How to draw muscle groups in 5 steps

Creature artist Brynn Metheney reveals how complex muscle groups can be simplified to help build up an animal's form.

dog muscles

Brynn reveals how to simplify complex muscle groups to build up an animal's form

Vertebrate anatomy is consistent and as you study, you'll notice that muscle groups between different animals are similar, if not the same. Just like with the skeletons, it's only the shapes and sizes that are exaggerated and despite a few differences, vertebrate bodies all share the same basic muscle systems.

When figuring out how to draw muscle studies of animals, it's important to start out with a wireframe and then basic skeleton gesture. Using a harder lead for this will help keep the drawing light and workable as you move forward with your muscle study.

You'll notice that my canid skeleton isn't detailed, but the gesture and proportions are in place so that I can build on top of it with my red Col-Erase pencil. These pencils are great because you can easily range from dark to light.

dog muscles 2

Building up an accurate structure is intergral to any piece of art, if you want your image to look believable

You'll notice that these pencils do wear down quickly. If you're drawing from life, it's a good idea to have a few ready to go with sharpened tips, just so you can switch them out quickly and not waste time sharpening.

You'll notice that once I have my skeleton in place, I lay in basic muscle groups. As you study more animal and human anatomy, you'll begin to look for these landmarks in your drawing.

01. Create a wire frame

dog muscle 1

We need a skeleton to attach these muscles to, so I begin with my 2H pencil and lay out a quick gesture. This is of a canid (a dog) walking. I'm not worried about detail; I just want the shape, proportion and motion.

Wire frames are the easier way to jot down an animal's pose. This technique is not only useful for foundation drawing like this, but also life drawing at the zoo.

02.Add a bit of detail

step 2 dog

Now that I've got my wireframe in place, I can introduce a few details. These details are what I call landmark bones, such as the scapula, the ribs and the great trochanter. These are bones where muscle groups attach.

I keep my touch light here still. I'm only looking for landmarks that'll help inform where my muscles need to attach to the skeleton.

03. Large groupings

step 3 dog muscle

This is probably the most valuable and important step. We know that there are complicated muscle systems in place, but we really just want to find the major shape so we can begin to see the whole shape of the animal. Using an HB pencil, I lay in those large groups over my skeleton.

When I draw muscle groups, I'm only thinking about large shapes that house lots of different, smaller muscle shapes. This keeps things simple and helps you see the entire shape of the animal.

04. Break into systems

step 4 dog muscles

Now that I've got my basic shape, I find those muscle systems around the body. This is where textbooks and diagrams will inform you. Remember that muscles pull from bone. They're directly attached, and push and pull the skeleton around.

I begin to find those smaller muscle systems inside of the larger muscle groups. I'm always looking to see where the muscle is attached to the bone.

05.Finishing up

dog muscle step 5

It's time to find those muscle details. I add some detail and show the different ligaments and texture of the muscle. This shows the direction in which things move around.

I'm careful to keep my pencil loose so as not to lose that 'flow' as I draw. I begin to find those smaller muscle systems inside of the larger muscle groups. I'm always looking to see where the muscle is attached to the bone.

Adding detail such as texture and value can help make your study more readable. The advantage of using different colours in pencil is that you can always reference both the skeleton and the muscles, to see where they’re attached.

Words: Brynn Metheney

Brynn Metheney specialises in creature design, fantasy illustration and visual development for film, games and publishing. She lives and works in Oakland, California.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 125.

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