Anatomy and Construction of the Human Figure

Anatomy and Construction of the Human Figure

by Charles Earl Bradbury

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To draw or paint human figures truly, an artist must have as much understanding of bones and muscles as of form. This beautiful guide by a respected artist and teacher provides that knowledge. Realistic plates of bones and muscles show form and function, while full-color images make graphic distinctions between bone, muscle, and tendon. Drawings throughout the…  See more details below


To draw or paint human figures truly, an artist must have as much understanding of bones and muscles as of form. This beautiful guide by a respected artist and teacher provides that knowledge. Realistic plates of bones and muscles show form and function, while full-color images make graphic distinctions between bone, muscle, and tendon. Drawings throughout the book emphasize fundamentals of anatomy and show simple methods of building the forms.
Author Charles Earl Bradbury (1888-1967) takes a two-part approach in this book. The first part features a self-contained treatment of the bones of the skeleton and how they relate to the body's outline and muscle masses. The second focuses on muscles and their actions, showing how they are constructed and how they look in the human form. Male and female structures are compared and contrasted throughout the text. Designed specifically for classroom use, this volume is also a priceless reference.

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By Charles Earl Bradbury

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14131-2



Know what the parts are like; then, how they may be constructed

THE PROBLEM. The construction of the figure cannot be learned simply by looking at good drawings. No amount of inspection of such material will equip one to do original work. Only by systematic practice, not only from life but also from imagination, can one acquire the ability to construct the figure.

It is necessary to know two things:

1. What the parts are actually like.

2. What are the simple principles by which they are constructed.

It is the purpose of this book to supply the essential information on these points.

PROCEDURE. To learn to draw any anatomical form, study it from the chart, then attempt to draw it from memory. After expressing all you know, compare your drawing with the original. This will show you what you have failed to understand. Now make another memory drawing of the part and compare. This time your drawing will show more knowledge. The process should be repeated until you really have the character of the part so that you can draw it without reference to the original.

Remember that, for creative purposes, the material is of little use until you know it so thoroughly that you can represent the figure or a given part without aid of any kind.

Merely to copy will never give you the power to create.

The secret of progress in drawing is to apply the instructions immediately. Ultimately most students will discover the profound truths in the simple teachings, but delay is unnecessary. Endless repetition of wrong methods is never a prerequisite to right study. You can begin at once to practice the methods that have been proved to be sound and that will facilitate your work. It makes no difference in what style or at what stage you are working. If you use line or pattern in any manner, you are drawing and you need all the aid you can get from sound methods of study.

The aim is to develop your creative ability


NATURE OF THE HUMAN FIGURE. Though the average human figure is essentially the same as it has been for many thousands of years, in art uses it is interpreted in an infinite variety of ways. The models used by the Greek sculptors were probably not very different from those used by present-day artists. There were as greatly varied types among the peoples of that day as there are among us today. The forms of those who posed for the artists of ancient Greece were freely idealized. Form was simplified, proportions were changed, dignity was emphasized, and many details of the form were reorganized and given an arbitrary character, to suit the taste of the artist.

The human figure is unchanging

In all ages, even from prehistoric times, those who attempted to represent the human form must have tried to find out as much as possible about its structure. Certainly in those cases where a more or less faithful re-creation of the figure was attempted, a thorough study of its anatomy was obviously required. And for those expressions of the figure that are highly stylized, conventionalized, or abstracted, there must also be demanded enough knowledge of the human form so that it can be intelligently used as a motif for invention. Even to do a proper job of distortion, you first need to know how the figure actually is constituted.

A thorough knowledge of the figure is a prerequisite for its use in art

Anyone who cannot construct the figure in its true relations certainly has not the discrimination required successfully to alter these relations. Creative power does not stem from ignorance or inability. To comprehend the true relations and use them require discerning vision and understanding. Attempts at mere copying of the form are without value, for copying is mechanical imitation, often without comprehension.

The human figure is a complicated structure. When it is considered that there are more than 500 separate muscles in the body, some idea of its complexity may be gained. For the physician, a complete knowledge of the human body is a prerequisite. But for the artist, it is essential only to know the forms that immediately affect the external appearance.

The nature of the human figure

Of the many muscles of the body, a large number are so thoroughly hidden as to have no appreciable effect upon the surface form. And only a small fraction of the total number actually determine this form and need to be known by the artist.

Artist needs to know the reasons for outward appearances

With the skeleton, the case is different. Because the bones furnish the only fixed masses on the figure, it is necessary for the artist to know most of them. But, as in the case of the muscles, of the 222 bones in the adult figure, the number that must be considered may be reduced by grouping and by taking into account the necessity of studying only those on one side of the skeleton.

Throughout the book, the male figure is taken as the model for study, for the obvious reason that in the male the muscular structure attains a greater development and is more clearly defined than in the female type, in which the separation of the muscles is lost in the layer of fatty tissue—however slight— that is distributed over the surface.

Tha male figure is used as the basis of study

This tissue gently modulates the muscular form, rounding out angles, largely eliminating the divisions between muscles, and rendering the entire form more subtle and delicate. Without it, the female form would lose its chief distinguishing characteristic and become muscular.

Anatomical shapes have the quality of design. They are of interestingly varied pattern and have an integrated relationship to one another. All form suggests plane or solid geometric figures. On the back of the trunk, triangular figures predominate; on the front, rectangles and semicircles. The neck is cylindrical, with triangles in the front. The thigh is cylindrical, with a triangle to the inside. The ovals of the head and the palm of the hand, the rectangles of the back of the hips and the triangles of the feet are other examples of the geometric pattern that emphasizes character and contributes style to the form (Plate i).

The design element is conspicuous in the figure

CONSTRUCTION. To conceive the form in terms of geometric shapes is a great aid to construction.

Emphasize CHARACTER in the forms

To combat the restrictions imposed by the requirement that solid form must be represented on a flat surface, character has to be emphasized. Otherwise, drawings will lack this vital quality. So we cannot merely copy the model. Discriminating taste needs to be cultivated, so that one may know how to make the proper selection of those features that require accentuation. This comes only from systematic study.

The nature of construction

Construction consists in an inspection of (1) the direction and length of the main line of the part, (2) the relationship of the secondary lines to those principal ones.

Block in the whole form first. Then proceed to the larger divisions and lastly to the smaller parts, using plenty of fine, firm construction lines to mark all the relationships.

To keep your construction under control, never draw a form rigidly, but use light, free suggestion to indicate the location of parts (page 97). Give no thought to finish, but consider the relation of things. One cannot finish what has not yet been established.

Block in the

WHOLE FORM at once

The RELATIONS between the parts are of first importance

The manner in which the drawing is done is less important than the correct placing of the points and lines.

As the natural tendency is to understate the form, it is necessary, on that account also, deliberately to emphasize significant characteristics. In the same way, some unduly obtrusive features may need to be suppressed. This use of one's artistic discrimination is a legitimate and, indeed, a vital part of one's study.

The advantage of drawing from memory or imagination is that then one can freely produce the rhythm that expresses life. In drawing from the model this is often missed, as in that case one is likely to be too intent upon following the specific form.

If you hold clearly in mind the character of the form you want to construct, you can construct it. But before it can be expressed it must be mentally conceived.

No restrictions when one works from imagination

There are various technical methods of construction at the disposal of the art student. Both straight and curved lines are equally useful. When the form is square, it is most natural to block it out in straight lines. When the forms are rounded, they may readily be swung in with ovals. Use the means best suited to the form that is to be expressed. There is no single method that is best.

The best technical methods are the natural ones

In studying vertical relationships, as in the relation of the feet to the head in a standing figure, it is convincing to make tests with a plumb line. This device is simply a lead or other small weight attached to a piece of thread. Though disdained by some, it is a real help in study and deserves wider use. A reducing glass or a convex mirror is a genuine aid when a comparison is being made between the drawing and the model, as well as for revealing errors in the relations of parts. Anything that aids in the expression of form is worth while.

Aids to construstion

MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUE. For practice in drawing anatomical forms and sketching the figure in small scale, graphite drawing pencils (2H, HB, and 2B) are most convenient. A spiral sketchbook 9 by 12 inches or larger, a velvet eraser, and a sand pad are the other needs.

Materials & their use

The harder pencil (2H) is used for light-line construction and the lighter tones, and the HB and 2B pencils, for indicating the medium and the dark tones, respectively. The lead should be cut off obliquely and worn down on the sand pad, so as to yield a broad stroke. Fine-line accents can be made with the sharp edge of the point.


One of the most interesting phases of the study of anatomy is proportion. In practice, proportion is not so much something that one can measure; it is something sensed. The artist works to make his figure "look right." This seems vague but the explanation is simple. He has trained his judgment so that he instinctively recognizes just proportion, and measuring is practically unnecessary. His sensitive vision quickly detects inharmonies of space division, as a musician's ear senses discord. If spaces are correctly related, he feels that the figure "goes together." That is good proportion.

Nature of proportion in the figure

The head is the unit of measurement

No two figures have exactly the same measurements, but a few simple proportions are needed to serve as a guide. Proportions in the figure are conveniently expressed in head lengths, and the average adult of either sex is about seven and one-half heads tall. When it is represented as seven heads or less, the type is a relatively short figure; and when eight heads are used as the height, the result is a type taller than the average. Of course, for practical purposes of expression, any of the proportions of the figure may be altered. But some standard is needed, if only to serve as a point of departure.

The male and female types will be constantly compared, in order that the characteristic differences that exist in the various parts may be clearly understood. In the larger aspect, however, the two types are strikingly distinct and we can usually distinguish unmistakably the male from the female, even at long range, where only the basic form holds. This, of course, is aside from any familiar difference of dress or of length of hair. A man and a woman bather appearing in the distance on a beach would usually be easy to differentiate. Under such conditions, where details of form are imperceptible, it is evident that factors of a more fundamental nature are responsible for this certainty of identification. These involve big, structural differences, the most noticeable of which are the degree of development of the shoulders and chest in the man and the greater width and tilt of the hips in the woman. The male is heavy above the waist; the female, heavy below. Numerous ramifications of structure result from these two typical distinctions. They add their modifying influence upon the silhouettes and operate still further to emphasize each type. But in the main it is the evidence of physical strength associated with the male and the modifications connected with her biological function of childbearing associated with the female that actually distinguish the two types.

The male is heavy ABOVE the waist & the female is heavy BELOW the waist

As always, the causes for external appearances originate in the skeleton; and the bones of the male, designed as they are to support large and powerful muscles, are in general heavier and more angular than those of the woman. Accordingly, from skull to foot, the skeleton of the female is lighter and the bones are more delicately formed than those of the man. Her rib cage is smaller in every dimension. But the female pelvis is actually wider and is also shallower than that of the male. This implies that the hip sockets are more widely separated, so that the femur, or thighbone, takes more obliquity than that of the male. Further, in the female the pelvis is more tilted.

The bones furnish the foundation of the forms

These matters of bone character and relationship are what account most for the characteristic appearance of the types. And there is a great contrast between such extreme types as the youthful female figure and the powerfully developed athletic male. The curves of the female figure are simple and subtle. While her forms are soft and graceful, those of the male are firm and powerful. In the female form, the muscles on a given part of the anatomy are fused into one, so that the figure is characterized by long, flowing lines; while the individual masses of the strongly developed male present a series of short, blocky, convex forms. Thus the surface of the male figure is rugged and broken up, while that of the female is smooth and simple. Their opposite attributes of form make the types complementary.

The figures of the male & female contrast fundamentally

THE MALE FIGURE. In the male, the middle of the figure falls at the level of the great trochanters—the widest part of the hips—so that the legs are equal in length to the head and trunk. This mid-line passes through the origin of the genitals, just below the pubis.

Several of the larger divisions of the figure equal two head lengths. They are the following:

1. From the top of the head to the line of the nipples.

2. From the nipples to the base of the hips (seen in back).

3. From the sole of the foot to the knee joint.

4. Through the widest part of the shoulders (at the fullest part of the deltoids).

5. From the clavicles to the upper iliac spine.

Other important proportions are these:

1. The width through the hips (great trochanter) equals one and one-half heads.

2. The navel is three heads down.

3. The neck is one-third of a head or more in length.

4. With the arm at the side, the hand reaches halfway down the thigh.

To fasten in thought the proportions, it is very good practice to lay out the head units with a pair of dividers, using these points as guides for drawing the figure. It is also interesting and instructive to apply the dividers to any representations of the figure for comparing their proportions.

The drawing on this page shows several stages in the construction of the type figure. Proportion and relation are secured only by working over the whole figure at once, not by starting at the top and working down. One part is not merely added to another, but all parts have to be coordinated. This rule applies to all construction.

Process of construction of the male figure

Process of construction of the male figure

1. An oval suggests the head. Through this draw an axis line and mark off the seven and one-half head units.

2. Add the triangular block form of the figure.

3. Mark off the divisions at the hips, chest, waist, and knees and suggest the wedges of the trunk and hips.

4. Block in the neck and shoulder lines, the ovals of the abdominal and hip regions, the squares of the knees, and the forms of the thighs and legs.


Excerpted from ANATOMY and CONSTRUCTION of the HUMAN FIGURE by Charles Earl Bradbury. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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