Improve your Figure Drawing Skills By Drawing Muscle

Figure drawing is based on more that what’s seen on the surface. The structure of the figure is key to getting your drawing just right.

When studying anatomy, and particularly muscles, for figure drawing, the aspect we want to focus most on is the length of each muscle and how they interact and interweave with one another. It is also fundamental to understand the way in which muscles extend and contract so that you can achieve poses and represent action in your art with an expressive and realistic result.

Explore how to draw muscle to improve your figures:


Image via Wikimedia

Knowledge of the muscles is ideal but not absolutely necessary. A very loose and general understanding of the main muscles of the body, especially of the face and neck for portrait artists, will usually suffice and help you significantly improve your drawings and paintings.

If you are more interested in drawing and painting full bodies, I would recommend studying the muscles a bit ore extensively. Having a clear understanding of the way muscles work is fundamental to be able to draw bodies in action from your imagination.

Notice curves

Back muscles

Image via Wikimedia

Each muscle possesses its own very distinct shape and set of curves. The volume and curves of a muscle determine how something like a leg, the back or an arm will take shape. Study and notice the shape of each major muscle, noticing how their curves and volume show through the skin.

Muscles and movement

arm muscle

Most muscles in the body present themselves in antagonistic pairs. This means that when one muscle contracts for movement its opposing muscle relaxes to allow for movement. When this happens, the contracting muscle bulges and creates a prominent curve, while the relaxed one creates a straighter curve. In the example above, the bicep contracts while the tricep relaxes.

Shadows created by muscles

Muscle shadows

Image via Wikimedia

We have already determined that the volume and curves of a muscle are defining factors when it comes to the shape of a body part, but they are also extremely important factors when it comes to shading a body.

male and female leg muscles shadows

Each muscle and bone on the body that presents some volume through the layer of skin will create a shadow. Shading your drawing properly (by following the correct shapes of each muscle) will make your drawings look realistic and correct.

Elie Saab Illustration by Antonella Avogadro

In the illustration above, you can see how the tibialis anterior (located on the front of the leg) catches all the light, creating shadows to the sides. Don’t worry about all the medical terms, that’s completely unnecessary.

Here we also find an example of muscles in movement. In this pose, the left leg is carrying all of the body’s weight and the muscles of the right leg contract in order to take the next step. In this case you don’t see any impact of this muscle’s contraction from the front, but you would see it in action in a side or back view.

Practicing and incorporating some of these concepts into your figure drawings will help you achieve stronger realism. Download Craftsy’s eGuide below to get even more information on this topic.

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