|Michael Whynot. Study of Arms At Rest and in Tension, 2013. Red chalk.|
|Michelangelo. Study for Haman.|
|Raphael. Study for the Massacre of the Innocents.|
|Rembrandt. Seated Old Man in Armchair.|
Today I had a question from one of the newer readers of this blog, asking if I had any tips on drawing muscles.
In a previous post (The Lure of Anatomy), I discussed, at length, when and why I believed that the study of anatomy is most beneficial to a new draftsman.
Muscles are no different than any other form: the better you understand the form, the better you will draw it. And the more frequently you draw it, the better you will understand it. It is a cyclically beneficial method of learning: drawing leads to understanding, understanding leads to better drawing, which leads to better understanding...(See my previous post on The Act of Drawing Well).
Having said that - drawing muscles well, like any other form, is best accomplished with a multi-pronged approach.
Draw from the live model as frequently as possible - there is no substitute to drawing from life. But understand that the amount of information on the live model will be immense and confusing for the new draftsman. And complicating the process will be colour, value, poor lighting, etc.
A good anatomy book will prove indispensable. It will help you to understand the confusing wealth of information on the live model.
Drawing from (i.e. copying- it is not a bad thing) master drawings. This is one of the most beneficial exercises that the new draftsman can practice. Artists throughout history have been doing it. It is how we learn to see what they saw - which elements they emphasized, which elements they downplayed or eliminated, altogether. Learn from Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci and Rembrandt - there are no finer teachers, so utilize them.
In regards to drawing muscles, per se - they are rendered the same as any other form: they are three dimensional volumes with a width, height and depth and should be drawn as such. But remember that muscles change their appearance constantly, so simple recipes for drawing them are mostly useless.
I have included a study of two arms to illustrate the difficultly of drawing muscles. Remember, a muscle at rest is shaped differently than the same muscle in tension. Note in my study, that Biceps Brachii, in the arm at rest, is longer and flatter, while in the arm in tension, it is shorter and higher. This is the nature of muscles and applies to every one of them.
Orientation of the muscle in space will also affect how we draw them: look at your own biceps, from above, and then rotate to view it from the side - a totally different shape and relationship to the surrounding forms.
There is no easy way to learn to draw the human form. Study from life and from reference and, from that point on, it's all repetition, repetition, repetition.
And, a final point: anatomy should never be the embarking point for the draftsman. Gesture is the most important, and often neglected, element in drawing. Note, in the beautiful studies above, that the anatomy is wondrous in all three, but prominent in the Michelangelo and Raphael drawings, while, in Rembrandt's drawing, it is mostly hidden beneath drapery - but gesture is the foundation upon which all the other elements are built.
Anatomy is beautiful, in and of itself, but gesture conveys the life of a drawing: neglect it at your peril.