Muse of the Month: An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists

November’s Muse of the Month is a book I’d initially bought to use for a figure drawing class in college, but it’s also a great resource for any artist coming to grips with basic human anatomy. That book is An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists!

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Atlas provides a plethora of wonderful reference images for any artist who wants to better understand how the human body is put together. With nearly two hundred plates of neatly labeled sections of the skeleton and muscles, as well as sketches, illustrations, and photographs from da Vinci, Michelangelo, Muybridge, and more, Atlas is a great introduction to the basics of anatomy.

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Plates 8, 12, and 13*

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Plate 29 and my illustration of Plate 29, drawn for a class assignment in 2011*

Included are cross sections of muscles, diagrams of joints, and nearly one hundred illustrated plates that show different views of all the bones and muscles that make our bodies move. All things considered, Atlas does a fantastic job of showing how and why the human body moves the way it does, which makes it an excellent resource for artists who are just starting to study anatomy.

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Clockwise from top left: Plates 115, 147, and 176*

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Plates 41 and 72*

While the book has a lot of very useful information to impart on the reader, Atlas probably shouldn’t be considered the be all end all guide to anatomy. Although it’s a fantastic introduction to understanding how muscle overlaps bone and how body parts work together, there are no plates concerning the internal organs, and most of the reference material focuses on the male body, with little attention paid to female anatomy. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, seeing as the third and most recent edition of Atlas was published in 1957, but those hoping for more inclusive resources may want to look elsewhere.

Despite the lack of diversity, An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists is still a solid reference book for anyone looking for a visual guide to human anatomy. It encourages the artist to think of the human body as a single working machine with hundreds of linked, moving parts, and recognize how muscles work – and look – beneath the skin. Overall, it’s great for studying how body parts behave and fit together, and given how useful it’s been to me over the years, I’d still recommend this book as a starting point for artists who are learning the basics of anatomy!


*All images in this post are either scans from my personal copy of the third edition of An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists, or are my own derivative illustrations based on the plates from the book. They are presented here to give readers a glimpse of what the Atlas has to offer between its covers, and are not intended to be used in any other way. All rights reserved.

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