mus­cle func­tions. Avoid the con­sti­pated body­builder look

10 Long ver­sus short mus­cles

Peo­ple are born with dif­fer­ent lengths of mus­cle ver­sus ten­don. It’s a sub­tle dif­fer­ence that will af­fect how long and el­e­gant, or abrupt and an­gu­lar, their mus­cles look. With long mus­cles, when the mus­cle is flexed, it will ap­pear smooth and grace­ful. Long ten­dons means there’s less room for the mus­cle. They’ll have a sud­den start and end, ap­pear­ing like moun­tain ranges. Com­pare dif­fer­ent body­builders to see this ef­fect in ac­tion.

11 Anatomy trac­ing and in­ven­tion

Ready to prac­tise mus­cles? A great ex­er­cise is called anatomy trac­ing, where you chart the mus­cles on top of a photo ref­er­ence. It’s a lit­tle eas­ier for be­gin­ners be­cause you don’t have to jug­gle many draw­ing fac­tors at once and can fo­cus on recog­nis­ing and ac­cu­rately plac­ing mus­cles. When you get com­fort­able with that, crank it up a notch and in­vent the mus­cles from your imag­i­na­tion on top of a skele­ton ref­er­ence. You can draw the skele­ton your­self, or use the mo­bile app Skelly, a poseable anatomy model, to quickly pose an ac­cu­rate ref­er­ence to draw on.

12 Un­der­stand­ing the pec­toralis ma­jor

Let’s learn a mus­cle. The pec­toralis ma­jor’s form is akin to a flat box, tucked into the cor­ner of the col­lar­bones and ster­num. Its three dis­tinct por­tions (the clav­ic­u­lar, ster­nal and ab­dom­i­nal) over­lap each other in a fold­ing fan pat­tern, and twist over each other where the mus­cle pulls from the rib cage to in­sert on the arm. When the pecs flex, its mus­cu­lar bun­dles be­come easy to see on the sur­face form. Fat gath­ers on top of the pecs along the outer-bot­tom cor­ner in a crescent shape, and gives the pecs a dis­tinct edge.

13 Think of breasts like wa­ter bal­loons

Think of the breasts as wa­ter bal­loons rather than spheres. Show grav­ity in your draw­ings by let­ting the breasts hang or wrap around the rib cage, de­pend­ing on the pose. Keep in mind that the pec­toralis ma­jor lies un­der­neath. The pecs are easy to see where the breast tis­sue thins, on the up­per chest and near the armpits. If the pecs are flexed, you’ll see pec bun­dles, even on non-mus­cu­lar women.

14 Putting some back into it

The up­per back is an in­tim­i­dat­ing area. You have nu­mer­ous shoul­der mus­cles to learn to draw, go­ing from the shoul­der blade to the armpit, cre­at­ing a bunch of thin tube-like forms. The shoul­der has the widest range of mo­tion of any joint in your body and it needs all those small mus­cles for that. The big masses of the back are the trapez­ius along the neck and up­per back, erec­tor spinae, which fol­lows the length of the spine, and latis­simus dorsi, which gives the torso that V-shape.

15 De­cide on how much fat and how much mus­cle?

Have you ever seen a skinny guy with a six-pack? Or have you ever spot­ted a very strong wrestler with a bit of a belly on him? I cer­tainly have. Fat de­vel­ops on top of mus­cle. Even a thin layer of fat will smooth over mus­cu­lar def­i­ni­tion and soften the form. Body types are not a mat­ter of fat or mus­cu­lar, but “how much fat?” and “how much mus­cle?” Us­ing those two fac­tors to­gether, you can cre­ate a va­ri­ety of body types for a range of char­ac­ters.

Have you ever seen a skinny guy with a six-pack, or a strong wrestler with a belly on him?

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