It’s sometimes difficult for non-artists to understand why the study of anatomy and figure drawing is so central to learning to draw and paint. The human form is the visual subject matter which, above all else, we are most familiar with. It is the scaffold which contains everything that we are. There is something innate in our knowledge of it. Facial recognition, in particular, is something which scientists think is hardwired at an evolutionary level.
Since we know our bodies so well, the human figure is one of the most unforgiving of subject matters. It is relatively easy to draw a tree or a vase and make it “believable”. Depicting the articulation of a head on the shoulders, the bones of the ankle or a figure foreshortened or in a twisting contraposto is a different matter. Our deep familiarity with how the parts of the body “work” mechanically means it is instantly obvious if something isn’t right with the depiction of the various interlocking shapes that make up a figure drawing. With something so well known to us there’s nowhere to hide!
Anatomical knowledge enables the artist to draw the body with more confidence. Here are my four favourite anatomy books.
Each book approaches the subject from a different angle. In a sense, that is what makes them particularly useful as set. The Richer book is the most purely factual of the four – focusing simply on the names, locations and functions of the bones and muscles of the body. This makes it rather a dry read, but a good studio reference manual. The Hogarth book tackles the subject from the perspective of depicting movement in the context of illustrating graphic novels. Bridgman, on the other hand, offers a constructive approach which focuses on the main structures and masses of the body. The most recently published of the four is the Simblet book, “Anatomy for the Artist”, which is the only one illustrated with colour photographs. This one is particularly useful as it has translucent pages allowing depictions of the bones and muscles to be overlaid on top of photographs of the surface form of the body.
Ben Laughton Smith
Aspiring artist, training in the classical tradition.