How to

How to draw muscles

Knowing how to portray muscles in motion can infuse life and dynamism into a still image. In this comprehensive tutorial, we will delve into the male back and arms, exploring the natural rhythm and expressive qualities that muscles possess when they work together harmoniously. By mastering the art of capturing this essence, you can elevate your work to new heights.

If you are eager to enhance your anatomy drawing skills further, be sure to check out our other tutorials on figure drawing, arm rendering, and our curated collection of top-notch drawing guides.

Unveiling the Complexity of Anatomy

Before we dive into the tutorial, let’s discuss the intricacies of anatomy. While the foundational structure of the human body remains constant, muscles undergo a fascinating transformation when in motion. They continually adapt and influence one another as they jostle and push. In essence, muscles are versatile shape-shifters. When combined with the vast diversity in body shapes, sizes, personalities, and expressions, the human figure offers an endless array of artistic possibilities.

Observe the contrasting movements of a boxer and a ballerina, and you’ll witness a striking divergence in the way lines and tones are expressed, despite having the same underlying anatomy. However, studying anatomy can often lead to stiff and lifeless drawings. Therefore, it is crucial to approach the subject with a lightness and a focus on gesture.

Discovering the Motion within Stillness

Reference photo of the author in a relaxed pose

To truly grasp the interaction between muscles and their captivating motion, refer to the accompanying photos while studying the Tug-of-War practice sheet at the end of this article. This sheet, initially devised as a study aid for my book, “The Anatomy of Style,” contains invaluable insights into the intricate details of anatomy. Consequently, my understanding of anatomy grew, enabling me to render gestural drawings with greater freedom and expression.

Admittedly, before embarking on this assignment, I had not drawn for a month. My time in the United States, where I had the privilege of participating in the imaginative realism IX show and presenting a lecture on my latest book, “Figures from Life,” had kept me preoccupied. Overcoming the stiffness caused by a lack of practice requires extensive warm-up through gestural drawings. With that in mind, let’s get started!

01. Seeking Motion in Serenity

Notice the waves created from the rib-cage biting into the shoulder blade

In this photograph, one can discern the rhythmic movement of muscles, even in the absence of action. Observe the undulating waves formed when the ribcage intersects with the side obliques, as well as the rolling hills that traverse the shoulder and extend across the raised arm. These contours evoke a sense of motion within the stillness of the body.

02. Embracing Simplicity

Gesture is king to ensure our drawings aren't stiff

Using a charcoal pencil sharpened to the width of two fingers, I begin by outlining the basic shapes. The male figure is often characterized by block-like structures, necessitating a deliberate search for gestures within these forms. Keeping simplicity in mind is vital, as it aids in unearthing the inherent gestures even within rigid blocks. Remember, gesture is king. If we focus solely on structure, our drawings will lack fluidity. Strive to maintain long and loose lines whenever possible.

03. Tackling the Pinched Side

The 'pinched' side of the body has shorter lengths to deal with

I commence the drawing on the ‘pinched’ side of the body first, as the shorter distances between forms make it easier to assess and judge proportions. This invaluable tip comes from the esteemed draftsman, Steve Huston. As with previous steps, I continue employing simple shapes, facilitating the management of forthcoming complexities.

04. Capturing the Essence of Muscle Blocks

Muscles share similar shapes at their borders

With the initial block-in stage largely complete, I reintroduce gestures to reintroduce fluidity into the drawing. As I progress from one muscle to another, I discover that muscles often share similar shapes at their boundaries. This realization compels me to embark on a captivating dance, tracing the rhythms of muscles and flesh.

05. Rendering with Rhythm

Draw from one side to the other, in rhythm

Continuing down the model’s left arm, I maintain the fluidity by drawing from one side to the other, following a rhythm. Observe the natural ebb and flow of the forearm bulges, which rise higher on the exterior, much like the calf muscles in the legs. I am in pursuit of captivating rhythms here, moving from left to right, high to low.

06. Harnessing the Power of Inspiration

Choose the music that gets your creativity flowing

Inspired by an opera piece that resonated deeply with me during my childhood, I aptly title the artwork “The Pearl Fishers.” Playing that same music while working serves as a powerful motivator, evoking echoes of rhythm and gesture. To further heighten the creative energy, I transition to Madame Butterfly, igniting a passionate flame within.

07. Infusing the Drawing with Rhythmic Render

Dust the drawing off with tissue for a softer undercoat you can work with

With well-established rhythms, I gently dust the drawing with tissue to create a softer undercoat that allows for easier manipulation of lights and darks. I begin rendering the forearm and hand, an area that possesses such complexity that it could warrant its own dedicated workshop. I proceed with the same rhythmic approach as before, ensuring continuity and harmony.

08. Unveiling the Ripples and Echoes

Shading in the darks creates ripples

Gradually incorporating the darks, I reveal the interplay of muscles pushing against flesh, resulting in mesmerizing ripples. Take note of how the scapula interacts with the rhomboid muscles, creating captivating wave-like echoes that cascade along the spine, culminating in the sacrum dimples of the hips. Such poetic rhythms guide me toward drawing a sensitive face, illustrating the profound influence of rhythm.

09. Escaping the Clutches of Over-Rendering

Be careful not to overdo the render

One must exercise caution while rendering, as excessive detailing leads to stiffness in a drawing. Nevertheless, since this is a study, I press ahead, delving into the minutiae, cautiously guarding against the insidious trap of “Render Hell.” Notably, I draw a thicker rope compared to the one depicted in the reference photo, aiming to infuse the artwork with an added touch of authenticity.

10. Embracing Abstract Shapes and Clammy Touches

Abstract shapes in the background will add movement

As I progress with drawing the arm bracelet, I find myself traversing a path that threatens rigidity, akin to the clammy touch of “Render Hell.” To reclaim the essence of gesture, I switch to a compressed charcoal medium, reigniting the expressive potential of my hand. I incorporate abstract shapes in the background using willow charcoal, enhancing the overall sense of movement.

11. Adding Intricate Detail and Overcoming Apprehension

Don't fear failure when adding detail

Delicately, I add “gold” spots onto the fisherman’s Lavalava sarong using an eraser. While this may introduce a touch of femininity, the allure of the spots proves impossible to resist. To counterbalance this, I bestow the fisherman with a rugged face. This alteration may not necessarily constitute an improvement, but the fear of failure should never stifle creativity. Consequently, I forge ahead, undeterred.

12. Admiring the Harmonious Antagonism

Highlight with erasers and detail with pencils

Continuing to highlight using erasers and refine details with pencils, I revel in the enthralling counterplay between the triceps and biceps of the raised arm. These muscles seamlessly collaborate, with the triceps elongating to enable the biceps’ contraction and shortening. In contrast, the dynamics reverse in the straight arm, epitomizing the captivating beauty of harmonious antagonism.

13. Embracing the Journey Beyond

Experimentation wins when playing the long game

As anticipated, the accumulation of additional rendering has subdued some of the energetic gestures that defined the earlier stages. Nonetheless, within the realm of art, the spirit of experimentation reigns supreme. Fully committed to the long game, I introduce abstract storm clouds, eager to witness the unforeseen outcomes. Remember, in art, there are no mistakes—each stroke contributes to our growth and understanding, regardless of the final result.

14. Beholding the Wondrous Shape-Shifters

Extra rendering will give you more experience of how muscles work

By skillfully manipulating the interplay between lights and darks, I infuse an oily sheen into the flesh. Though more rendered than originally intended, this drawing has served its purpose by cementing a deeper understanding of muscle dynamics and shape-shifting within my subconscious—truly a worthwhile endeavor.

15. Tug-of-War Study Sheet: The Gateway to Gesture

The more anatomy we study, the more knowledge we will have about drawing with gesture

Extensive studies, such as the one presented here, delve into the intricacies of muscle landmarks and shapes. The primary focus of this particular study involves examining how this knowledge seamlessly integrates into gestures. By acquiring a thorough grasp of anatomy, we can harness its power, allowing it to permeate our subconscious, enabling us to render evocative gestural drawings.

This article was originally featured in issue 170 of ImagineFX, the world’s leading digital art magazine. Subscribe to ImagineFX for a fountain of inspiration.

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Alexia Young

Hello and welcome to the world of Alexia. I am a passionate and dedicated artist who loves to create beautiful, mesmerizing art for everyone's walls. I believe in the importance of encouraging people to express their creativity and be happy.

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