Understanding the basics of anatomy, how to recognise gesture and how to render the way light is reflected and blocked by the form are the building blocks for creating a masterful figure drawing. The science of anatomy is a foundation for understanding proportion and composition when creating any drawing of the human figure.
In this guide, we’ll compare some of the best anatomy books for artists. We outline how each book can help you on your way to improve at drawing figures and portraits.
Disclaimer: Fine Art Tutorials is a reader supported site. When you make purchases through links on this site, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Constructive Anatomy by George B. Bridgman
Constructive Anatomy by George B. Bridgman is a classic reference text for artists. It has been used for decades to inform students about the science of anatomy and how anatomy affects gesture and motion.
The anatomical studies in the book are made specifically for the artist, with the representation of how the different muscles and tendons create movement, so that artists can study anatomy to help them create drawings that appear lively and full of movement, dynamism and power.
George Bridgman was an American artist known for his in-depth teaching of human figure drawing. His teaching focused on what he called ‘Mannequinisation’, which encouraged students to break down the figure into simple shapes according to their distinct masses in order to better understand its proportions and movements. This approach simplifies the process of capturing the figure in motion or at rest. Students work to construct the figure, almost like building from blocks, then refining the details later on in the drawing process.
It is structured based on different sections of the figure, first going into detail on the anatomy of the hand and fingers, then arms, shoulders, neck, head and so forth. In each section of Bridgman’s book, he covers the anatomy, masses and all the rotations and movements of each part of the body. This can help artists not only understand the gesture if the figure when drawing from life, but also as artists in rendering an accurate human form from imagination.
The book includes nearly 500 illustrations, which is invaluable when it comes to visual learners. However, the sketches used to illustrate the sections of the book are more rudimentary and less detailed compared to the illustrations in some other anatomy books.
An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists by Fritz Schider
An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists includes over 575 detailed and realistic anatomical illustrations and life photographs along with 189 plates, 85 of which are from classic anatomy studies by Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens and Michelangelo, which provide a detailed breakdown of the human body and its musculature.
The variety of references in this book is what makes it stand out, as artists can cross reference what they see in an anatomical study, to classical works of the old masters and to photographs of people. This way, art students can learn how master artists have not only created technically proficient works, but how they have historically represented the figure to convey emotion and meaning in art.
This book also contains cross section studies to show how the muscles look in action. This makes it an invaluable resource for those looking to understand the anatomy behind dynamic poses and how the muscles, bones and tendons in the bodies create the appearance of contours on the skin.
Additionally, there are sections dedicated to dissecting age-related changes to bodily proportions and muscle structure. All of these elements can help aspiring artists improve their craft and create more realistic works of art. If you want to use the illustrations as references to draw from, fro your own personal study, then this book would act as a great workbook to practice from.
Schider encourages students to study life drawing from museum archives in order to learn from the masters, but also encourages them to hone their own style of drawing. The text is factual, straightforward and easy to follow, making it a great reference guide for artists at all levels.
Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblet
For artists who want to learn about anatomy and its application in art, this book by Sarah Simblet is an excellent resource. The book features over 300 photographs of anatomy studies and examples of how to apply them in art, as well as step-by-step exercises and projects.
The text is both visual and informative, allowing readers to understand the concepts while simultaneously seeing examples of anatomy studies in action. This makes it easier to apply these concepts in your own art.
Simblet breaks down the human figure into its component parts, providing detailed descriptions on how each muscle contributes to an overall gesture or movement. This makes it easier for artists to understand the way in which different gestures affect their motion. The book contains beautiful photography with dynamic poses, and the overlays provide insight into understanding surface with muscular form.
There is a section on how the facial muscles affect different facial expressions, so if you want to deep dive into the anatomy of the face for portrait drawing, this book is a great resource. It covers the structure of the bones, muscles and skin as well as how light affects them. This can be very helpful in understanding how to accurately render features from life.
Another helpful element of this book, is the fact that it includes analyses of paintings by old masters, which are accompanied by models copying the pose so you can cross reference the two in order to understand how the figure was depicted.
Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck
Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck contains detailed sketches and illustrations of bones, muscles and surface anatomy features, which are further divided into age and sex-based distinctions. Moreover, it also covers topics like proportions, relationships between body parts, and common movement patterns.
The book is divided broadly into three sections: Bones & Skeleton; Muscles; Surface Anatomy & Proportion. For each topic there are detailed drawings that make it easier to understand the intricacies of human anatomy. Furthermore, there are photographs showing how different muscle groups appear when they are activated/relaxed which gives a more complete picture of how they work together. There is also a thorough description of facial anatomy with helpful diagrams that enable artists to make accurate portraits.
Stephen Roger Peck provides a useful glossary at the start of the book, of all the jargon that pertains to the study of anatomy.
This is one of the most in depth books on anatomy, that is helpful for artists at all levels. Whether you are just starting out, or have been practising for years, this book will prove to be an invaluable resource.
Ultimately, Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck is an excellent resource for anyone looking to master the visual literacy of the human body. It provides clear diagrams on anatomical parts and their relationship with each other along with an extensive overview on distance between them depending on age group or gender.
Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form by Eliot Goldfinger
This approachable and accessible reference book by sculptor Eliot Goldfinger, is one of the most descriptive and easy to read anatomy books for artists.
The book is segmented based on the component parts of the anatomy, such as the skeleton, the muscle structure and surface structures. The section on surface structures goes into detail about the eyes, nose, mouth, fat, skin and veins, so artists get an in depth look at the various qualities of these parts and how this can translate to a drawing or painting. This book is useful for an artist wanting to learn about the anatomy section by section in a comprehensive and organised way.
However, the book does not include detailed references or information about how anatomy varies between the sexes, as it mostly focuses on male anatomy when explaining the structure and parts of the body.
Goldfinger provides a helpful overview on the proportions of the human body, which can be used as a reference for measuring the distances between anatomical parts when drawing from life or from photographs.
The importance of anatomy books for artists
Since the Renaissance, artists such as Michelangelo and da Vinci have been studying nature in order to accurately depict their subjects.
By having a broad understanding of the bone structure, tendons and muscle groups, artists can represent the figure accurately. This enables artists to render subtle details of the pose and portray the energy from the gesture.
Learning the nature of the subject you are drawing will influence how you render light across the volume of the form. A well composed, realistic drawing is made up of accurate representation of anatomy, value and edge control, proportions and perspective.
Check out our best books for artists and best drawing books guides for more reviews and top picks!