The best books on human anatomy for artists

Who am I?

I’m a traditional sculptor with more than 25 years of experience. Being a dyslectic student in the 2000s, I developed a systematic approach to translating medical anatomy texts into visual information that I could use while sculpting.  All the anatomy books for artists at the time were text-centered. My reference sketches became quite popular among colleagues. It was clear that visual artists perceive information best when it’s visual, and that is how I got the idea for my first book. Now the Anatomy for Sculptors handbooks are bestsellers among visual artists striving to better understand the human form.

I wrote...

Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure

By Uldis Zarins, Sandis Kondrats,

Book cover of Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure

What is my book about?

This anatomy handbook for artists gives you everything you need to create realistic human body forms. Of course, only long hours of practice can hone your skills and let you become a masterful visual artist. Having a live model in your training also makes a big difference, but one is not always available. However, reliable anatomy references can be an excellent substitute – as long as they really are good!

Only about 2-5% of the book is text! Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure contains visual references for hundreds of body postures and motions. Regardless of what composition you choose for your artwork, you don’t have to guess anymore. This book will show you the exact form of every muscle from any angle.

The books I picked & why

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Der Nackte Mensch: Hand- und Lehrbuch der Anatomie fur Kunstler

By Gottfried Bammes,

Book cover of Der Nackte Mensch: Hand- und Lehrbuch der Anatomie fur Kunstler

Why this book?

While the West was busy with postmodernism, the Soviet world cultivated social realism based on the 19th-century figurative tradition of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. East Germany was no exception with its own figurative tradition at Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. Gottfried Bammes was a professor of art there, and he further developed classical anatomy studies by introducing a more scientific approach. Illustrations in Der Nackte Mensch are precisely measured and reliable, and each of them introduces a new way to look at human anatomy. Concepts such as wire-framing and splitting organic form into geometric shapes appear here. This book is full of ideas, and it has been a huge influence on how I perceive human anatomy. Gottfried Bammes is, in my opinion, the greatest anatomist of the 20th century!

Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form

By Eliot Goldfinger,

Book cover of Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form

Why this book?

Eliot Goldfinger’s book is very precise, reliable, and not too lengthy. Its systematic approach reminds me of a medical anatomy book, but it has been adapted for artists. The book is consistent in its depictions of human anatomy, and you will find each anatomical structure depicted from set angles: front, side, top, etc. It’s not always easy to find reliable human anatomy references, but this is one of them.

Strength Training Anatomy

By Frederic Delavier,

Book cover of Strength Training Anatomy

Why this book?

Frédéric Delavier is an artist and a bodybuilder, and he’s written a unique book. Although Strength Training Anatomy is popular with the bodybuilder audience, it is very useful for visual artists as well. Instead of just showing muscles in static positions, this book emphasizes motion and demonstrates how muscles look when being worked.

Artistic Anatomy: The Great French Classic on Artistic Anatomy

By Dr. Paul Richer, Robert Beverly Hale (translator),

Book cover of Artistic Anatomy: The Great French Classic on Artistic Anatomy

Why this book?

Dr. Paul Richer was a professor of artistic anatomy at École des Beaux-Arts at the beginning of the 20th century, and Robert Beverly Hale, an American artist and instructor of artistic anatomy, translated Richer’s text and extended it with his own valuable commentary. This book is an absolute classic. It’s somewhat similar to Goldfinger’s book, only with a more significant emphasis on the movements of upper and lower extremities. It’s got precise drawings of the skeleton, side-by-side drawings that show anatomical structures with and without the skin. Side-by-sides help you recognize anatomical structures in real life. I got a lot of inspiration from this work when I made my book.

Drawing the Head and Hands

By Andrew Loomis,

Book cover of Drawing the Head and Hands

Why this book?

Andrew Loomis worked in editorial and advertising in 1930s America. At the time, most skilled artists were preoccupied with experimenting and high art. Meanwhile, the growing consumer culture required a lot of professional artists to work also on advertisements. This Andrew Loomis’ work is a manual meant to explain complicated human anatomy concepts in a simple manner – a sort of an ABCs for visual artists. It’s an excellent book for beginners!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in figure drawing, the human body, and anatomy?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about figure drawing, the human body, and anatomy.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Figure Drawing: For All It's Worth, Figure Drawing: Design and Invention, and Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters if you like this list.