How to

An exercise to help learn the muscles


Original drawing - 10 minutes - by Mayko

When it comes to drawing the human body, understanding the muscles is essential. The skeletal structure provides the foundation, but it is the muscles that give life, energy, and movement to a pose. While it’s not necessary to study every muscle, familiarizing yourself with the major ones that affect the body’s surface will greatly enhance your ability to draw expressive figures. In this article, we will explore three exercises that will help you improve your knowledge of the muscles involved in drawing.

Exercise 1: Developing Kinesthesia

To truly understand the role of muscles in different movements, it’s important to develop a sense of kinesthesia. Start by placing your hand on a specific part of your body, such as your stomach or armpit, and move that body part in various directions. Pay attention to how the muscles contribute to the movement and observe the changes in their shapes.

Next, when you draw from a model or a photo, try to imagine yourself in the model’s pose. This exercise will allow you to empathize with the model’s muscles and bring more energy and life to your drawings. The effect might be subconscious, but it will have a significant impact on the final result.

Exercise 2: Tracing and Inserting Muscles

Traced outline with pencil, muscles inserted with colored pencil, based on muscle references. This exercise really helps the next time you draw a figure

For this exercise, you will need a finished drawing, tracing paper, a graphite pencil, a colored pencil of any color, and anatomical references. Secure the tracing paper over your drawing and carefully trace the contours, paying attention to any bumps or dents. Also, trace the major lines inside the drawing where there are noticeable changes in tone or bumps.

Once you have outlined your drawing, use the colored pencil to position the major muscles within the traced shape. Refer to anatomical diagrams to ensure accuracy. Keep in mind that the size and shape of muscles can vary from person to person and can change depending on the pose and viewing angle.

Don’t worry about perfection in this exercise; the goal is to merge the anatomical diagram into your drawing to the best of your ability. If you struggle with a particular body part, focus on it during your next drawing session. You can also study similar poses in the drawings of old masters like Michelangelo and Raphael.

Exercise 3: Analyzing Old Master Drawings

Original drawing - 10 minutes during life drawing session - 10 minutes by Mayko

Choose a figure drawing by an old master that showcases good muscular description. Michelangelo and Raphael are highly recommended, but any master whose work you admire will suffice. Analyze the drawing and follow the same process as exercise 2, tracing and inserting the major muscles based on anatomical references.

Recommended Muscle References

Fortunately, there are numerous anatomical references available online to aid your studies. Wikipedia’s muscular system pages provide an excellent starting point. Inner Body’s anatomy tool is also a valuable resource. Additionally, you can access historical anatomical diagrams from Vesalius, which offer muscle shapes within the context of the whole body in dynamic poses, making them particularly useful for life drawing. If you prefer a physical anatomy book, we recommend Valerie Winslow’s Classic Human Anatomy.

Vesalius anatomy diagram - back

Major Muscles to Pay Attention To

During exercises 2 and 3, focus on observing and understanding the shapes of the following major muscles without needing to memorize their names:

Torso, Front

  • Pectoralis major
  • Rectus abdominis (6-pack + more)
  • Serratus anterior
  • External oblique
  • Trapezius
  • Deltoid

Torso, Back

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoid
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • External oblique
  • Gluteus Maximus, Medius (hip)


  • Deltoid (shoulder)
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Extensor carpi radialis
  • Flexor carpi ulnalis
  • Extensor digitorum

Thigh and Knee

  • Gluteus medius
  • Tensor fasciae latae
  • Sartorius
  • Rectus femoris
  • Vastus lateralis
  • Biceps femoris
  • Vastus medialis
  • Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus


  • Tibialis anterior (the muscle in the shin)
  • Gastrocnemius (right head and left head)
  • Soleus
  • Peroneus longus
  • Achilles tendon (not a muscle)

By familiarizing yourself with these muscles, their shapes, and their locations, you will gain a deeper understanding of the human body and be able to depict it more accurately in your drawings.

So, don’t shy away from exploring the fascinating world of muscles in your quest to become a better artist. Incorporate these exercises into your practice routine, and you’ll notice a remarkable improvement in your ability to capture the energy and essence of the human figure.

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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