In this article, I list the best resources – books, websites, and models for studying anatomy for artists and practicing your anatomy drawing skills, life drawing, thorough understanding of body parts, and body types, and expanding your anatomy knowledge! Enjoy!
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If you are in a hurry, here is my list of the best resources for studying anatomy for artists. If you have more time, keep reading on …
Table of Contents
- Best Human Anatomy Books for Artists
- Best Animal Anatomy Books for Artists
- Best Human Anatomy Figures for Artists
- Best Anatomy Reference Websites for Artists
- FAQs – Anatomy for Artists
Lots of people are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s and other old masters’ anatomy drawings and how important they were to them in being able to understand what the human figure looks like and why, and therefore be able to portray human subjects with realism, depth, light, and life. When you think about it.
It is no accident that the Renaissance in art, with its amazing paintings and sculptures of the human form, corresponds so exactly with real advances in medicine, and particularly our understanding of the anatomy of the great masters.
Let’s answer some questions artists have when it comes to studying human and animal anatomy:
- How do artists practice anatomy?
- Is anatomy needed for art?
- Why do artists use anatomy?
- Why is drawing anatomy so difficult?
- How do I start learning anatomy?
- What is Écorché?
- What is the best way to learn anatomy?
- What are the best books for anatomy for artists?
- What are the best websites for anatomy for artists?
- What is an anatomy figure?
- Where can I find the best anatomy references for my art?
Why Should Artists Study Anatomy?
And this is just as important today as it was six or seven hundred years ago. From comic book and anime characters to portrait paintings and drawings and even 3D rendering, a clear and accurate picture of the structure and workings of the bones, joints, flesh, musculature, and everything else going on in there, makes any depiction of a person (or, for that matter, an animal or even a fantasy character) so much more real, attractive and powerful.
The French, bien entendu, have a word for such images – écorché – which means “flayed” and refers to illustrations of what lays underneath the skin.
Assuming not many of us went to medical school, we may have to educate ourselves in human mechanics and anatomy. Happily, though, this is a fun and fascinating study. I know that there is this idea that learning, understanding, or drawing anatomy is difficult.
It is just a matter of putting in a little time – to study images, read a little, and practice drawing them on paper or in a digital app, for that matter. With the right resources, it can be easy, making drawing realistic and lifelike humans, animals, and other creatures much easier!
And, even more happily, we will see an enormous improvement in our sketches, paintings, digital art, or whatever medium we choose.
Many artists claim that their anatomy study not only helps with depicting humans and animals but encourages them to think more and more about what is “under the skin” of any object and improves their work in whatever they draw.
What Is the Best Way to Study Anatomy?
It is possible to give yourself a kind of med school education even without going to med school (I hear they can be a bit spendy and difficult) by getting a university textbook about anatomy. This is a way to really understand not just anatomy but anatomy in relation to, or in the context of, other working systems in the human body and human functionality and health overall.
The thing is, though, that is far beyond our needs here. We like to know not just what the surface form of a human’s or animal’s body looks like.
But the underlying anatomy structure – this greatly facilitates our ability to draw or paint with depth and realism. But since we are all pretty visual people, we can generally get a complete idea by using detailed and well-made anatomy illustrations, with perhaps a little description along the way.
So many of the best anatomy resources of this type, which mostly provide illustrations, will also include some basic text descriptions and explanations, which can also help.
But to have a beautiful, precise, and accurate picture of the muscles, cartilage, and connective tissue, the skeleton, joints, and overall supportive structure, even the organs underneath, is really what we’re looking for.
And yes, it might sound a bit gristly when I spell it out like that – organs, bones, tissue – but anatomy is life and is beautiful and, again, really fascinating. And the best resources are themselves beautiful works of art.
What Are the Best Resources for Studying Human Body and Animal Anatomy?
There are three different types of anatomy study guides for artists that we might want to consider:
- Anatomy Books
- Anatomy Models
- Anatomy Websites
Each has its own advantages, and you may already know which would be best for you.
I strongly recommend you consider getting at least one excellent book on human anatomy and if you like, another on animal anatomy. They are not expensive, usually, and the images on paper can have a different kind of effect and impact than seeing them on screen – and, for some people, are more relatable to their work of drawing or painting in physical media.
On the other hand, anatomy models can be quite expensive but are an invaluable tool to have on hand.
And anyway, we’ll look at both expensive anatomy figures and quite affordable ones.
And if you are a serious fine artist, a working commercial artist or illustrator, or if you do a lot of portraiture or any type of images of people and animals, I might also consider paying for one of the really valuable premium web services, like Proko, to get not just the very best images, but the superb and really useful features those sites offer.
But with web pages and apps, there are also a lot of really great free resources, and we’ll look at those too.
How Can You Find the Best Resources on Anatomy for Artists?
I have spent a lot of time collecting a resource list and presenting it here – not only from my own experience and personal use but from the advice and recommendations of other artists, my friends, my art students, and readers.
And here it is – a list of the best resources for any artist who wants to learn and better understand human and animal anatomy. We will highlight the best choices for online websites, books, and anatomy figurines.
Whether you want a quick glance at the inner workings of some creature you want to depict or you would like to have a deeper understanding of human and animal form – how it looks and why, the contours, the light and shading, the proportions, the movement, and the life energy – you will find exactly the resources you need in this list of best anatomy references for artists.
So let’s have a peek under the surface with this buyer’s guide for the best anatomy resources for any artist!
Best Human Anatomy Books for Artists
Best Book on Human Anatomy for Artists
By Eliot Goldfinger
By Stephen Rogers Peck
By Michael Hampton
Compared to Netter’s authoritative Atlas of Human Anatomy (listed just below), which is a standard reference for medical students and doctors, the above beautiful volumes are intended for artists and explain things in a much simpler and easier-to-understand way and sparkling and engaging prose.
The pictures, too, shine, with lovely artistic quality, depth and life. It is often said that just the illustrations alone will tell the artist all they need to know about human anatomy without even having to read the descriptions. The best art anatomy books for artists available today!
Before we move on, I should mention another choice for the best artist anatomy book overall, the true modern classic by Eliot Goldfinger: Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form.
Many would say that Goldfinger’s book, which is admittedly more popular and widely used than Peck’s Atlas, is one of the best and most beautiful and helpful art resource books of any kind.
While I slightly prefer Peck, I have to say that either one would be a stellar choice.
I recommend checking out Andrew Loomis’ books in my guide on the best drawing books!
The Most Beautiful Book of Human Anatomy for Artists
A true masterpiece in every way! There are lots of anatomical drawings from Leonardo da Vinci scattered about in various collections and various books, but this “Manuscript A,” written around 1510, is his most thorough, most advanced and most beautiful volume on the subject.
Complete with notes, and well translated into English, this is a fascinating look into the mind and process of one of the greatest artists of all time and an invaluable reference guide for any artist today.
Most Authoritative Book of Human Anatomy for Artists
Generally considered to have the most precise and visible representations of every aspect of human anatomy, Netter’s Atlas is perhaps not the most striking or beautiful artistic anatomy book on the list, but certainly the most accurate.
For a deep understanding of human figures, body types, and body parts, this volume is simply unsurpassed, and the admittedly steep price of admission also includes access to full high-res downloads from the complete online gallery – this alone makes the atlas an absolute bargain.
A must-have reference guide for serious artists and studios.
The Classical Reference
An artistic tour de force, Gray’s Anatomy is perhaps the single most widely known and recognized medical reference book ever made, and for a good reason. Highly detailed and accurate drawings of every aspect of human anatomy combined with clear and easy-to-understand descriptions for specific artistic reference and deeper study.
Even though it is surprisingly inexpensive compared to other anatomy books, this beautiful leatherbound edition has the finest quality printing I’ve seen and would be a wonderful gift for any artist or a lifelong investment for yourself.
Best Value Book of Human Anatomy for Artists
By Kelly Solloway and Samantha Stutzman
Volume 2 - The Yoga Anatomy Coloring Book
Simple and exceptionally clear illustrations and high-quality printing make these two volumes great quick reference sources for a “glance and go” approach to sketching the human form.
Moreover, they are also brilliant sources for pose reference and interesting and fun ways to see anatomy more deeply and organically when used as coloring books. Inexpensive and invaluable!
Best Animal Anatomy Books for Artists
Best Overall Animal Anatomy Book for Artists
With over 500 individual illustrations, this classic book offers a great variety and selection of different animals and enough types of animals to be considered complete and valuable.
Beautifully rendered illustrations, detailed descriptions, and even drawing guides make Animal Anatomy for Artists the most highly regarded and probably the most popular book of its kind and a wonderful companion to Goldfinger’s even more popular book – Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form.
Best Value Animal Anatomy Book for Artists
An inexpensive yet really useful book, this Dover series reprint of the 1949 original offers enough of a variety of animals to be really useful to any artist drawing or painting animals.
Each animal is thoroughly covered (or uncovered) with the exact aspects and angles we need to see.
There are more nicely printed and bound books, more beautiful books, and more complete anatomy books, but this is one of the best values I know and a great reference to have on hand.
Best Creatures Anatomy Book for Artists
Science of Creature Design
By Terryl Whitlatch
From the author of the fun and fascinating Animals Real and Imagined, Whitlatch’s latest book is a brilliantly executed journey into the process of effectively realizing the imagination’s beautifully populated menagerie.
Not just for fantasy animals or fantasy artists, Science of Creature Design helps any artist better understand the inner workings of any animal – again, “real or imagined” – and how to best capture its shape, energy, movement, and life.
By itself, or as a companion to the equally important Animals Real and Imagined, this is a new classic and gets my strongest recommendation!
Best Human Anatomy Figures for Artists
While basic artist mannequins are valuable for pose reference, they are not accurate or detailed enough to be of any real help in learning or seeing human anatomy.
For this, it is best to get a real anatomical model of a human figure- which can be a bit expensive but, for a fine artist or anybody who draws the human form a lot, it is an important investment and well worth the money.
You can also get great animal anatomy figures, but unless you are really into drawing animals, it is a bit of a stretch – with humans, you can get just two, or even just one, but to have a complete and useful reference for animals, you would kind of need to get a whole zoo of anatomical models, as a monkey’s innards are, from what I hear, a bit different than a cheetah’s.
So, in the case of animals, one of the wonderful anatomy books I’ve mentioned above might be a better idea, or diving into Pinterest for a range of images. For humans, I will include here two recommendations – one expensive, but the best of the best, and one quite a bit more affordable and still fantastic and really useful.
Best Male and Female Human Anatomy Figure/Mannequin for Artists
11-inch anatomical reference for artists by 3D Total Publishing
10.5-inch anatomical reference for artists by 3D Total Publishing
Accompanying anatomy book for the 3D Total Male and Female Drawing figures
Accompanying anatomy book for the 3D Total Male and Female Drawing figures
Possibly the most beautiful anatomy model made, the 3dtotal human anatomy figure is a masterpiece of accuracy, flow, and life energy.
It is sure to inspire any artist even as it teaches and provides a perfect anatomical reference.
Not a complete, pull-apart model like the cool interactive toy below, the 3dtotal models – both female and male – focus on the most important aspects of human anatomy for artists: an accurate and life-like view of the shape, contours, and proportions of human body regions – torso, arms, legs, head, and the musculature underneath.
Perfectly rendered, subtly spectacular, and certainly, one of the most useful tools any portrait artist, fine artist, commercial artist, or art student can have.
Best Budget Human Anatomy Figure/Mannequin for Artists
This may sound silly – recommending a toy anatomy model to us serious artists? – but the Anatomy to the Max interactive figure is quite amazing.
Really accurate and relatively complete organs, muscle groups, and bones can be removed and studied individually and then put back together. In addition to simple and fun anatomical reference and study for any artist, the doll is fully articulated and poseable and can make an insightful pose reference.
Not as precise or beautiful as the superb 3dtotal models above, this is nonetheless a great product and a real resource for any artist, and it costs a lot less!
Best Anatomy Reference Websites for Artists
Best Websites for Drawing Human Anatomy and Figure Drawing
It may be surprising, but artist websites tend not to feature Écorché (that is, actually detailed anatomy) illustrations.
The vast majority of websites devoted to artists have photographs of models instead, with perspective, poses in different positions, and lighting designed to best illustrate the anatomy, contours, form, and proportion of the human body.
As a result, my best free website – and the best place I know to find really great écorché images at no cost- is a website aimed at medical students and health care professionals alike.
My favorite premium site, though, is art-focused and shows the value and usefulness of those model photographs when they are done properly. I will also include a recommendation for a site you might have heard of… Pinterest – and a stern warning about bunnies.
Best Premium Anatomy Website
I recently chose Proko as the best premium website for pose references, and I have to say that this excellent site rates just as highly for anatomy references and anatomy lessons for artists.
Not a collection of actual anatomical reference drawings illustrating muscles, bones, and flesh, but instead exceptionally sharp and clear photographs of models, featuring poses and lighting specifically engineered to highlight the anatomy and proportions of the human body.
Proko also has a huge range of anatomy courses and individual lessons, covering almost every part of the human body.
If you are searching for the best anatomy course, then search no further. Their award-winning classes and teachers are as good as it gets, as are their model photographs, and coupled with their invaluable range of pose references, this is not only the best premium website for human anatomy for artists but one of the best art resources overall!
Best Free Anatomy Website
Link: InnerBody Research
Unlike most anatomy websites for art students or medical professionals, Innerbody does not make you sometimes pay extremely high membership fees to access their wonderful interactive anatomy charts and illustrations.
Like those other sites, though, the range and quality of Innerbody’s illustrations, and the control and usefulness of the interactive pictures, are truly premium. Perhaps way too much for an artist and even a little distracting if you let yourself get lost in the next picture, the next picture, and the next, this is such a well-designed and well-made website that even random browsing is still extremely valuable.
And it is quite easy to find exactly what you are looking for, quickly and directly.
For specific parts of the body, whole-body illustrations, and a deeper and more complete understanding of human anatomy, Innerbody Research is the best free anatomy website I’ve ever found and a wonderful resource for artists.
Best Collection of Anatomical Drawings, Écorché, and Related Images
I normally stay away from websites like Pinterest (or Google Images or others) when I’m working since they can suck me in and waste tons of time – I mean, I search for drawings of hands, and an hour later, I’m looking at a bunny in a top hat. I don’t know why, but I’m looking at it and giggling a little.
But in this case, by using simple search phrases like:
- Human Hand Anatomy
- Human Head Anatomy
- Anatomy for Artists
… and etcetera, you can find lots and lots of really amazing images, which are so well drawn or painted, or well photographed, and are an amazing guide and tool for anybody trying to draw the human form with more accuracy, beauty, and life.
The same is true for animal anatomy, and I will also include Pinterest just below in that section, but for human anatomy, it is hard to beat the range and quality of the illustrations you will find here.
If you can stay focused and avoid the bunnies, Pinterest can be a gold mine for artists looking for pose references, botanical references, object references, and many other images. But, if you’re like me, you better set a timer, so you don’t get too lost!
Best Website for Animal Anatomy Reference
Well, this is going to be easy. Very few websites offer easily accessible, high-quality écorché images – that is, detailed anatomy images – of animals.
There are a few veterinary sites, but all of them I’ve come across charge for access to their images – and usually quite a bit. And there seem to be very few if any, artist-focused sites offering any kind of quality images, free or premium.
So, in the human anatomy cross sections just above, I recommended Pinterest and said I would give them a shout-out here, in the best animal anatomy sites section. It turns out that they are, in fact, the only site I’ll list.
Luckily, they are an amazing reference for animal anatomy images, again if you just use the right search phrases:
- Animal écorché
- Cat écorché, dog écorché, horse écorché, etc
- Animal, cat, dog… musculature
- Animal, cat, dog… skeleton
- Animal, cat, dog… anatomy images
… and more specific phrases about paws, heads and skulls, teeth, fangs, and jaws, whatever you need.
There are a few great free resources for artists interested in drawing or painting animals or learning about animal anatomy. But, luckily Pinterest comes through with an almost unbelievable range of super high-quality images.
I hope my guide helped you find the right anatomy for you as an artist, and you will have a lot of fun drawing the human figure!
FAQs – Anatomy for Artists
Artists practice anatomy by drawing human figures and animals. The best anatomy practice resources are books, websites, and drawing mannequins. My favorite anatomy book for artists is Anatomy for Artists: A Visual Guide to the Human Form and my favorite website to learn anatomy is Proko.com and Proko’s course Anatomy of the Human Body
I think the best anatomy course for artists is Anatomy of the Human Body from Proko.
You can start by learning from anatomy books such as Anatomy for Artists: A Visual Guide to the Human Form or online courses such as Anatomy of the Human Body from Proko.
That depends if you want to specialize in drawing and painting humans, animals, and characters. If yes, then learning anatomy should be one of your highest priorities.
Visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides, and much more!
You may also want to check out some of my related articles and artists’ guides:
- Best Pose Reference Websites, Apps, and Books
- Best Drawing Figures for Artists
- Best Drawing Books
- Best Drawing Pens
- How to be a Self Taught Artist
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