As promised, I’ve returned with the second part of the torso tutorial, the back view. The back is usually a blind spot for most comic artists because its not used in storytelling anywhere near as many times as the front view.
However, understanding the anatomy will ensure that you have a balanced approach when staging your characters. No longer will you avoid particular poses that expose the back anatomy, but instead this knowledge will help free you up to new compositions with figures and posing.
The back anatomy is only slightly simpler than the front of the torso. The main muscles of the back can be grouped easier and thus it’s a more manageable task to memorize their locations and relationships. The range of motion, contortions and wedging of shapes are a bit less convoluted as well.
The main hurtle in this tutorial will be learning how the scapula or shoulder blade relates with the musculature. By the end of this tutorial, I guarantee that you will feel more confident drawing figures from the back view.
Just as with the front view, the skeleton informs the foundation of all torso anatomy. The back view will obviously be focused on the backside of these skeletal structures. Again, there are three main structures to remember.
First, there's the back of the rib cage and the shoulder blade, which I group together and name as the upper back. Then, the pelvis which includes the tailbone. It resembles the shape of an arrow in the simplest form. The last part, the spine, will sprout from the arrow shape and “s” curve upward to connect with the ribcage. The spine’s shape and direction will dictate how the upper back and the pelvis are arranged together. The spine’s line of action will somewhat resemble a question mark’s curvature.
Drawing complex forms always starts with sketching them as simplified shapes. For the torso, I believe that tilted cubes are the most effective way to judge the proportions and perspective of these masses. Let’s take a closer look.
The torso (ribcage, spine and pelvis) can be organized in some easy to remember proportions. Vertically, the mid-point of the whole structure is at the bottom of the ribcage. From that mid-point downward, divide the length in half again to find the top of the pelvis.
So, that means that the height of the pelvis is a quarter length of the whole and the ribcage is half the length of the whole. These two cubes connected by a line representing the spine will be the basic building blocks for our back view. Again, these volumes can twist away from each other to a certain extent, which we call the range of motion. This will be covered in depth in a future tutorial.
Before we move on, let’s note a couple things. The spine line divides the cubes in half on the back planes. The cubes will be tilted to show the basic stature of the body and the spine connects to the top of the pelvic box as an arrow shape.
Here is an exercise you can do to get comfortable with visualizing these torso shapes in the 3D space. Make sure you have the boxes show the backside so to also practice how the spine connects at the pelvis.
This is a mind-opening task at first, but soon you will be able to throw these volumes down on the page quickly and easily to block in your body. Always do a check of your proportions after you draw several. I recommend that you do not measure these proportions when you draw them.
Practice using your artistic eye to judge the distance, then double check afterward. Working by eye-balling these measurements will aid you with speed in the future. Remember, speed is the comic artist’s ally when it comes to meeting deadlines.
Awesome work! The simple shapes should be fresh in your mind now. Let’s go over the muscles of the back.
The way the anatomy of musculature works is that each muscle has a beginning and an ending point. These forms wedge into each other to form a tight web of mass. On the back anatomy especially, there is also a layering of muscles. This is where the shoulder blade and even the deltoid come into play. Let me discuss this basic layering of the muscles as they relate to their functions and volumes.
First, let’s go through the big groups of muscles. The group with the most mass is the latts or the Latissimus Dorsi (in blue). It forms a cape-like, wrapping shape that ranges in the lower back region. Second, is the Trapezius (in Pink). The traps are visible from the front view, but like an iceberg, the major masses are really hidden in the back view.
A smaller section, that works with the traps and the shoulder blade to help move the arms is the Teres group (in Red). This little section can be broken down even further but I think this scope is good enough for most drawings of the figure. Finally, the obliques (in Purple) will also wrap around from the sides of the torso to meet at the latts.
This is a good time to talk about the layers and the shoulder blade. The muscles that lie right on top of the spine are what I will refer to as the bottom layer. There are several groups that are underneath the latts and traps, but the one I want to talk about is the Erector Spinae (in yellow). These muscles are important because along the spine these tube-like volumes really define the backs shape, even thought they are not the top-most muscle group.
The next layer is the shoulder blade. It rests underneath the Teres and traps muscles. I will dig deeper into how they work with the muscles in a later section but for now just notice these relationships.
The third layer is the top layer, which we’ve already discussed without naming it. This includes the latts, traps and teres groups. The only layer above this one is a pseudo layer in which I just demonstrate the relationship of the upper back and the deltoid or shoulder. Here, the deltoid connects directly to the back, more specifically on top of the Teres group, butting right up to the traps.
Well, that does it for the overview of the muscles and how the layers work.
Anatomy can be an arduous task to commit to memory. You can spend hours and hours drawing and still not retain all the information.
This is where using symbols come in. When we are children, we try to translate the world on to paper by only using symbols. But, really this symbol method is a great way to memorize things. The principle works even better if you tell yourself a story that involves these symbols.
For the back anatomy, I like the symbols of the arrowhead and the wishbone. The arrowhead is cool because not only does it translate to the actual shape but it also takes in to account the connection of the deltoid.
The wishbone combines a few muscle groups together and is easy to see how it fits with the arrowhead. Remember; try to visualize these symbols within a story. Like, “Robin Hood was so talented that he could split a wishbone right down the middle with an arrow”.
Great. I hope that technique helps commit the basic shapes to memory.
Now, we will go through the details of each muscle group and then go step by step with the process of drawing the muscles wedged together.
As with all breakdowns, I will show you how to simplify the forms, talk about why they are important functionally, and what you can do help make the groups feel just right.
Okay. Let’s start this breakdown at the bottom layer, as I like to organize it. These two parallel tube-like muscles protect the spine and give the most foundational support for us erect standing apes. You will be able to see these forms best at the top and bottom of the back. They are best taken into account as cylindrical forms.
As I mentioned before, the majority of the trap’s mass is secured in the back view. This shape, again, resembles an arrowhead pointing down. The fibers sprout from the spine and curve over top of the Erector Spinae tube-like volumes. This creates two-mirrored masses that will run from the spine and connect to the collarbone in front and the top-rear of the deltoid.
The obliques make up the sides of the torso. The obliques wrap from the abs to the back and butts up with the latts and rests on top of the glutes. Make note that muscle tendons also sprout from the pelvic bones. From the back view, they are not the most prevalent but they will help form the silhouette. Depending on how the sides are being bunched up or stretched out the silhouette will significantly change. We will go over this more in a later tutorial.
The latts can be thought of like a wing, not in function, but in its shape and where it connects to the skeleton. It stretches from the pelvis and spine all the way to the upper arm bone. It connects on the underside of the arm like a bat wing. The main mass of muscle fibers wrap around the bodies cylindrical mass, which can still be seen in the front view. Heroic male figures will have a strong set of latts.
Teres Muscle Group
These small bulges of muscle that rest on the shoulder blade will wedge right underneath the deltoid. In fact, I think it is important to think of the Teres group as a part of the deltoid and visa versa. So when you draw the deltoid, always draw through to show where it connects. This is a key trick to help you think about the body in 3D space.
Okay, groovy. Let’s have a quick talk about the differences of the back anatomy between the sexes.
Male v. Female
Artists are usually in agreement that the male figure is way easier to draw convincingly. The main reason for that is because the female figure is more streamlined and has an organic flow that is easy to mess up. That means all the forms on a female will be blatantly apparent if they are drawn in a wrong position. So, it’s all the more reason to dive right in and start recognizing the main differences between male and female anatomy ASAP.
First off, the female ribcage is much smaller and narrower than the male version. At the same time, the female hips are wider than the males. This creates a much different basic shape where, especially in the back view, the male figures seems to be much more top heavy and the females more bottom heavy.
For the back view, the most noticeable difference will be that the female form has a curvier silhouette. That’s from the combination of having less muscle mass and more fatty deposits in the hips, buttocks and breasts. On the contrary, males have less fat and more muscle so the muscle groups really stand out. In some heroic figures, males can really be exaggerated with this type of physique.
We just covered a whole lot that can really get in the way of just drawing if you think about it too much. To counter that, lets just go step by step and draw a back, comic style.
Step by Step
1. Let’s start with a simple line of action. This line should follow the “s” curve of the spine.
2. Next, draw the tilted boxes that we drew in the first drawing exercise. These don’t have to be exact but try to get the proportions as close as you can while also staying with the line of action. Don’t forget to add the arrow for where the spine meets the pelvis. A quick note: That bottom sides of that arrow form the slope of the butt “crack” (There’s no better way to say that).
3. To finish the under drawing, we will rough in the muscle groups using stretched ovals. Start with the main symbols we used to represent the back; the arrowhead wedging in to the wishbone. Because we are in a tilted 3/4 view, one side of the wishbone will be much wider.
Then sprout the deltoids off of the Teres part of the wishbone shape. Finally, add, the remaining pieces: the two parallel tubes at the lower back and oblique contour. Again, notice how I use the line-of-action arrow to find the slope of the obliques wrapping around.
4. Now, erase lightly to leave just the under drawing. If working digital, just lower the layer’s opacity and then move on to a new layer.
5. Great! Now here’s, the fun part. Use your under drawing (and reference) to cleanly draw the contours of the whole body. Then, draw only the most pronounced parts of the muscle anatomy. If the light is coming from above, these parts should be: the underside of the latts, the main crease of the spine, and the arm connections to the Teres muscles. Now, just lightly mark some of the wedging that happens where the muscles connect. Don’t draw too many lines here. It can quickly look over drawn.
6. Last, we will add more line weights and shadow to give the back anatomy more volume and 3-dimensionality. Add harsher lightweight for contours that face away from the light source.
Tremendous work! The back is not an easy task to get right and I’m sure you’ve made some big strides here.
The Art Journey
Back anatomy usually is a nice cap on learning the human body. It’s not anatomy that people gravitate to, so learning it will complete the 3D visual library that you are building of the body.
Like I said in the introduction, every muscle has a beginning and an ending. If you are missing either one of those bookends then you probably don’t have this “complete” knowledge that I’m talking about. And I think that leads me to a great rule for anyone that’s on this anatomy mastery journey: Strive to know where each muscle begins and ends.
That may sound like a “no duh” kind of phrase but when you think about it. If you know all these connections, the in-betweens are much easier to figure out.
The visual artists journey is a long one full of many set backs; even on a daily basis. It takes resolve, passion and persistence to simply show up everyday and strengthen your weaknesses. While in athletics or physical fitness, your obstacles are very clear and apparent.
I mean, no one expects to become a super star athlete within the first years of their training. Your body has clear limitations that no amount of wishful thinking can get around.
But for some reason with creativity and art, the obstacles in your way seem very manageable, even easy. Only after you sit at the drawing desk for hours toiling over the same damn drawing, trying to get it right, do you then realize: Art is hard; as hard as being a super star athlete or creating a top selling product in business.
The difference between the two is the framing. In the sense of not expecting to become an overnight sensation, being realistic can go a long way for resisting the discouraging days when all your efforts don’t seem to add up.
The Comic Book Challenge
To stack the difficulty even further, comic art requires way more than your average art position. Think on any aspect of the visual arts, and as a comic artist, you need to have a handle on it. First you need to know all the fundamentals: perspective, composition, gesture, anatomy, lighting, and rendering. Then comes all the design categories: character, environment, vehicle, prop, graphic, page / layout. And the list could go on.
Getting good at so many things is daunting and will be slowly developed over a lifetime. That’s why joining a school, atelier, or community of artists is essential. Thankfully HowtoDrawComics.net has got your “back”. (Sorry about the pun). Join the community on this site and on Facebook to get critiques, advice, and tips and tricks on all your comic art. Form a network and many parts of this journey is more enjoyable. It’s dangerous to go alone.
Thanks for joining me and finishing part two of the torso tutorial. To make this tutorial I’ve used many approaches from the old masters, as well as, ideas from the new masters currently working in the industry. These include Will Weston, George Bridgeman, Michael Hampton, Andrew Loomis, Carlos Gomez, and several unnamed references on Pinterest and such. You did a fantastic job for getting this far.
Before You Go
Have you heard about my cyberpunk, racing comic called STAR CIRCUIT? It’s about a street-racer who struggles to find his purpose in a sci-fi world where all the best racers are androids.
The first chapter is about to fund on indiegogo.com and I’m building up a mailing list for all those who are interested. I’ve actually written a long tutorial about how to create your very own comic called Making Comics, which features my experiences with making STAR CIRCUIT.
Visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/star-circuit/coming_soon/x/7947037 to sign up today! Signing up before the campaigns launch means that you will also receive a free trading card when the book is funded.
If you’d like help with your art you can follow and DM me on Instagram and twitter. Username is @catapanoart
Thank you for reading and keep on drawing!
We've covered a lot of ground in this tutorial. But as you well know, when it comes to human anatomy, this is really just the tip of the ice berg.
As it turns out, we offer a full Anatomy course right here on HowToDrawComics that dives even deeper into this topic, covering the major muscle groups, how they connect, stretch, compress and move!
This by far is one of the most comprehensive courses available on Anatomy for Comic Book Characters.
If you found this tutorial useful, then you're going to get an immense amount of value out of our flagship Anatomy Course by HTDC instructor Ed Foychuk. Are you ready to become an expert in comic book anatomy once and for all? Click the image below to enroll now!
And enjoy your journey into How To Draw Comics: Anatomy.