Monday, July 22, 2013

The Basics of Anatomy

I've always drawn.  Always.  I started developing an interest in fashion and fashion design as a kid, and developed that into a love of drawing people.  As a teenager, I worked as a babysitter partly to buy the Tom Tierney paper dolls I loved so much and partly to buy art instruction books.

Fifteen plus years later and these are the same books I refer to today!

Today I'm going to share some scans from my favorite reference books and point you towards some great resources online as well.

Anatomy for the Artist: A Very Brief History 
One of the earliest works of art we humans created were images of ourselves and the animals around us.  So-called Venus figures pop up all over Europe and depict a robust, motherly figure.  Ancient civilizations around the globe represented the human figure as well.  Greek sculpture became a model of ideal anatomy around the world, from Europe to India (by way of Alexander).  I highly recommend going to your nearest museum and looking at ancient sculpture, preferably with a sketch book in tow.

By the time of the Renaissance, the human form was back in vogue and anatomy as we know it was beginning to develop.  As artists, we owe a particular debt to Leonardo and Michelangelo.  I have a copy of Leonardo's anatomical studies and it's fascinating, but not really practical for the purposes of creating paper dolls.

On the other hand, one of my favorite references is George Bridgeman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life.  It's the first anatomy book I ever bought, when I was all of 15 years old! It's served me well since....

Reference Images and Book Recommendations
As a general rule, the human body is measure using the head as a unit.  Different artists prefer different proportions.  Michelangelo used an 8 heads tall figure for an adult figure.  George Bridgeman suggests 7 and 1/2 heads.  Fashion illustrators use 9 heads as a standard.  The general rule of thumb seems to be 7 and 1/2 heads.  That's what I typically use.  I want to focus on female anatomy simply because I tend to draw female paper dolls.  Male anatomy maintains approximately the same proportions.

This is a scan from Bridgeman's book.  You can seem some of my annotations if you look closely enough!  When I was teaching myself anatomy as a teenager, this is the book I used.  Bridgeman uses a 7 1/2 tall figure with each portion of the figure represented as a fraction of that amount.  The neck, for instance, is 1/2 of a head tall (as are the feet).  The navel/belly button typically falls at the 3 head mark, etc. As I took figure drawing in college, I still couldn't shake the ideas I learned here.  It's the standard I use to this day.

This (not so great) scan is from 9Heads, by Nancy Riegelman.  This book focuses on fashion design and illustration and uses 9 heads as the ideal height.  Legs are elongated, arms are shortened, and the overall form is slim.  I also highly recommend this book for its detail in constructing a figure and for the immense fashion detail resources contained in it.  If you ever wondered what jodhpurs were or how to illustrate a pin tuck, this is the book for you.

(Warning: illustrated nudity below, just so everyone knows!)

Another wonderful image I found was at the Atelier de Poupee, a site devoted to ball jointed doll construction.

The image above comes from Stephen Rogers Peck's book, Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist, and may be going on my Amazon wishlist!  This image shows the various stages of human (female) development and is a terrific resource.

Online Resources

I've said this before, but I think deviantArt is a great resource for all things artistic!  Having said that, you have to know how to weed out the quality work from the lesser work.  It's important for all artists of all levels to have a forum, and deviantArt provides that.  For learning purposes, though, here's what I recommend.


I can't say enough great things about SenshiStock.  Her photos are lovely, thoughtful, and provide a very broad variety of (clothed) poses.  It's an ideal place to study the human form online, especially for folks who aren't interested in nudity for whatever reason.  I backed her Kickstarter project & I'll have a nice, long-winded review of that when it arrives this fall.

Line-art and Character Sheets

This is an entire category on deviantArt.  Have you ever wanted to make a paper doll of a teenager with a fox tale?  Look here for inspiration.  The images people share are remarkable and incredibly helpful.  Just don't plagiarize!  Sharing and taking are two different things :)  

The image above is one that I found while browsing this category.  The artist, Kate Fox, has a number of lovely line-art reference sheets.  I recommend checking these out as well.

Anatomy Isn't Everything

One of the greatest influences on my art is my high school art teacher.  She would frequently tell me that you can't break the rules if you don't know the rules.  I want to share the rules of drawing a human figure -- feel free to break them! I know I do!  If you look at my paper dolls, some of them are 7 1/2 heads tall, some are 5, some are 9, etc.  Work in a style that YOU like.  But learn the rules first.

And take a figure drawing class.  It's a lot of fun and will teach you things you never knew that you never knew :)

Here are just a couple of images from a figure study class I took in college.  (Again, illustrated nudity!!)

Nude Study in Pencil, 2003

Nude Study in Charcoal, 2004

Don't judge my figure studies too harshly! I did these a long time ago :)

So I hope my overview of human anatomy was helpful.  These are the resources I use and I hope you will, too.  Look for a new doll on Friday!

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