Drawing the Human Body: 5 Tips for Drawing the Torso

Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in Painting | Comments


The torso is the largest part of the human body, protecting the main vital organs. It can be divided in two sections: pectoral and abdominal.

Drawing the human torso can be difficult. As an artist, it helps to know the major muscles groups and bones that are visible on an average model, but you don’t need to take an anatomy class before mastering how to draw this part of the body. Memorizing all the bones and muscles by name and knowing their exact location just isn’t necessary. With a few helpful tips, you can get it right without memorizing a single flashcard.

Figure Anatomy for Artists“Anatomy Study” by instructor Roberto Osit via Craftsy class Figure Anatomy for the Artist

Here’s some tips for drawing the human torso

1. Know the differences between male and female torsos

Even though every individual has a uniquely shaped torso, there are some differences between male and female that apply in general:

  • Males usually have longer torsos than females.
  • Females have a bit more subcutaneous body fat. Accordingly, their shape is a rounder, and the muscles are a less defined.
  • Female hips are wider, and their waist is usually a touch higher than in males.
  • Shoulders are typically wider in males.
  • Usually the length of the spine is a bit shorter in a female than in a male.
  • Male nipples are further apart than female nipples, which are more centered.
Drawing: Contrast between Male and Female Torso

2. Consider the angles

Angles are an important part in rendering a realist drawing of the human form. Each shoulder is located the same distance from the spine (middle of the torso). You can draw a line in the middle of the torso to help with symmetry.

The angle of the shoulders should counterbalance with the angle of the hips, so if one goes up, the other goes down.

Angles for Drawing Human Torso
The angle of the shoulders balances with the angle of the hips

3. Take your measurements in “heads”

The  front torso has roughly a “3-heads” length:

  • 1 head from the chin to the base of the nipples
  • 1 head from the nipples to the navel
  • 1 head from the navel to the pubic arch

Measuring in "heads" - Drawing the Human Body

The torso is about 3-heads long

4. Know the back muscles

The human back holds 14 main muscles masses. On an average model, the back muscles typically won’t be visible, but a very athletic model may show more defined muscles.

Drawing the Human Torso- Back Muscle groups

Latissimus dorsi muscle group highlighted in red via Wikimedia

The spine supports the head and the rib cage. On the spine, the 7th vertebrae is the limit between the neck and torso. Despite all these muscles in the back and shoulders, there are only a few muscles and bones that will be visible on an average back:

  • The seventh vertebrae (it protrudes and is usually visible)
  • The spinal column 
  • The rib cage on thinner models. 
  • The spine of the scapula (shoulder blade) 
  • The end of the lower latissimus dorsi muscles (see picture above)

5. Know the muscles at the front of the torso

Human Anatomy for Drawing

Gray’s Anatomy front torso via Wikimedia

Here is what you might see on an average model:

  • The chest muscle (pectoris major)
  • The sternum (flat bony plate situated between the ribs and between the chest muscles)
  • The clavicle (think about it like an upside down coat hanger)

Clavicle, visible from the front of the torso via Wikimedia

  • The acromion process (it is the bony prominence on top of the shoulder, part of the scapula)

The acromion process attached at upper shoulder blade via Wikimedia

  • The rib cage, on thinner models (we have 12 pairs of ribs).
  • The navel, situated halfway on the abdomen.
  • In very athletic person you might see the serratus anterior muscles that cover the ribcage and the rectus abdominus (this is more commonly known as a six pack).
  • The muscles on the side are the external oblique (better known as “love handles”).
Illustrated Image of a Torso
Torso image via Wikimedia

If you want to learn more about how to draw the human figure, check out the Craftsy class Figure Anatomy for the Artist, where fine artist Roberto Osti leads you in mastering the art of drawing the human form.

What is your main challenge when drawing the torso?