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Top 10 Human Anatomy Books For Artists

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If you want to learning to draw well you’ll have to study human anatomy. You should practice a lot of life drawing sessions with long-form poses and quick gestures.

But drawing from life is only half the battle. You also need a deep knowledge of the human anatomy to construct muscles, bones, and joints in a realistic fashion. You can learn by memorizing the figure, but anatomy books have much more information and they’re easier to access.

In this post I’ve collected the 10 best anatomy books for artists. This includes raw anatomical dictionaries along with more stylized books to go along with the rote memorization.

As such I’ve broken down this post into two sections: first is raw anatomy books and second is more ancillary content to aid your studies & life drawing efforts.

Core Anatomy Books

Every artist should have at least one core anatomy book. This is the cornerstone of self-study and a book full of anatomy info will be crucial the more you practice life drawing.

If you want multiple references I’d obviously encourage that too.

But most people just need one solid book and in that case I’d suggest one from this list.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist

One of the most recommended books for mastering the figure is Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist. It comes with 272 pages full of illustrations showing the bones, muscles, tendons, and how they all connect.

Every artist needs to know this stuff and sometimes a technical book is the best way to go.

You’ll learn about the differences in human anatomy when it comes to kids, adults, men & women, plus different body sizes. You learn by studying from real photos and illustrations that demonstrate how to render anatomical parts accurately.

While this does make an amazing reference manual it does not work as a teaching tool.

You won’t learn figure drawing from this book. However it will show you the human figure from a technical point of view—a valuable thing for every artist to understand.

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Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form

Eliot Goldfinger is the author of Human Anatomy for Artists and this tome of anatomy is my #1 recommendation for artists.

I’ll start by saying this book is dense. It totals 368 pages and it covers almost every aspect of the human anatomy. Even though the book’s title says it’s for artists, the whole thing can feel like a science journal.

I wouldn’t sit down and read this for fun but I would(and do) frequently reference this as a study guide. Nobody can learn anatomy all in one sitting so you’ll constantly be learning more as you go.

Human Anatomy for Artists could be the only book you ever own on human anatomy.

It covers everything like bones, muscles, fascia, tendons/ligaments, and joints, plus photos to help you understand each part along the way.

This book does not have bodies in flexed poses so it can feel rather static. But for a terse anatomical reference guide to the human figure I cannot think of a better book.

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Anatomy for the Artist

One reason you’d get this book is to just learn about human anatomy. Another reason is to study the hi-res photos and use these as references for your own drawings.

Anatomy for the Artist contains 200+ pages of color photos and diagrams that overlay these photos. You can see layers of bones, muscles, and fascia as they form beneath the skin. Each photo is very high quality so you’ll have no problem studying the content.

However I don’t think this book is as detailed as the previous one by Goldfinger.

I would almost say that Anatomy for the Artist acts more like a coffee table book for human anatomy rather than a detailed reference guide.

The transparent overlays are very fun and they can help you visualize how to see the figure accurately. But this book probably won’t help you master all the small intricacies like you get with Human Anatomy for Artists.

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Anatomy For Sculptors Series

This series takes a detailed look at individual body parts which get split up into different books. I’d imagine that most artists don’t want to pay extra for individual anatomy books.

But the upside is that you can grab Anatomy For Sculptors based on exactly what you need whether it’s the torso, upper limbs, lower limbs, or the face & neck muscles.

Each book goes into detail about the construction and behavior of each part of the body. The content is geared towards 3D sculptors but the writing is so detailed that it easily applies to 2D artists and illustrators too.

Note these books are surprisingly short and they’re mostly available in digital Kindle formats. I wouldn’t recommend this entire set as a replacement for any other anatomy book.

However if you need to brush up on a single area of the human anatomy then you might grab one specific book from this series.

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Anatomy: A Complete Guide for Artists

I like a lot of the Dover books because they’re often very high quality and surprisingly affordable. Anatomy: A Complete Guide for Artists is a somewhat older book dating back to the early 1990s.

Thankfully the human figure hasn’t changed much since the late 20th century so all the information is still applicable.

The author doesn’t teach anatomy from a point of forced memorization. Instead you get a series of exercises based on individual parts of the body like the arms, legs, torso, etc. You’ll have sketches and more refined drawings for each chapter to help you see how these anatomical details should be rendered.

The author Joseph Sheppard is a renowned artist with decades of experience. His writing style is quick yet accurate.

Sheppard’s goal is to help you learn anatomy through exercise and a bit of memorization. But this book is much easier to understand if you’ve made it through other anatomy books in the past.

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Ancillary Books

Aside from core anatomy books I’d also recommend getting figure/anatomy books. These don’t help you memorize the pure anatomy, but they can teach anatomy along with techniques for figure drawing.

These are my favorite figure books that touch upon anatomy and work well in conjunction with an anatomy reference guide.

Complete Guide to Life Drawing

This is the newest book in my post and the material really shows. The author Gottfried Bammes covers a wide variety of content from body types, ages, sexes, and even proportions for different body types.

Complete Guide to Life Drawing is half reference guide, half drawing tutorial guide.

In the early chapters you learn about gesture, flow, and how to capture the figure. Then in later chapters you learn about the more detailed anatomy and how this should fit into your drawing workflow.

You’ll get plenty of illustrations from Bammes and other artists which explain the concepts in each chapter.

Totaling 312 pages you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with this title.

Every chapter draws you in further and the presentation of the information in this book is hard to find elsewhere.

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Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators

If you’re an aspiring animator then this book is a must-have item. Most animators take life drawing classes with the aim of studying weight, balance, movement, and gesture.

This is why Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators can be such a powerful book for anyone learning anatomy.

It is crucial that you learn all the muscles, bones, and how these connect.

Muscles pull on bones to help the skeleton move. Animation is just a cartoony way to mimic real movements, and to do this accurately you need to know how the human figure moves.

This book will not teach you perfect accuracy or anatomy. However it will build on top of your anatomy lessons to help you draw natural flowing lines of movement with each pose.

Animators need to be quick and the exercises in this book will help you with that. But don’t make this your only anatomy book or else you’ll be missing all the minor details that make animations feel lifelike.

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Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth

I have to throw in a recommendation for Loomis because he’s one of the great modern teachers. His books span the globe and have been around for decades, still popular to this day for good reason.

Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth teaches you how to approach the figure room with practical exercises and the proper mindset. You’ll learn how to take accurate measurements and how to consider the end goal of a drawing(short vs long pose).

However I do not think this book is great for absolute beginners. Loomis can have a very gruff style of teaching which doesn’t hold your hand all the way.

I would recommend that you already have some figure drawing experience before picking up this book. It can be incredibly helpful but you need to be ready for the lessons.

For complete beginners with no prior experience I always recommend the Proko figure course which I reviewed in detail if you want to learn more.

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Figure Drawing: Design and Invention

This incredible book by Michael Hampton is often referenced as a premiere figure drawing resource. It will not teach you everything about anatomy. But it will help you simplify anatomy so that you can draw quicker and with more confidence.

Figure Drawing: Design and Invention teaches you how to see the human figure using forms and masses. You aren’t just copying what you’re seeing. Instead you’re learning how to accurately see the human figure as a 3D form of muscles and bones.

The book doesn’t have any photos so you’ll be learning strictly through Hampton’s illustrations. But this is really best used as an exercise book to help you learn new techniques for breaking down the figure drawing process.

I would highly recommend grabbing this book if you want to draw more from your imagination. This is a necessary skill for animators and concept artists, but the skill also requires foundational knowledge in life drawing.

Also this book is not super friendly to beginners since the exercises don’t have the typical step-by-step approach. If you grab this book also consider getting another figure book like Principles of Figure Drawing to help you along a more nurturing path.

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Constructive Anatomy

I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this book. Bridgman is a talented artist and many of his books are widely regarded as the best in their field.

While Constructive Anatomy offers a lot in the way of thinking about figure drawing, it can also be difficult to comprehend. It’s quite an old book and has not been updated in decades.

However Bridgman is meticulous about every single aspect of aesthetic anatomy that you can see from the browline down to the toes and heels. You will learn how to see, how to render, and how to understand every part of the anatomy in detail.

Unfortunately the language presents a huge barrier to entry. I still have it listed here because the information is exquisite. But if you don’t want to wade through confusing terminology I’d recommend skipping this in lieu of practically any other book in this post.

Learning anatomy along with figure drawing is generally the best approach. You can study books all day long but there’s nothing quite like seeing the muscles in action by studying live models or model photos.

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I would recommend that each aspiring artist get at least one anatomy reference guide and a couple figure drawing books to help develop a clear understanding of the human figure.

I recently did a post on the best figure books and they all pair nicely with the raw anatomy books listed above.

If you just need one anatomy book for hardcore study then I’d suggest Human Anatomy for Artists no question. It’s dense, accurate, and treasured by amateurs and professionals alike as the best resource for studying human anatomy.

Skeleton of a boy sitting on the 'D' of 'Dream', from Francesco Bertinatti, Elementi di anatomia fisiologica applicata alle belle arti figurative (Turin, 1837-39).  Artist: Mecco Leone. Lithograph

“Under Your Skin” Art Contest

In conjunction with the Dream Anatomy exhibit, the National Library of Medicine decided to hold an art contest and ask children between the ages of five and thirteen what they thought the body looked like “under the skin.”

The children, whose drawings you see below, took up the challenge.

First Place

Collage/color-pencil-drawing of girl showing spine, rib cage, eye socket.

Eve Peyser
Age 9 1/2
New York, NY

Top right thumbnail: Crayon drawing of smiling figure surrounded by labeled body parts.

Taite Alyson Puhala
Age 6
East Granby, CT

Second Place

Magic marker drawing of glowing figure showing heart and intestines.

Jacqueline Kantor
Age 12
Bethesda, MD

Crayon drawing of smiling girl, standing above the words, “My Internal Body”

Katie McGregor
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Crayon drawing of a figure, standing below the words, “My Internal Body”

Amber Tornetta
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Third Place

Crayon drawing of a figure, standing below the words, “My Internal Body”

Porsche Amaya
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Color-pencil drawing of a figure, standing below the words, “My Internal Body”

Matthew David Golder
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Divided figure of a head: the left side shows the skull and neck, the right side the muscles of the face, eye and neck.

Amy Tuttle
Age 10
Silver Spring, MD

Honorable Mentions

Dream Crayon drawing of a smiling figure, standing below the words, “My Internal Body”

Denny Anderson
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Pencil and crayon drawing of a figure, standing below the words, “My Internal Body” and a shining sun.

Owse Alaubaidi
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Pencil and crayon drawing of a figure, standing below the words, “My Internal Body”.

Kalin Forest Black
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Pencil and crayon drawing of a figure holding a red heart in its right hand and a blue heart in its left.

John Buggy
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Pencil and crayon drawing of a figure, standing above the words, “My Internal Body”.

Joshua Conwell
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Pencil and crayon drawing of a smiling figure, standing to the left of the words, “My Internal Body”.

Alex Flores
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Pencil drawing of a figure, standing above the words, “My Internal Body”.

Kyle Hickerson
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Crayon drawing of a figure, standing below the words, “My Internal Body”.

Johnny Houston
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Crayon drawing of a figure, surrounded by identifying words.

Jenna Kantor
Age 6
Bethesda, MD

Pencil drawing of a figure underneath the heading “Your Bones By Melissa Kantor”.

Melissa Kantor
Age 9
Bethesda, MD

Colorful crayon drawing of a human figure standing next to a bird. To the right, the sun is shining. The drawing is labeled “My internal body”.

Medhia Mahmood
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Crayon and pencil drawing of a figure, below the words, “My Internal Body”.

Katherine Meckus
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Pencil drawing of a skull with blacked out  eye sockets.

Katherine Porter
Age 10
Silver Spring, MD

Crayon and pencil drawing of a figure.

Brishen Rogas
Age 5
Gainesville, VA

Crayon and pencil drawing of a figure, next to the words “My Internal Body”.

Edward Shanahan
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

Crayon drawing of a figure, over the words “My Internal Body”.

Eric J. Smith
Age 6
Gainesville, VA

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Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London (all images courtesy King’s College London)

Think your four-year-old might be an artistic prodigy? While early drawing ability doesn’t mean your child will be the next Picasso, a new study suggests it may indicate brightness. After conducting and scoring a children’s figure-drawing test, researchers found not only a significant correlation between accuracy and intelligence at age 4, but also that the scores may predict how smart a kid will be at age 14. 

Rosalind Arden, Maciej Trzaskowski, and Robert Plomin at King’s College London, along with Victoria Garfield at University College London, summarized their findings in a paper titled “Genes Influence Young Children’s Human Figure Drawings and Their Association With Intelligence a Decade Later,” published in Psychological Science last week. They write:

Our data show that the capacity to realize on paper the salient features of a person, in a schema, is an intelligent behavior at age 4. Performance of this drawing task relies on various cognitive, motoric, perceptual, attentional, and motivational capacities … [The finding] demonstrates that the study of art and the study of science have much to offer each other.

To reach this conclusion, the group studied 7,752 pairs of identical and fraternal twins. The children were born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 into families whose socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and parental occupation resembled that of the population at large. When the twins turned four, their parents received questionnaires and “Draw-a-Child” tests — a means of measuring intelligence in young children first developed in 1926. They were instructed to do the following: 

If your child is a girl, say: “Draw me a picture of a girl. Do the best that you can. Make sure that you draw all of her.” If your child is a boy, say: “Draw me a picture of a boy. Do the best that you can. Make sure that you draw all of him.” If your child hesitates, encourage him/her, saying things like “You draw it all on your own, and I’ll watch you. Draw the picture any way you like, just do the best picture you can.” Do not say which parts of the body to draw. It is very important that you do not mention any of the body parts that your child could include in the picture. If your child stops before the picture seems to be finished, say “Is s/he finished? Is that all of him/her?” When your child has finished the picture be sure to have a look at it, and admire it!

The drawings were then graded on a score from 0 to 12 based on how many parts of the body were included. One point was given for the presence each of the head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, body, arms, legs, hands, feet, and clothing items. 

While they did find a correlation between accuracy in drawing and intelligence, the researchers stressed that drawing ability does not determine, but rather results from, intelligence. A blank page and a box of crayons should remain a safe haven for imaginative play and experimentation — not another opportunity for adult evaluation.

(image courtesy of King's College London)

The researchers also wanted to learn “the extent to which (if any) genes influence individual differences in children’s drawings of human figures.” They discovered that drawings done by identical twins (who share 100% of their genes) were much more similar than those done by fraternal twins (who share 50%), which means that “genetic differences exert a greater influence on children’s figure drawing at age 4 than do between-family environmental differences.”

The study may also possess a wider scientific value. The researchers note that figurative art may be a more recent human development than “geometric patterning,” in which case:

… figurative art may track, to some extent, increasing cognitive ability in the human species …. Evolutionary selection on drawing ability may have been an important precursor to writing, which transformed humans’ capacity to store information externally, and promoted the capacity to build a civilization.

So not only might figurative art, viewed as an “intelligent behavior,” indicate from a young age where we’re headed; it may also offer clues about where we as a society have come from.

“Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London”

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

“Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London”

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

“Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London”

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

h/tThe Telegraph

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and... More by Laura C. Mallonee

Learning to draw anatomy in a week// Study with me

Figure Drawing in Proportion: Easy to Remember, Accurate Anatomy for Artists (Paperback)

Figure Drawing in Proportion: Easy to Remember, Accurate Anatomy for Artists Cover Image

By Michael Massen

Email or call for price.


An intuitive approach for figure artists to get proportions right.

Traditional methods of measuring body proportions rely on the abstract memorization of convoluted fractions or multiples of the human head. But artists shouldn't have to be mathematicians. Figure Drawing in Proportion introduces a better, more intuitive, less intimidating way to get proportions right. It starts with the revelation that--despite the wonderful variety of bodies in this world--the human figure has standard size relationships artists can build upon for accurate renderings. If you know, for example, that the collarbone is the same width as the head, it's much easier to draw the head in proper relationship to the shoulders. Knowing that the palm should be the same width as the knee helps establish the correct relationships in a seated portrait. This book highlights dozens of such key internal and comparative measurements. Once you start looking, you will discover even more. Ideal for any level of artist, this practical approach to proportions makes figure drawing more approachable and more rewarding. Inside you'll find:

   • 9 full step-by-step demonstrations, using various poses and figures to show proportioning techniques in practice.
   • Internal and comparative measurements and how to apply them to figure drawings.
   • Simple strategies for recalling key proportions as you work.

About the Author

Michael Massen is a sculptor, painter and draftsperson. He lives in New York City, where he made his living for years as an art director and graphic designer. Mr. Massen holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MFA in painting from the New York Academy of Art.

He is the author of The Artist's Guide to Drawing the Clothed Figure published by Watson-Guptill Publications in 2011. Mr. Massen teaches regular workshops in figure drawing at the Art Students League of New York in addition to other venues. Visit his website at


Anatomy drawing kid

Drawing the Human Body for Kids

Drawing the Human Body for Kids from a Wood Mannequin

The kids and I have been learning about and drawing the human body recently.

My hope is that by exploring how the human form is put together and different ways of drawing it, we’ll all become more comfortable depicting it in our artwork—me, of course, but also my daughters. Here’s some of what we’ve been doing ::

  • assembling a 2 1/2 foot model skeleton (they are calling her “Grandma Johnson”)
  • drawing each other
  • drawing our own hands and feet
  • doing body tracings
  • drawing our good buddy the wooden mannequin.

I want to encourage my children to see—really see—the human body and to practice drawing what they see. To get beyond the stick figures that Daphne’s drawing and the hyper self-consciousness that Maia has about her work sometimes these days if it doesn’t look perfect or like her best artwork ever.

Learning about the Human Body

But just learning about how the body is put together and works is important on its own. Kind of like an owner’s manual for our body.

Ways to Learn About the Human Body  ::

Observing and drawing the human body is a great way to learn about how the body is put together and how it works.

Blind Contour Drawings with Kids

We’ve been doing blind contour drawings

(Which usually means we’re looking at the object and not what our hand is doing on the paper. Although as you can see from the photo above, Maia likes to cover her eyes sometimes as well.)

Blind Contour Drawings with Kids 2

Blind contour drawings make the girls giggle!

Figure Drawing with Kids

We’ve been sketching each other

Figure Drawing for Kids

Maia Figure Drawing

Drawing Hands and the Human Body 2

We’ve drawn our hands

Drawing Hands with Kids

Although the kids did as much hand tracing as observational drawing!

Drawing the Human Body from a Mannequin

We each sketched the wooden mannequin quite a bit…

Drawing the Human Body for Kids

…even ad libbing hair and fairy wings.

Body Tracing and Painting with Kids

We did body tracings and paintings (the kids decided it was much easier to get proportions right this way!)…

Back and Forth Figure Drawing

And we even played a back-and-forth drawing game with figure drawing, taking turns adding body parts.

Drawing the Human Body e-Guide by Craftsy

Through it all, I’ve been using one of Craftsy’s free e-guides (Drawing the Human Body) as a reference. The guide is written for adults so I’m learning a lot and sharing some of the information with my kids when it seems appropriate.

This Drawing the Human Body e-guide is excellent and there’s so much information in it, it’s hard to believe it’s free. I chose it for the subject matter, obviously, but also because Paul Heaston, one of the authors, is one of my favorite Craftsy instructors (he did the sketchbook class).

Drawing the Human Body Craftsy eGuide

By Sandrine Pelissier and Paul Heaston

Download it now for free.

A few helpful tips on drawing the human body from this e-guide ::

Draw an external envelope of the figure, you can see it as a block of stone you would use if you were to carve the figure. Make it large enough for the entire figure to fit in it, and then refine it step by step.

Instinctively, we often imagine that the hand is way smaller than the head, but actually the head is about the same length as the hand, and also about the same length as the foot without the toes.

If you become frustrated or bored with your drawings, you can try changing medium. [Some they recommend are paint, charcoal, colored pencils, markers, ink.]

Reading this e-guide is making me want to take a life drawing class again! Something I haven’t done in 15 years.

How about you? Have you explored drawing the human body yourself or with your kids?

Drawing People with Kids

If you’re looking for more people drawing ideas, here are some ::

Drawing the Human Body for Younger Children

Model of Human Skeleton

Drawing the Human Body for Older Kids and Teens

This post was sponsored by Craftsy; all opinions expressed are my own.

Pin It for Later ::

Drawing the Human Body for Kids from a Wood Mannequin 4

Learning to draw anatomy in a week// Study with me


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