Drawing muscles is actually pretty complicated. When I first started drawing muscles as a kid, I would give my characters 16 rows of ab muscles (more abs = stronger, right??), and squeeze a lot of "( )" lines into each arm or leg section. I had no idea what I was doing. Years later, it took buying a nice anatomy book for me to start learning how to draw a human figure properly with all the muscles attached in the right places. I recommend Dynamic Anatomy and Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth. There are other good anatomy books, but those are the ones I started with, and I still use them today.
The first step to drawing muscles is understanding what a muscle is. Muscles are made of strands of "fibers." If you've ever had whole roast or corned beef, you can see the individual muscle strands in the meat. So while the different muscles in the body have different shapes, they're all pretty much made up of the same strands of muscle fibers. Aside from looking cool, muscles are responsible for moving our bodies. In order to do this, they're attached to our bones with ligaments or tendons. When the muscles flex or extend, they pull on our bones to make the magic happen, so to speak. When you wiggle your fingers, it's really muscles on your arm doing the work.
While it's impossible for me to give detailed instruction on drawing every muscle in the body, it's supremely important to note that muscles and body parts look different from different angles, and in different positions. Here I drew a front, side and back view of a right arm. Even if you practice these three views from an anatomy book, it'll only help you draw the arm in these three views. You really need to understand which muscles do what, and how they look from different angles. The best way of doing this is by drawing from a model or photographs of real human beings. Most artists discourage drawing from comics or anime. I think that can be helpful, but only in conjunction with studying real humans and anatomy books. Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of drawing arms from just one view. It can be very difficult to break that habit.
I wanted to touch on the basic functions of most muscles that are drawn on the human figure in action. When it comes to the arms and legs, and even the major torso movements, we're talking about Flexion and Extension. The biceps and hamstrings (and I would say the abs, too), are flexing muscles. Biceps pull your forearm up. Quads pull the lower leg back. Abs pull the ribcage and pelvis together. On the opposite side, the triceps, quadriceps lower back muscles extend or straighten the arms, legs and spine. There are lots of other flexor/extensor pairs throughout the body. For example, the outer forearm muscles extend the fingers, and the inner forearm muscles flex to close the hand for squeezing, etc... In the sketches I've drawn here, I also made a note of the forearm bones. When drawing the arms and hands, the position of these bones dictates EVERYTHING. The ulna is fixed to your elbow and forms the outer edge of your forearm. The other bone is the radius, and it actually pivots around the ulna. The various forearm muscles are responsible for pulling the radius back and forth, which allows us to turn our wrist and hand 180 degrees. At every point in that twist, the arm muscles take on a different look. By understanding how they work, you'll be able to envision and draw them properly.
Ok, enough lecture. Now let's draw. Begin by drawing a large circle for the chest. Draw a small oval above the chest and a small triangle below it and connect them to the chest with short lines. These are the head and pelvis. Draw two long lines down from the pelvis for the legs and mark the knee location. Draw two curved lines for the arms and wrap it up with two big circles for the fists. This guy is going to have some crazy proportions.
Lighten your base drawing and begin the line drawing. I've drawn a 5-sided shape for the outline of the head. Square on top, with a pointy chin. The torso is basically two shapes smacked together. I should have draw a separation line, but I want the center of the shape clean for later. The chest is a hexagon or stop-sign shape. The pelvis is an upside-down pentagon. Rather than using round shapes, this angular shape gives us socket to attach the arms and legs.
Keeping things simple, let's draw a jellybean for each upper arm. Be sure to have two curve on top -- one for the biceps and one for the shoulder. Then move down and draw a house-shape or pentagon for each of the upper legs. The lower point of these shapes are the kneecaps. Now draw a pair of lines from the shoulders to the jaw for the trapezius muscles.
I'm combining two steps here because the shapes are so simple overall. Draw two angles to outline each lower leg. The angle on the inner calves is more dynamic than the outer side of the leg. Draw in some simple feet, then move up to the arms. I recommend drawing the hands first. Look at your own hands for reference and just try to simplify things for this drawing. Then draw a wavy line for the inner forearm, and draw a large angle for the outer forearm and elbow.
With the main body parts outlined, now we can start drawing in the main muscles groups. I would begin with the line that runs below the pectoral/chest muscles. It's a wide W-shape. Then split the chest in half with a center line that runs down the entire torso. Finally, draw a gem-shape for the abdominal shield.
Now for the arms and legs... Begin with a small curve to underline each shoulder muscle. Then draw a curve for each bicep. Follow that with a smaller curve for each ultra-muscular armpit. I noticed I needed some lat muscles (latissumus dorsi), so let's add a curve on each side of the chest. For the thighs, draw an angle to outline the top of each kneecap. Then draw a large V to separate the quadriceps on each leg.
Ok, don't get distracted by all the extras on this step. Start at the neck and draw a small V from the chin to the chest. Draw a curve on each side of the V, running from the jaw to the chest. These are the sterno-mastoids. I think there's a "cleido" in there these days. Anyway, draw four curves to separate the individual ab muscles. A pair of question marks will hint at some muscles on the ribcage. I reused the question mark shape on the outer forearms and a small curve for the inner forearms. The little wispy lines coming from the palms indicate tendons. Outline the shins, and then it's just a matter of adding facial details and a costume.
I decided to use the current artwork as a base for a more detailed drawing with thinner lines. I made a couple of adjustments to the pectoral placement. Other than that, everything matches up closely to the simpler drawing. Getting the basic muscle placement is most important. After that, you can add as much or as little detail as you want. The colored version of this drawing is in the preview up at the top.
Now we're going to tackle something a bit more complex. I'll try to space the steps out as much as possible, but we're going to be drawing a figure from both the front 3/4 angle and a back 3/4 angle. Draw a circle for the chest and a smaller one for the head. A triangle serves as the pelvis, and then we can add sticks for the arms and legs. Basic standing pose.
I don't always draw muscles the same way on every character. I like to mix up the techniques. One fun way of starting off is to picture the chest and shoulders as a harness that wraps around the ribcage in one piece. The front should look familiar, but the back view may be unfamiliar to a lot of people. In this view we only two two heads of the deltoid/shoulders (there are 3 heads total for each shoulder). The rear-most deltoid attaches to the shoulder blade, which is shaped like a triangle. While there are other muscles on top of the shoulder blade, the triangular shape still stands out from beneath the deltoid. Notice the wrinkling on the chest muscles. In Step 2, the bottom-right sketch shows a muscle pattern similar to the pectoral muscles. When overdeveloped and flexed, wrinkles will appear. They begin at the armpit area and spread out toward the sternum.
In the front view we'll draw in the sterno-cleido-mastoids that run from behind the ear to the center of the collar bones, right between the top of the pectorals. Then we'll draw the trapezius muscles from both the front and back view. These muscles attach at the bottom/back of the skull and run both down the spine and also out to the sides, attaching at the top of the shoulder. Remember that you're not just drawing lines. You're outlining soft shapes that are wrapped around hard bones. It's ok to keep things poofy and cartoony in this kind of study. Just try to simplify the overall idea and remember a few anatomical landmarks for each set of muscles. The traps are like a kite that spreads out and connects at four points, in a diamond shape. Try to make those kinds of mental comparisons for each muscle set.
Here I want to draw the primary muscles seen from each angle. On the upper arm, we see the biceps on the front angle and the triceps on the rear angle. The biceps can be drawn as a rounded rectangle running vertically, down from the shoulder to the elbow pit. Each bicep actually has two parts, but it usually appears as a single muscle. Similarly, the triceps are made of three muscle heads, but typically appear as two. Weird. The large heads of the triceps sit high up on the back of the arm, which two larger tendons run down each side and connect at the elbow. I went ahead and included the elbows in the overall triceps shape.
Now it's time for the forearms muscles. These are some of the most complicated muscles on the body, so I recommend looking at a mirror and using an anatomy book, action figure or photo reference to help you place these muscles. The larger forearms muscles attach half-way up the upper arm and sit high up on the forearm. The forearms become more slender toward the wrist as the muscles run into tendons.
Using each opposite image as reference, we can finish up the arms by adding the remaining muscles that are mostly obscured in each view. Knowing what the triceps look like from the rear view should make them easily recognizable in the front view. The same goes for the biceps. With study and practice, you should be able to almost create a 3D model of these muscles in your head. It does take an insane amount of practice to start memorizing this stuff, though, so keep drawing.
On the front, let's outline the bottom of the ribcage and start adding the interlocking muscles below the pectorals. These are the serratus anterior. On the back view, we can draw the lats I mentioned in the previous drawing. They're only partially visible in the front view, but they dominate a good portion of the back in the rear view. Again, you really need to study an anatomy book to understand these muscles and how they wrap around the body. I can't give you enough examples to really give you the idea. You just have to study it and, if possible, view a live specimen.
This step is pretty each. First we'll outline the top ridge of the pelvis. On the rear view, it runs along the top of the gluteus muscles. On the front view, the line continues down to the crotch. From there, we can add the six pack of ab muscles. There are actually 8 rows of abs, but we drew the top row in the previous step. Since those rest on top of the ribcage, they're usually less developed and less visible than the standard six-pack.
Now we'll draw the major muscles seen on the front and back of the legs. On the front, start by drawing each kneecap. The center quad muscles runs from the kneecap up to the pelvis ridge. The tendons that attach to the bone are skinny, but the muscle itself is very large. The quads, combined, are the largest muscles in the body. At least, I think that's true. If it's not the quads, it has to be the hamstrings. That's what we see on the back view, just under the buttocks. These are basically the biceps of the legs, and they function in exactly the same way. There are actually two pairs of gluts -- gluteus maximus (the butt itself), and gluteus medius, which sit above and to the sides. Medius has a triangular shape to it, and it can be visible in both the front and rear views.
Now we can add the main muscle heads that rest of either side of the center quad muscle. The bulk of these muscles rests just above the kneecap, but they actually attach to the lower leg bone as well as the upper leg bone. You may notice a tube-like shape behind the inner quads. That's the ilio-tibial band. It runs from the iliac crest (the upper ridge of the pelvis) down to the tibia bone. I like drawing the IT band, for some reason. Draw in some feet so we can start wrapping up this bad boy.
The calf muscles mirror the forearm muscles in an interesting sort of reverse-symmetry... if that makes any sense. The bulky muscles sit high on the back of the leg and tendons run down toward the ankle, all the way to the toes. The shin itself is mostly flat and bony, but there are muscles that run along the outer edge of the shin bone. I've added some extra bulk to the lower legs. It's a bit cartoony, but I think it works for this character.
With all the muscles in place, we can go in and detail this sucker in any way we please. I decided to go with my thin line-drawing style. I kept the upper body very defined, but blurred out the lower body muscles a bit so that not every muscle looks as if it's being flexed at the same time. What's that? He had three claws on one hand and four fingers on the other?? Of course he does. He's a mutant, alien-thing, after all. Hmph!
I think the coloring step is pretty important when it comes to illustrating a character that's muscular and mostly unclothed. Unless you're adding heavy shadows to define the muscle shapes, a black outline isn't always clear to the viewer. That's why it's important to break up your lines when possible, and to add extra definition with color. It can be ink wash, dyes, art markers, digital color, or even pencil shading on top of inked line art. There are tons of things you can do, and it's worth the extra effort. If you're afraid of messing up your original drawing with color, make a photocopy and use cardstock if possible. Most printing places carry that. Anyway, I hope this tutorial has helped you start to grasp some of what goes into drawing the muscular human figure. Like I said, there's a lot more work and studying required to do it properly. I'm still studying, and I may never be finished studying the human figure. There's always something new to learn. Just keep wondering, keep looking, and keep drawing. Thanks for viewing!
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