A couple years ago, while struggling to finish a figurative painting for the Stephenville Theater Festival, I realized that my knowledge of human anatomy was laughable. Art school had taught me nothing on the subject (I assume because it’s considered academic or fascist or something), and my digital animation training had covered only the basics.
I decided I would teach myself, and quickly became obsessed with the subject. Two years later, and I am still obsessed. I have become an insufferable anatomy nerd.
In case anyone else is interested, here’s a bunch of reviews of the anatomy and figure drawing books I own.
Drawing the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm
This is probably the best one for beginners. It’s a bit facile and dated, but covers a lot of ground and has tons of genuinely useful tricks. Pick this one up if you’re trying to emulate 1950’s illustration (lots of square jawed men and big-hipped, high-heeled women).
Dynamic Anatomy and Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth
I’m really ambivalent about Hogarth. There is a clarity and consistency in his diagrams that you won’t find elsewhere, but there’s also something truly repellent about the way he draws the figure. His are not “real people,” but rather enormous, gay, Nazi automatons.
He also seems to have a bizarre fixation with muscle, excluding bone, skin and fat from the discussion altogether.
If you’re going to pick up a Hogarth anatomy book, I would suggest getting both Dynamic Anatomy and Dynamic Figure Drawing. The former contains detailed breakdowns of muscle groups and the latter some nice schematizations (ways of simplifying things into larger geometric forms).
Hogarth’s best book, in my opinion, is not an anatomy book, but one entitled Dynamic Light and Shade.
Constructive Anatomy and Bridgman’s Life Drawing by George B. Bridgman
It took me a long time to warm up to Bridgman, but the more I study his books, the more I realize that he may be the best of the bunch.
Bridgman’s approach is brutal, and at first, rather off-putting. His figures are broken down into rough simple masses, their angles and curves exaggerated grotesquely. But unlike Hogarth, who distorts to suit some bizarre German ideal, Bridgman does so to clarify form. The more you study, the more you begin to see the logic and truth in his diagrams.
A lot of bigshot artists studied under Bridgman: Will Eisner, Norman Rockwell, and my favorite guilty pleasure, Frank Frazetta.
Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth and Drawing the Head and Hands by Andrew Loomis
Fellow TADA member Paul Tucker turned me on to Loomis about a year ago. He’s fantastic, but for some bizarre reason, all of his books are out of print. Luckily, you can get them on the internet as PDF files. He’s a nice mid-ground between the practical but facile Hamm and the in-depth but somewhat opaque Bridgman.
Loomis’ way of constructing heads is the best and easiest I’ve come across. I also really like his way of doing “figurettes,” though I find his schematized hips awkward.
I highly recommend that you download all of his books.
Atlas of Anatomy by nobody
Picked this up cheap at Chapters. Not really intended for artists, but the first chapter has some really vivid illustrations of bones and muscles that I’ve found helpful.
Drawing the Human Body by Giovanni Civardi
This is the only anatomy book I own that might end up at a yard sale. The text is endless reams of medical jargon. The pictures are lifeless renderings from the model. No schematization, no diagrams showing the underlying bone and muscle. Crappy book.
Artist’s Guide to Anatomy by Gottfried Bammes
Bammes published a book on anatomy that’s touted as being the best in existence. However, it’s in German and it’s really expensive, so I had to settle for the slimmer Artist’s Guide to Anatomy.
This book is a collection of studies done by his students with just a couple drawings by the author. The text is not terribly illuminating, but many of the pictures are stunning. Bammes teaches his students to break down and schematize the figure, but in a much finer way than Bridgman.
Bammes also has a very nice book on animal anatomy.
Facial Expression by Gary Faigan
Faigan’s drawings are hideous. But he really, really knows his shit. This is a brilliant and exhaustive study of human facial expression. Visuals are a mixture of drawings from the model, medical diagrams, classical paintings and photos both staged and candid. Very highly recommended.
There’s some very cool stuff here. Check out “Rey’s Anatomy.”
A two-page post on the Conceptart forum by a guy named Kevin Chen. Gorgeous drawings and diagrams, somewhat along the lines of Bammes.