Drawing Anatomy Based on What You Know
As an art student, drawing anatomy is part of the curriculum. A previous post, Draw What You See, covered one of the first things that was taught in art school. The primary reason was that most students rarely study the object in front of them and try to draw it based on memory or on what they think they know about the object. The results were less than ideal. In that post, I hinted at being able to break that rule…once you’ve mastered it, of course.
The thing that makes drawing anatomy special is that there is a formula to drawing people. There are standard proportions that every human body fits into. For example, using the length of the head as a measuring tool, most people are seven and a half to eight heads tall. The eyes sit at the midpoint of the head, between the top of the head and bottom of the chin.
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The head is about five eye-widths across. The bottom of the nose is one third the distance down from the eyes to the chin. And the line between the lips is at the two-thirds line down from the eyes to the chin. The wrists fall at the top of the thighs. The nipples (on both men and women) are two heads down (check out Vetruvian man up there and see for yourself). And the feet are as long as the forearm from the crook of the elbow to the wrist.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead. Try it.
There are many more proportion guidelines in regard to the human body that you learn, either in class or in a book, which serve as a solid system for plotting out what goes where. They’re typical for most people. Of course, there are those humans out there which break the standard proportions, but for the most part, we all fit within them. One of my favorite books is Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life. It breaks human proportions down, but I think assumes you’re at least a little bit comfortable with drawing and not a brand new beginner.
So, you should of course draw what you see if you have a human model in front of you. But you should also apply what you know in regard to the basic human proportions. Yes, I know. You’re breaking one rule because you know other rules. So, it’s not exactly like you’re breaking the rules and just going off all willy-nilly. You’re breaking the rules with knowledge (as you should).
Drawing anatomy is perhaps the only instance where you can break the rule of drawing what you see (sort of) and also draw what you know. And again, this is because these proportions are known and the vast majority of humanity fits within them. It’s like you’re using both rules in tandem.
But we’ll call it “breaking the rules” because we all love doing it when we can.