The best anatomy books for artists explain complex structures through visual language and present information systematically. This systematic yet simple-to-understand approach is missing when finding references on the internet or in anatomy textbooks intended for medical students. That’s why it’s important to know your sources. To help you navigate them, Anatomy for Sculptors, a publisher of anatomy books for artists, has compiled a list of the best books on animal and human anatomy for artists.
But why use books in the first place? Of course, having a live model in your training is one of the best ways to go, but one is rarely available. Books made with artists in mind—such as 3D modelers, animators, and digital painters (who often work partially in the 3D space)—are the next best thing because they feature reliable references that let you understand anatomical structures and observe their forms and movements.
At first glance, the internet seems full of such anatomy references, but you very quickly discover that you’re missing out on many important details. In contrast, the books mentioned in this blog are put together to let you really understand human and animal anatomy. This understanding, in turn, frees you from always copying references and enables you to be more creative.
Books on human anatomy for artists
Below are some recommendations of both Anatomy for Sculptors books and how they can best be utilized, as well as some excellent external resources.
Anatomy for Sculptors handbooks by Uldis Zarins
Anatomy for Sculptors handbooks give visual artists everything they need to create realistic human body forms – from head to toe. Being a dyslectic student, in the 2000s, Uldis Zarins developed a systematic approach to translating medical anatomy texts into visual information that he could use while sculpting. He used the same system in his books, and now the Anatomy for Sculptors handbooks have become bestsellers among visual artists striving to understand the human form better.
Anatomy for Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure
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, this book has everything you need to create realistic forms of the human body from head to toe.
Anatomy of Facial Expression
Anatomy of Facial Expression makes it much easier for artists to understand facial anatomy – often the most challenging area of human anatomy to master. The book features 3D models and pictures of live models. It also uses the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to label images. This system helps you understand each facial expression better by breaking them into multiple action units.
Animator and mentor of the 2D animation courses at CG Spectrum, Alfredo Cassano was the lead animator for the character Jesper in Klaus. A good understanding of facial expression was required for this role.
Form of the Head and Neck
Form of the Head and Neck explains the relationship between the human head’s visible appearance and the anatomy beneath it. In most cases, facial muscles are not the ones that define the form of one’s face. Instead of making up the face’s surface volumes, muscles only move the surface forms from underneath the skin. This book shows you how factors such as age, ethnicity, gender, and body type affect the form of one’s face.
Der nackte Mensch by Gottfried Bammes
Gottfried Bammes was a professor of art at Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. Influenced by the nineteenth-century figurative tradition of the École des Beaux-Arts, Gottfried 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 greatly influenced how Uldis Zarins made his Anatomy for Sculptors book series. Gottfried Bammes is, in his opinion, the greatest anatomist of the twentieth century!
Human Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger
Eliot Goldfinger’s book is very precise, reliable, and not too lengthy. Its systematic approach resembles a medical anatomy book, but it has been adapted for artists.
Human Anatomy for Artists 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 book has them.
Strength Training Anatomy by Frédéric Delavier
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 and Robert Beverly Hale
Dr. Paul Richer was a professor of artistic anatomy at École des Beaux-Arts at the beginning of the twentieth 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.
Artistic Anatomy: The Great French Classic on Artistic Anatomy is an absolute classic. It’s somewhat similar to Goldfinger’s book, only with a more significant emphasis on the movements of the upper and lower extremities. It includes precise drawings of the skeleton and side-by-side drawings that show anatomical structures with and without the skin. Side-by-sides help you recognize anatomical structures in real life.
Drawing the Head and Hands by Andrew Loomis
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.
Drawing the Head and Hands by Andrew Loomis 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!
Books on anatomy for 3D artists
The way you learn human anatomy and what references and handbooks you use don’t change much, regardless of what kind of visual artist you are. Besides learning anatomy, 3D artists might also find it helpful to look at other digital sculpting examples and study how different artists arrange their meshes and organize their workflows.
Anatomy for 3D Artists: The Essential Guide for CG Professionals by 3dtotal Publishing
Anatomy for 3D Artists: The Essential Guide for CG Professionals compiles contributions by different authors and aims to cater to the specific needs of 3D artists. This book is arranged more like a classic textbook rather than a handbook, and the fact that it’s a compilation of contributions makes it a bit eclectic. However, the big plus of this book is the digital sculpting examples found in it.
They let you observe how people approach different sculpting challenges and learn how to arrange meshes better. The authors don’t offer any insights into organizing their workflows, though. Overall this is a good book, but you should probably get it after you’ve acquainted yourself with the books mentioned earlier in this article.
3D Model by Stephanie Soong, who graduated from studying one of our 3D modeling courses and now works at Pixar as a Character Model Intern. 3D modelers must have a good understanding of human and animal anatomy to create characters that can be animated realistically.
Books on animal anatomy for artists
Artists who understand human anatomy already know a thing or two about animal anatomy. Take a look at this photo on Anatomy for Sculptors social media: the color code showcases how similar the segmentation of facial muscles of humans and dogs are (see image, below).
But of course, you still need good references of animal anatomy. This section will show you three of the best books about animal anatomy for artists. It includes a book with precise and systematic depictions of animal anatomy, a book with some real-life examples that have more flesh and volume, and a book that shows you animal anatomy in motion.
Image by Anatomy for Sculptors — the color coding showcases the similarities in the segmentation of facial muscles between human anatomy and canine anatomy.
Animal Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form by Eliot Goldfinger
Eliot Goldfinger’s book is similar in its approach to his book on human anatomy. Animal Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form is equally precise, systematic, and consistent in its depictions of anatomical structures as his book on human anatomy mentioned earlier on this blog.
While this is by far the best book about animal anatomy, one could wish the illustrations were more spacial and also depicted movement. All the animals here are static. Human and animal anatomy have a lot in common, and knowing one helps learn the other. You can tackle the challenge of muscle depiction from various angles by studying spacial illustrations of human muscles in the Anatomy for Sculptors books.
An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists by Wilhelm Ellenberger
While Goldfinger’s book on animal anatomy gives schematic depictions, An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists by Wilhelm Ellenberger features real-life examples of animal anatomy. These let you understand the forms better, but it’s not always easy to comprehend what’s depicted in them. That’s why it would be better to use this book just to supplement the previous book on the list.
The Art of Animal Drawing: Construction, Action Analysis, Caricature by Ken Hultgren
When you’ve already gained some knowledge of animal anatomy, this book shows you how to use this knowledge. We advise studying these books in the order they are mentioned in this blog as they neatly build on the information you’ve learned from the previous book.
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