5 Anatomy Books to Improve Your Figure Drawing

Discover some invaluable resources to help you when drawing the human figure

Human anatomy is undoubtedly complex, and studying it is an activity that deserves years and years of commitment. Like all complex things, it needs to be broken down to be more easily understood. Studying artistic anatomy books routinely is key to a figurative artist's practice.

Understanding how human anatomy works is essential to strong, powerful figure drawing. It improves the ability to represent the human figure and contributes to creating successful dynamic figure drawing.

Artist Shane Wolf (@shane_wolf) has dedicated over ten years to exploring and experimenting with the art of figure drawing. Hailing from the US, where he graduated as a graphic designer, he soon realized that his true calling was to explore his inner artist with unwavering determination. He set off to Florence, Italy, where he studied at the Angel Academy of Art and is now a professional painter working from his studio in Paris, where he experiments and seeks to express the depth of humanity through his art.

Artist Shane Wolf has dedicated over ten years to exploring and experimenting with the art of figure drawing.

In his course, Dynamic Figure Drawing, he shares his techniques for improving your drawing skills and teaches all the fundamental aspects of figure drawing, including how to connect with your model.

By using anatomy books in combination with the living reference—the live model—who is going to be moving and showing you variations, Shane encourages artists never to stop developing their knowledge of the human figure in its innumerable static and dynamic positions.

See below a selection of books recommended by Shane in his course to help you explore the infinite elements and connections of the human body and capture your model's beauty in your figure drawings.

Anatomy for Sculptors, and Anatomy of Facial Expression, by Uldis Zarins

These books were conceived and co-authored by Uldis Zarins, a classically trained sculptor who wished to create a resource of reliable visual anatomy to explain the forms of the human figure to his students.

There are 222 pages of pure content, entirely comprehensive, of both 3D and live models. Not simply for sculptors, it is used daily for digital art, CGI, VFX, Character art, 2D, 3D, and any aspiring artist. With Anatomy of Facial Expression, Zarins tackles the most challenging area of human anatomy: the human face.

Shane’s review:

“These two books are very recent and use computer imagery to do a pretty good job of overlaying visual descriptions of the anatomy. Not much text, mostly visual, so a good way to quickly gather information”.
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'Anatomy for Sculptors', by Uldis Zarins.
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'Anatomy of Facial Expression', by Uldis Zarins.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist, by Stephen Rogers Peck

This book is a classic manual for students encompassing bones, muscles, surface anatomy, proportion, equilibrium, and locomotion. Among its features are sections on human physique types, racial anatomy, the human body from birth to old age, and facial expressions.

Shane’s review:

“When I travel and don’t want to use all my baggage weight allowance just on books, this is my typical go-to for a solid, all-around anatomy book. The small, descriptive drawings are very useful to help break down the complex mechanics of the body.”
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'Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist', by Stephen Rogers Peck.

Human Anatomy for the Artists, The Elements of Form, by Eliot Goldfinger

This incredibly detailed reference book includes 231 pages of photographs, illustrations, and text laid out in a simple and accessible format. Each of the anatomical elements of the human body is exhaustively classified and defined by structure, function, and form. Each body part’s origin, insertion, action, and structure is described in detail and related to other interconnected units. Facial expressions are also listed, illustrated, and explained.

Shane’s review:

“One of the most absolutely thorough anatomy books for the artist, this book has precious and unique information for those who want to really delve deep into the body. Great photo references accompany the illustrations, and the cross-sections (once you get your brain to understand them!) are amazing (and I’ve never seen this in any other book).”
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Human Anatomy For Artists (the Elements Of Form), by Eliot Goldfinger

Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, by George Bridgman

This comprehensive guide is a timeless classic and includes a collection of this celebrated artist’s sketches. Together with the anatomy of the human body, this book also focuses on the proportions of the human figure, balance, rhythm, and turning and twisting of volume. It gives guidance on building the human figure, measurement, distribution of the masses, and use of light and shade when drawing the human figure.

Shane’s review:

“George Bridgman was a wonderful anatomist with a very efficient pedagogical approach to the human form. The way he understood and drew the major masses of the body always made sense to my mind. This book was published posthumously in 1952 and regroups many of his books published during his lifetime.”
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Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, by George Bridgman

If you want to know more about Shane Wolf’s creative process, sign up for his course Dynamic Figure Drawing, and learn how to capture the shape and movement of the human body.

You may also like:

- 10 Free Online Classes for Improving your Illustrations
- 10 Free Websites For Sourcing Reference Images for Drawing Portraits
- 120 Books to Spark Your Creativity

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