How to Learn the Muscles of the Body for Artists - Diary of an Aspiring Board Game Artist - Part 4
If like me, you've been putting off figure drawing, then maybe now is the time to start.
I can't draw figures.
I'll never learn how to draw figures.
They're just too complicated.
Have you said these things to yourself? Me too. But I think these thoughts are a barrier I've put up to protect myself from a lot of pesky learning and hard work. To learn how to draw figures is going to take a lot of commitment. I won't be giving you any quick fixes because, as usual, there aren't any. What I will tell you about is a method of learning that should speed up the process dramatically.
I tried to learn how to draw figures about twenty-five years ago. I bought a book on anatomy and gave it a go. That and a couple of books from the library were all I had access to. I found it incredibly hard to visualise where the muscles were when I looked at an actual figure. I only had static images that I couldn't rotate or move in any way. My first foray into figure drawing ended in frustration and disappointment.
But now we have access to a much wider range of tools to help us learn. in this post, I'll tell you all about the things that I've found incredibly useful in learning the muscles of the body.
I'm actually going to share something pretty embarrassing with you here. Below is my attempt to draw a human figure that I did a couple of years ago. I had a reference photo taken from the internet but even with this help, this is a pretty useless drawing. In a year or two, after I've put in a lot of work into figure drawing, I'll repost this drawing and we can do before and after comparison. If you want to do this too, try drawing a figure now and then save it for a later date when you can compare it to your drawings after you've learnt anatomy.
Embarrassing Pre-Learning Drawing
After that abomination, let's see how we can actually learn the muscles of the human body.
When I started, I split the body into groups. Firstly, I focused on the leg. Then I split this down into smaller subgroups: the groin, the quads, the hamstrings, and finally, the lower leg.
Yes, I know. I said books didn't help me before. But now, as just one part of the process, I've found one book in particular very useful: Anatomy for the Artist by Jeno Barcsay. This is a book aimed at artists so it reassured me that the muscles that I was learning would indeed prove useful at some point.
I gave myself a week to learn all of the leg muscles. I learned the names of the bones first and sketched them. This is useful in that some of the muscle names relate to the bones so it's one hook that you can attach further knowledge to.
I then wrote down the names of the muscles and drew a little sketch of each. This process gave me an overview of the muscles.
Now I'm going to deviate from using art-based products and use products aimed at medical students.
I've found the videos by Kenhub to be invaluable. I went through the muscles one by one and watched the videos on the function of each one. There are free versions on YouTube but you can pay to receive the full versions.
Watching the videos gave me a three-dimensional view of the muscles and gave me more of an insight into where each one was in relation to the others.
Now we get to the good stuff. I'd familiarised myself with the leg muscles but now I wanted to actually dig into the body and get a really good look. I bought an app that is designed for physiotherapists but it's also ideal for artists: Muscle Premium.
Here's a link to their site: https://www.visiblebody.com/anatomy-and-physiology-apps/muscle-anatomy
I am in no way affiliated to this app, it's just something that I've found to be incredibly useful.
Muscle Premium is pretty cheap at around $35 and it is a fantastic tool. You can rotate the body to any angle, hide muscles, see where they attach to the body, and much more. I've spent ages playing with this, looking at the body from different angles and seeing if I can still name the muscles. You can make the other muscles translucent so that you can focus on one main muscle and then see how it fits in with the others.
As an artist, we also need to know where the muscles attach to the body: the origin and insertion points. This app can show you that easily. You still have to put in the work to learn them but it makes it so much easier to see these points. I can't stress how great this app is.
I've also used the app to take three different pics of the legs: one of just the skeleton, one of the muscles, and then one of the skin. I whacked these into Photoshop so I could have them as three separate layers. I could then draw muscles on the skeleton and check them against the actual muscles and the skin. This has been a fantastic learning tool too.
You may have noticed so far that I've used a mixture of digital and traditional media to help me learn. I believe that we learn faster when we use a variety of different tools. So let's end with the classic pencil and paper. The final part of my process was to write down each muscle from memory and do a small sketch of where it is situated. Any that I couldn't remember, I wrote down on a separate list and went through the books, videos and app steps again. I repeated this process until I'd got them all. Hooray!
Learning anatomy is a daunting process. It took me a full week to learn the muscles of the leg. But now I can cross that goal off in my little book and move to the muscles of the arm. Eventually, I'll have learnt them all, something that I never thought I would do. Hopefully, the process I have detailed above will help you to learn anatomy too. See you next time!