When it comes to anatomy for artists it represents a unique source of inspiration. The relationship between the two dates back to the Italian Renaissance, when being a painter or a drawing master also meant being an anatomist by necessity; in fact, their studies of the human form, the mysteries and secrets of the body, even surpassed the knowledge on the matter taught at universities at the time. To portray a human figure, inside and out, now meant to create a refined, as lifelike image as possible, and for this endeavor they often had to investigate the muscles and the skeleton of actual bodies - corpses. Just think of the highly detailed anatomical dissections of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, whose intentions exceeded the concept of pure artistic expression and delivered a consistent vocabulary of anatomical illustrations. Da Vinci’s unbelievable ability to depict the dissection of muscles in layers, or his dedication in studying the human skull, are still among the most remarkable works of their kind and the most elaborated reference in anatomy for artists.
Although today there are practically no more secrets that the human body keeps from science and medicine, anatomy is still an important part of learning for artists who wish to portray a body, be it human or animal. Of course, one of the best ways to explore the surface of a figure is to observe a model, living or not, or to learn from online tutorial videos thanks to the wonders of the web. However, anatomy books provide a deeper, more accurate insight into whichever part of the body an artist might be interested in, giving them as much time as they need to successfully transmit their idea through an artwork, be it a drawing, a painting, a sculpture. But apart from being precise in terms of science, these manuals should also be technical, and in this article we listed ten books on anatomy for artists that incorporate both. Let’s hope they foster your creativity!
One of the best reference books out there, the 1951 Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist is written by Stephen Rodgers Peck and published by Oxford University. It is a proper manual containing sections on bones, muscles, surface anatomy, proportion, equilibrium and locomotion. A classic, the publication offers a great number of Peck’s meticulously accurate painting and sketches which explain critical anatomical points, accompanied by the pronunciations of the terms and the derivation of the names for further inspiration. What also makes it unique are the sections on the types of human physique and the differences between genders, races and ages, as well as an analysis of facial expressions for a complete coverage and a comprehensive study of the human form.
Celebrated artist and lecturer at New York City’s Art Students League, George W. Bridgman created a seminal set of six well-known books which turned out to be timeless classics on drawing human figures. A landmark work on the subject, the publications preserve Bridgman’s lessons and original sketches in a new format, which explain the volume of muscle groups and the underlying skeleton to an amazing extent. The focus of Bridgman’s approach, as someone who taught artists like Norman Rockwell and Will Eisner, is “constructive anatomy” for artists, which means building the figure from principles of structure and mechanics and not necessarily just from observation. This could be particularly useful to digital sculptors whose work is based on imagination, for instance, but also other creatives who wish to learn from the best.
The Professor of Anatomy at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the 19th century, Dr. Paul Richer established the school’s emphasis on naturalism and figurative powers. Translated from the original French version published in 1889, his book on anatomy for artists contains detailed explanations of the form, structure and function of all the important muscles - although they might be a little hard to understand if you’re a beginner. This publication was used as a reference by artists like Renoir, Braque, Degas, Bazille and many others, and in the latest edition, published 35 years ago, also features last century’s most renowned teacher of anatomy and figure drawing, Robert Beverly Hale. His modern take on the matter surely contributes to the needs of an artist interested in it today. Needless to say, it is an evergreen manual.
Speaking of Robert Beverly Hale, he also wrote a volume which sums up around one hundred inspiring masterpieces in his Anatomy Lessons From the Great Masters. Through work of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt and others, he reveals their drawing principles and the way underlying bone and muscle structures told the body’s surface forms. The aim of this book is to inspire artists, be it amateurs, professionals or students, to learn from these great examples, as the author Beverly Hale, together with Terence Coyle, guide them through all the steps they would take in a life class or studio working with live models. This certainly is a great resource of how anatomical knowledge can be applied for artistic purposes.
For a long time, the essential Die Gestalt des Menschen book by contemporary artist and anatomy teacher Gottfried Bammes could only be found in the original, German language and could not be easily traced outside Europe. Nevertheless, it stood as a seminal manual on the mechanics of the human body, explained through quite an architectural approach of the author. Now, we finally have a version in English and featuring the distillation of many years spent studying and teaching the human form. In it, there is a great number of drawings and photographs that illustrate the author’s intentions well. Gottfried Bammes’ publication is about as highest of recommendations you could ever get when it comes to books on anatomy for artists and a volume you should definitely not miss out on.
If you’re an artist interested in particular body parts and you’d like to elaborate on them only, Andrew Loomis’ Drawing the Head and Hands might just be the perfect book for you. He was a renowned illustrator, admired by the likes of Norman Rockwell and Alex Ross for his mastery of figure drawing and a clean, Realist style that misses no detail. His widely successful ad influential series of art instruction books never needed any remarks or corrections, and this edition represents their return to print for the first time in decades. The book focuses, as you can guess from the title, on the Head and the Hands, surveying their every visual aspect and anatomical feature through a variety of poses, positions and expressions, like smiling and the way structures change with age and gender.
Dedicated to experienced artists as well as rookies, Figure Drawing: Design and Invention focuses on a simplified understanding of surface anatomy, in order to clarify the mechanics of the figure, facilitate invention and ultimately create a skill set that can be successfully applied to other media. And not only: the publication also strongly emphasises the practical use and the way the steps presented here can be employed in an extensive, productive creative process. With elaborate sections dedicated to each part of the human body, the author Michael Hampton also draws our attention to a few notes on light and shadow, as well as the characteristics of the connection between different parts, the perspective, proportions and much more.
Eliot Goldfinger is a sculptor, illustrator, scientific model-maker and lecturer on anatomy who has been writing this extensive reference on the human form for five years. Featuring hundreds of photos and illustrations, it is the result of a remarkable research and study of both live models and cadavers, with numerous unique presentations of surface structures such as fat pads, veins and genitalia. In addition, numerous cross sections, made with reference to CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging, and cut cadavers, trace the forms of all body regions and individual muscles. There is also an invaluable chapter on the artistic development of basic forms, which shows the evolution of the figure, head, and hands from basic axes and volumes to more complex organic shapes through a series of sculptures.
Joseph Sheppard taught drawing, anatomy, and painting for many years at the Maryland Institute of Art. He is the author of several books of art instruction, and the recipient of a number of distinguished prizes and awards for his sculptures and other works of art, many of which are in the collections of art museums across America. His concise instructions have been carefully integrated with over 250 halftone illustrations and over 180 line drawings in a book which will lead artists one step at a time through the techniques required in rendering human anatomy convincingly. Its chapters focus on the special techniques involved in mastering proportion, separate parts of the body, the complete figure, as well as a table of muscle origins and insertion and depictions of different positions and expressions.
If it’s not just about humans for you, this book on animal anatomy is probably the most comprehensive one out there. Shared between three authors, it offers 288 remarkable lifelike drawings of animals such as horses, dogs, lions, cows, bulls, stags and goats. Artists and students can learn from three approaches on the animal form: the external full views with details of paws, eyes, legs etc,; beneath-the-skin musculature; and skeleton drawings that determine surface contours and configurations. In addition to that, the book also depicts special cross-sections dissecting the portions of the animal , such as the head and limbs, that are most important for an artist, and 25 plates from George Stubbs’s long unavailable Anatomy of the Horse. Should you try your luck at depicting animals, we highly recommend it!