Updated: Nov 1, 2020
If I had to pick a section of human anatomy that has given me the most trouble, I would have to say it’s the torso. Now, I know most artists may say the back view is harder but I would argue that it only appears that way, from lack of exposure. Considering that characters need to face the viewer more often, the front of the torso is more important to understand as a comic artist.
The torso is a difficult task to break down because of the many puzzle pieces (aka muscle groups) that have to be wedged together in order to construct a cohesive whole. Just like the hands, the torso can contort and bend in various ways that can make the process of learning even more toilsome. But as always, fear not because this tutorial aims to make this process of learning a painless one and hopefully even an enjoyable one. For every task that is arduous, it is equally as rewarding when milestones of understanding have been reached.
As always, the skeleton informs the foundation of all anatomy. For the torso, which is the biggest mass of the body, there are three main skeletal structures to remember. First, the rib cage and collarbone, which I group together as the chest bones. Second is the pelvis and the last is the spine, which connects the chest bones and the pelvis together. The spine is arguably the most important and is drawn in an S curve somewhat resembling a question mark.
You can draw these forms with simple shapes like cylinders and ovals but I think the most simplified forms are tilted cubes. Let’s take a look at the proportions of these simplified forms.
As Will Weston so beautifully teaches, these masses can be split in half horizontally at the rib cage. Then, if you further divide the bottom section of the original proportion you will notice it matches up with the top of the pelvis.
Because we want this information to be easily incorporated into your figures, also remember that in order to find the top of the head simply stack another equal measurement on top of the chest.
These boxes can be turned in opposite directions creating a twist in the body. That range of motion will be covered in future tutorials but for now, we will do an exercise using these tilted boxes and a line that connects them to get comfortable with drawing these proportions.
Let’s take a look at these simplified forms a little closer. Notice the centerline of the chest box protrudes outward slightly indicating that the actual form is not actually flat. Also, make note that the pelvic box is scooped out as if it was hollow.
Now, simply do as I have here and draw several of these boxes like torsos to start visualizing the basic volumes in 3-D space. Afterward, go back and measure how accurate you were with your proportions.
This exercise requires a basic knowledge of perspective.
If you’re having trouble just follow how I’ve drawn mine.
Great! With these simplified forms familiar in your memory, let’s move onto the muscle groups.
As I said before the torso is comprised of several muscle groups wedge together. These muscle groups have the ability to bend with the spine and twist in opposite directions. Before I go in-depth about each muscle group and how we should think about them as artists, let’s review the general layout.
First, let’s go through the main masses. Most notably are the pectorals, which make up a large portion of the chest and connect to the shoulders. Next is the abdominals, they are a significant portion of the connection between the rib cage and the pelvis. Here I have them split into three colors. The brown color is what’s famously thought of when the abs is discussed in culture; the six pack. In green, is the part of the abs that shows the connection to the pelvis and obliques. Lastly, in light blue, this part of the abs covers and connects to the center rib cage. The next big part is the obliques in purple. They are essentially the sides of the torso; pretty simple. The last main muscle group for the front view is the serratus muscles. These muscles interlock with the rib cage.
Now for the two muscle groups that peek around from the back view. First, is the latts in blue. They connect from the back of the pelvis two underneath the armpit. In more muscular figures the latts can be more clearly seen from the front view, especially if the figure’s arms are up. And in pink, are the traps or trapezius muscles. They connect and wrap around the base of the neck and continue down connecting to the center spine in the back view.
Now that we know the musculature, let’s discuss how they relate to the pelvis. The pelvis is essentially a foundational structure that holds all the innards of the torso together. When thinking about the pelvis in relation to the muscles and organs above it, try to imagine them with gravity applied.
Here are two examples of an imaginary exercise.
The first is a box that has a really large water balloon resting inside. The water balloon is so big that it overflows out of the box slightly. That overflow resembles how the obliques form with the pelvis.
The second example is a similar one and demonstrates another feature of the pelvis. This bowl of fruit could be considered similar to the organs of the body. The pelvis is the structure that fights against gravity and keeps the fruit relatively in place. I even have some of the fruit overflowing from the bowl to, again, demonstrate how the abs and obliques relate to the pelvis bones. Thinking about the pelvis in this way sometimes helps visualize your anatomy.
Here, I’m gonna break down each of the muscle groups, why they are important, and what you can do to emphasize the forms simply.
The pecs are seemingly two broad slabs of muscle that connects from the sternum to the shoulder or deltoid. As you can see, I’ve drawn the muscle fibers and they stretch from underneath the deltoid to the sternum and collarbone. Here, you need to remember that the tension and connection come from the shoulder so the pecs will taper off toward the arms.
The abs connect from the rib cage to the pelvis. It’s important to remember two things with the abs. Number one is that the abs protrude out from the center.
Note how I’ve even drawn it as a hard shape with a corner to accentuate this fact. And number two, the abdominal center line is not flat and needs to contour with the bumps of the muscle. Drawing the center line is the easiest way to simplify this form. Look up photo reference and match that with these anatomical simplified drawings.
One landmark that you can use is the navel or belly button. The Naval should be one head length down from the pecs and will also mark a place where the abs have a shallow bend in the center line.
The obliques are essentially the sides of the torso. Again, I’ve drawn a corner to show the shape turning in space. Obliques attach from each side of the abs and connecting to the back muscles. Make note that muscle tendons also sprout from the pelvic bones. Personally, I find that the obliques boundaries with the abs and the serratus muscles are confusing and extra study needs to be placed on these relationships.
This little bulge of muscle lies in between the obliques and the lats. These muscles weave with the rib cage and bulge in the three specific spots on the side of the torso. These three tiny bulges catch the light and are iconic features on a muscular, superhero figure. Notice how I’ve wedged oval shapes representing the ribs in with these three “legs“ of the serratus.
The lat muscles are a cape-like mass of muscle that stretches from the spine and attaches in the armpit region. In the front view we can see only a tiny portion of the lats, but incorporating them is important for completing the torso structure.
The traps stretch from the back view and wrap over to the collarbone in the front view. These muscles are the shrugging muscles and wrap around the neck. Even though these muscles are not the most prominent they complete the figure in the front view. Notice how I’ve turned a hard corner to represent the shape of these muscles that connect to the neck.
Awesome! With all the ingredients for a torso described let’s go over the differences between male and female figures.
Male v. Female
In general, when drawing a figure, the male version will be easier to delineate attractively. That is because with the female figure there is more room for error. That being said, getting to know the female form is essential to creating figures with unique and captivating realism. Here are the main differences between male and female torsos.
Most notably will be the size of the chest cavity. Female rib cages are more slender and narrow than the male versions. As an aside to this first difference, the female form comes in varied shapes and silhouettes.
The most obvious difference is the breasts. They will change the silhouette and contour of the torso. They share the same region of muscle as the pecs but with additional glands that modify the general volume and shape. This one of the main reason the female forms should be studied in addition to the general torso anatomy.
Another difference that highly changes the silhouette is the female's wider hips. The pelvis combines with extra fatty pads to create an hourglass type shape when viewed from the front view.
Lastly, is the positioning of the navel relative to the waistline. The waistline is the smallest circumference of the torso and on the male version the naval will line up exactly with it. However, in the female figure, the waistline is higher and the navel will be slightly lower in height from the waist.
With the anatomy, structure, muscle groups and sex differences taken care of, let’s go step-by-step and draw a torso in the front view.
Step by Step
1. When starting to draw any figure, remember to start with a simple line of action. In the case of the torso, it will be somewhat mirroring the curve of the spine.
2. With the line of action in place, we can then draw our two masses representing the rib cage and pelvis. You can add another line for the spine that will run parallel to the line of action. I’ve also drawn circles for places where the bones are apparent on the surface of the skin. Lastly, make note that the measurements from the collarbone to the pelvis should split evenly at the bottom of the rib cage.
3. To start, erase away the first two steps and now draw the third step on top of this under drawing. Using the first steps as landmarks, draw in all the major muscle groups in a loose fashion. Try to keep the masses together with the shapes and don’t be afraid to add circles and ovals to represent bulges from muscle or bone. This is the second stage of the under drawing. So far so good.
4. Again, lightly erase away the second stage of the under drawing. Now draw and top of it and focus on where the muscles connect. This time try to keep your lines clean as you use the under drawing as a guide. Keep in mind that the center line of the torso is twisting slightly which will distort the abs and obliques.
5. Here, I will shade two versions of the torso. The first is using a more ambient light from above.
The second version is using a much harsher light and from the same direction.
6. Personally, I love how the more harsh light came out. Let’s add rendering to this now. Use hatching to add gradients to the bumps and tendons of the muscles. The rib cage is really just a big oval so notice how the light will end up very dark on one side. I’ve also drawn a contour around the torso, which makes it look a little more complete and graphical.
Before You Go
Let’s quickly have a chat about drawing the torso for comic books. Comics tend to be highly varied. You may end up drawing superheroes in which their musculature is highly developed and knowing the exact anatomy will pay dividends in the final look of the art. Or on the contrary, you may end up drawing a character-based drama. This drama may use ordinary characters so the figures will look more natural in proportion, as they have to reflect more ordinary people. Either way, it is absolutely necessary to get comfortable with drawing the torso. Remember that proportions are everything. Even if you don’t know the exact muscle placement for all muscles if you know the proportions well, even simplified figures will look accurate.
I want to thank you for joining me on this journey. Honestly, this tutorial was a challenge, and I know that making it helped me as much as I hope that it helped you. I hope this tutorial aids you in your journey to learn anatomy and be able to comfortably draw figures for your own stories. Since there are so many muscle groups in this first section of the torso, I highly suggest you draw all the reference images that I have provided to help you memorize the layouts. Great job for running through this challenging area of anatomy and continue to push the boundaries of your artistic knowledge.
Before I sign out, I’d like to credit the masters that have really done the legwork for me to make a quick tutorial for you. I recommend you find their resources and continue studying from them. They are Michael Hampton, Andrew Loomis, George Bridgman, and Will Weston. I’ve also referenced several artists and their take on simplifying the torso. They are Carlos Gomez, Alvin Lee, Jim Lee, Frank Frazetta and Gerard Kravchuk.
I am also currently finishing the first chapter of a cyberpunk comic called Star Circuit. Head to starcircuitcomic.com to read the preview and sign up for notifications for its release.
Thank you for reading and keep on drawing!
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